Why Cremation Takes So Long in Texas

Simply put, cremation takes longer because it cannot be undone.

A body that is buried can be exhumed, should any question arise, however cremation is truly final. Because of this, many states including Texas, legally stipulate how long a crematory must wait before cremation occurs. They also have very specific regulations regarding what must occur before a cremation can occur.

How long must you wait for cremation?

In Texas, the law requires 48 hours to pass before cremation (unless waived by a legal authority). The 48 hour wait time is based on the time of death provided for the death certificate.

Are there any exceptions to the rule and waiting period?

In Texas, yes. A justice of the peace or medical examiner of the county in which the death occurred can approve an early cremation. A court order will provide the same outcome.

The real delay

Reality is the required 48 hours is rarely the reason for extended cremation delays. The most common reasons are:

  • Doctors not quickly certifying the death. In Texas, the doctor has five days to complete his portion of the medical certification once he receives it. Since the cremation process cannot move forward until the doctor has signed, this frequently causes delays in the process.
  • Doctors not participating in the Texas’ online system for certifying deaths. Although they are required by the state to certify deaths electronically, there are still many doctors who do not. In these cases, documents must be provided in printed form to the doctor to be signed and returned to the funeral home. Then the funeral home manually submits the original copy to the county. If the doctor does not complete the form correctly or has any errors, the County/State may reject it and the process starts again from the beginning.
  • One or more of the next of kin do not quickly sign documents. It is common industry practice to ask all persons considered next of kin to sign an acknowledgement stating they are aware that their loved one is being cremated.

How to avoid delays in the cremation process

Because the cremation process requires adherence to government regulations and the promptness of physicians there is potential for delays. The best approach is to select a cremation provider or funeral home you feel will work diligently to assist you in tackling obstacles that may arise. Using a company that does numerous cremations each month can also be helpful because they are likely to know the most about how to navigate the system and identify possible delays before they occur.

The Good news

Although I’ve painted the worst case scenario, it is the exception…not the norm. Most cremations are without delay. And the majority of physicians understand the urgency and sign electronically within a day or two.

My recommendation is to begin cremation planning with the knowledge that delays may occur, but don’t expect it to happen. aCremation recommends that families who want the remains present at the memorial service wait until all paperwork has been signed and an exact date for the cremation is provided by the funeral home. If you want a memorial service soon after the death occurs, be open to having the service without the actual remains present. Then have a private burial or scattering later. By doing this, you are certain to have a special memorial that truly honors your loved one.

Mary Beth Barnett

About Mary Beth Barnett

Mary Beth Barnett is a licensed Funeral Director in Texas. Her involvement with aCremation began before our doors opened – researching how we could provide affordable cremations and still keep quality and service standards high. Through this process, she developed a passion for working with families who are going through one of the most stressful phases of life – planning for death.

8 Responses to Why Cremation Takes So Long in Texas

  1. Pam Dooley says:

    A friend whose husband just died was told that she has to wait 10 days to have him cremated because his body was swollen from organ failure. I think they are trying to take advantage of her. Is this true?

    • Mary Beth Barnett Mary Beth Barnett says:

      It sounds like there might be a miscommunication with the funeral home. Assuming your friend is in Texas, the reason for the 10-day timeframe is to allow time for completing the necessary paperwork and cremation. In Texas, the physician has up to 5 days to sign-off on the death certificate which can delay a funeral home’s ability to schedule and actually perform the cremation. The 10-day timeframe allows for any delays that are outside the funeral home’s control.

  2. Karen J. Morrison says:

    So, who pays for keeping the physical body while the doctor drags his feet? Is there some kind of financial gain to one or more of the players, er, business men, in this process? It is rather macabre what all we just pretended our way through. 10 days and still not back, and elderly people trying to deal with the death and their own health issues; it was just one shock after another! Still waiting.

    • Mary Beth Barnett Mary Beth Barnett says:

      Thank you for your comment. Most funeral homes will not charge to keep the deceased while they are waiting on the doctor to sign, as long as the process is moving forward and they feel confident it will occur in a timely manner. So there is no financial gain from any party involved. In rare cases when there is difficulty getting the doctor to respond, the family may want to assist, especially in cases where they have a relationship with the doctor. However, typically the funeral home staff can successfully contact the doctor and obtain the necessary verification.

  3. Nancy Aguirre says:

    Parents divorced for 40 years. Adult child chose cremation. Question, in Texas do both parents need to sign paperwork for daughter to be cremated?

    • Mary Beth Barnett Mary Beth Barnett says:

      In Texas, you can refer to Texas Health & Safety Code Sec. 711.002. It provides a list of the priority for next of kin and what is required. This is what funeral homes go by for guidance. Each state can vary so if you are outside of Texas you will need to do further research.

  4. C Burruss says:

    When and how can a funeral home dispose of unclaimed cremains?

    • Mary Beth Barnett Mary Beth Barnett says:

      Each state varies. I recommend you review the law for your specific area. If you are in Texas, I suggest referencing the Health & Safety Code (Sec. 716.052). It’s a long passage but included in it is the crematory establishment may, “dispose of the cremated remains in accordance with this chapter not earlier than the 121st day following the date of cremation if the cremated remains have not been claimed by the authorizing agent.”

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