How to Plan a Funeral

Single bench on a grassy hill

Noah Silliman / Unsplash

Death is one of the most difficult things to plan for because you’re often doing it through grief. However, funeral planning will eventually be necessary for everyone since no one will live forever. Unfortunately, so many people bury their heads in the sand when it comes time to plan a funeral because it is one of the most unpleasant things you will ever have to deal with.

Whether you’re planning the funeral for a loved one, a friend, or yourself, there are certain steps you need to take. Having checklists will help keep you on track during this time. When you’re deeply grieving, it is easier to forget something important. If someone you know you can count on to follow through offers assistance, it’s a good idea to accept. 

Immediately After Death

As soon as the person dies, you need to call the proper authorities to let them know. If the person dies in a hospital, the medical staff will attend to some of the items on the checklist and offer assistance for the rest.

Here is a checklist of who to call if you are somewhere other than a medical facility:

  • The police or other local law enforcement
  • The family doctor or medical examiner
  • Other family members
  • Funeral director
  • Clergy if the person had a religious preference
  • The employer of the deceased if he or she was still working

You’ll need to make arrangements to transport the body of the person who died to the funeral home. If the person will be buried out of town, contact a local funeral home and ask if they can assist. Be aware that they will charge fees for preparing the body and arranging for carrier service. You need to notify them if the deceased had any communicable diseases.

If the person was under hospice care, call the assigned nurse or another professional who can pronounce the death and advise you further.

Funeral Arrangements and Details

There are several pieces of information you’ll need for the funeral director and other people involved with the funeral. Gather this information as quickly as possible:

  • Full name and address of the deceased
  • The time and date of death
  • The social security number of the deceased
  • Your full name, relationship to the deceased, address, and other contact information
  • Any military paperwork that you can find, if applicable

Determine whether there will be a burial or cremation. The deceased may have some paperwork with all of the instructions and information if there was a prepaid burial plan.

Make sure that the pets of the deceased are taken care of. If the person lived alone, you may need to find a new home for their animals.

Some people have a list of the type of service they want, their favorite hymns, and where they want to be buried. If you know the wishes of the deceased, follow them.

Write the obituary and submit it to the newspaper. Since some publishers have word count ranges due to limited space, contact them before you start writing it to find out what their requirements are.

Funeral Costs

According to the AARP, the average funeral costs $7,000 to $10,000. In some cases, it can cost much more than that, so be judicious with your decisions about the various options. 

If the deceased didn’t already make burial plans, it often pays to check the prices of more than one funeral home. It may be too difficult to physically go to several during this time, so the FTC requires them to give quotes over the phone. Write everything down.

Decisions Regarding the Funeral Service

You’ll need to decide some specifics regarding the funeral. Here is a list of what to consider:

  • The person who will perform the funeral service
  • Whether the funeral will be conducted in a sanctuary, at the gravesite, or some other location
  • Whether the casket will be open or closed
  • What the deceased will wear
  • Hours of visitation before the funeral
  • If there will be a eulogy and who will give it
  • Whether or not to provide a photo display, slide show, or music
  • Whether or not the funeral will be private or be open to guests outside the family
  • The people who will be the pallbearers
  • Whether or not to request donations to a charity in lieu of flowers
  • Whether or not to have a post-funeral reception and where to have it

Funeral Administrative Issues

There are quite a few administrative issues that can easily get overlooked. Some of this can be done before the funeral, but most of it can be taken care of afterward.

Here are some essential things you need to do as soon as possible:

  • You’ll need to find the person’s birth certificate and marriage certificate, if applicable. 
  • After someone dies, there may be quite a few administrative issues that need to be taken care of. Make sure you have at least a dozen death certificates because most places want certified copies. 
  • Find the will and take it to the government office that handles probate.
  • Contact the person’s bank, financial advisor, attorney, mortgage company, and insurance agency.
  • Get in touch with the Social Security Administration, retirement fund manager, and anyone else who may be sending money to the deceased. Ask about additional death benefits that might be available. 
  • If the deceased served time in the military, get in touch with the Veteran’s Administration. The VA offers several benefits for veterans and their spouses, including assistance with funeral expenses, a gravesite in a national cemetery, a government headstone, a Presidential Memorial Certificate, and a burial flag. 
  • Contact the post office, utility offices, credit card companies, and anyone else the person had money being sent to.

What to Avoid

There are so many stories out there about people getting gouged during one of the most vulnerable times of their life. Keep your focus on what’s really important. If you can only afford the least expensive casket, don’t allow someone to talk you into a pricey one. The lower-priced options are just as attractive and well made as the expensive ones.

If you choose to purchase a bundled package, make sure it contains all that you need and nothing else. Oftentimes, you may think you’re getting a better deal, but that’s not always the case. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about what is needed and why.

As you go about the business of planning a funeral, it’s not a bad idea to have someone with you. This person can remind you of your goal to have a respectful burial without creating a financial burden.

Planning Your Own Funeral

As morbid as this may sound, it’s a smart idea to plan your own funeral. Many people who reach a certain age or discover that they have a terminal illness do this to prevent extra grief, heartache, and hardship on family members. They also have a better chance of having the type of funeral they want.

If you haven’t already taken out a life insurance policy, see if you can get one to at least cover the burial costs. Funerals can be quite costly, and you don’t need to put a financial burden on the people you leave behind.

Have a list of important matters. This should include companies where you have insurance, bank accounts, and other financial information. Other things to include are your living will and organ donation desire. Keep track of things like usernames, passwords, and other important electronic login information. Also, list your last wishes for the funeral so the people closest to you will have it in writing and not have to guess. Let at least one person know where you keep this information so they can easily find it.