How to Engrave Dates on an Urn When Still Living

Question: How do we engrave dates on a cremation urn when the person is still living?

Answer: There are several creative ways to personalize an urn inscription when pre-planning. Let's take a look.

So it sounds like you're making the wise choice of pre-planning for your funeral arrangements. You're thinking about getting the cremation urn in advance, and maybe you've even picked out the perfect design.

But now you've come to the question: How do you deal with the inscription when the person is still alive?

We'll tackle this from three different angles.

  1. Pre-planning an inscription for yourself or another individual (this article)
  2. Pre-planning an inscription for a companion urn (for two people), when one or both people are still living
  3. Buying an urn when a loved one is dying soon

Urn Inscriptions for Someone Who Is Still Living (Part 1 of 3)

All the options discussed in this series will be variations on these ideas:

  • Skip the dates
  • Engrave birth date only
  • Engrave years only
  • Rely on another inscription for the dates (a free-standing name plate, a headstone, etc)
  • For companion urns, engrave only wedding date
  • For companion urns, engrave # of years married/together
  • Engrave the urn now, then cover it up with (or add) a name plate
  • Have the urn engraved later

Pre-Planning an Inscription for an Individual

We just have to say again - pre-planning and purchasing the urn ahead of time is really smart.

We help families every day who are scrambling to get an urn made and delivered in time for a service. It can be stressful, and shipping costs can be expensive! Plus the family can have a difficult time deciding on an urn, and second-guessing their choice (or disagreeing entirely).

So pre-planning the urn (for yourself or for another individual) is a wise choice. We're going to proceed as if you're buying an urn for yourself, but the same principle applies if you're planning for someone else.

But what do you do about the inscription?

Traditionally, the urn will say something like,

In Loving Memory
David C. Smith
June 4, 1953 - May 12, 2020
Beloved Husband, Devoted Father

Assuming that, since you're reading this, you're still alive, there's simply no way to have the dates done beforehand.

The main attraction of having the urn itself engraved is that it looks beautiful. But a secondary reason to engrave the urn is that it permanently identifies the person whose remains are inside. A name plate might eventually peel off, so having the urn etched is good for posterity's sake.

That being said, you really only need the name engraved - if anyone is interested in pursuing the matter further, it won't be too hard to figure out more details.

So here are your options.

Skip the Dates

In Loving Memory
David C. Smith
Beloved Husband, Devoted Father

Engrave Birth Date Only

In Loving Memory
David C. Smith
Born June 4, 1953
Beloved Husband, Devoted Father

Leave Space for the Dates (NOT Recommended)

In Loving Memory
David C. Smith
(leave space blank)
Beloved Husband, Devoted Father

Or, alternatively....

In Loving Memory
David C. Smith
June 4, 1953 - 
(leave blank space)
Beloved Husband, Devoted Father

We engrave urns with blank areas on occasion, but typically recommend against it.

That's because, first, it is really, really difficult to add engraving that exactly matches the original inscription. If the centering is slightly off, or the laser is set even a quarter of an inch higher, or another engraving program is used, or the various settings on the engraving machine are different, then you'll be able to see the difference between the original and the new engraving. This will happen even if you take the urn back to the original engravers.

Second, you'll have difficulty finding an engraver who will tackle the job. We don't take back urns to re-engrave for this very reason. It's simply not possible to make it look perfect. Additionally, cremation urns are high-value (both in terms of cost and emotional value), so the chance of having an unhappy customer is very real, and most engravers won't want to chance it.

Still, even after we explain this, some people say, "Well, I won't really care because I'll be gone!" And then they say to go ahead with it. If that's you, great - this is a viable option for you.

But if it's important to you to have the urn be complete and attractively done, then this isn't the best option.

Other Creative Inscription Solutions

Those first three examples are the main options for the actual engraving. If you go with the "skip the dates" choice, there are plenty of creative solutions to get the urn and have it look great and feel right.

  • Have another surface engraved later. You may find a local engraver willing to take the urn and engrave, say, the back side with name/dates at a later time. So in the meantime, you can adorn the front or top with anything you like - nickname, a favorite quote, and so on.
  • Add a name plate later. Engrave the full name and dates on a name plate, and place it below the original engraving, on top of it (to cover it up), or on another surface of the urn.
  • Engrave name/dates elsewhere. If the urn will be buried, the full name and dates will be etched onto the headstone. When the urn is going into a columbarium niche, there's normally a plate that goes on the front of the niche. And if the urn will be kept at home or by other family members, they can have a free-standing name plate made, or get an engraved photo frame or other keepsakes.
  • Write the dates on the bottom/inside of the urn. If your main concern is having the dates on the urn for posterity, consider asking your family to write, paint, or carve the full inscription on the bottom or inside of the urn. The exact method will vary depending on the material of the urn, and if the interior is accessible, but it's simple enough to find a way to get the dates on there.
  • Include a card or photo inside the urn. Since the ashes are often placed into the urn in a plastic bag, you can also put other items into the urn. Not only keepsakes but also a photo with name and dates written on the back, or nice card stock with the inscription printed on it (get it laminated).

More Resources

Read the next two parts in this series (coming soon):

  • Part 2 (inscriptions on companion urns)
  • Part 3 (buying an urn when someone is passing away soon)

For more information and inspiration, you may want to check out these articles:

And if you're ready to begin shopping for the perfect cremation urn, start with our 12 Most Popular Urns for Ashes. That's your gateway into our collection of hundreds of beautiful, high-quality, and affordable memorials.

Be sure to contact us if you have questions about a particular urn. We'll be more than happy to help!