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How to Plan a Funeral

The process of organizing funeral arrangements can be a trying and deeply emotional experience. Many decisions must be made quickly while under a great deal of emotional stress and possible financial tension. Though stressful, proper planning and organization can make the funeral experience much more manageable.

Know the Wishes of Your Loved One

... proper planning and organization can make the funeral experience much more manageable.

Your late loved one may have expressed some of their preferences concerning their memorial or burial. During the process of planning a funeral, it is important to adhere closely to your loved one’s wishes for their disposition and remembrance. In honoring their wishes, you provide surviving friends and family with a service that brings honor and dignified remembrance to your loved one.

Disposition Preferences

Your loved one may have shared what they wanted done with their body after their death. If your loved one never expressed their preferences concerning disposition, understanding the options available can help you decide how to best provide them with their final disposition.

  • Cremation, commonly among the cheapest of disposition options, is the process of using high temperature to reduce a body to ash. Cremation allows for surviving loved ones to store or scatter the ashes to commemorate the life of their loved one.

  • Burial is the most common form of final disposition. In a traditional burial, your loved one’s body is buried beneath the earth in a casket.

  • Above-ground burial, or entombment, involves your loved one’s body being placed in a crypt inside of a mausoleum. Mausoleums can be the final resting place for a single person or multiple members of a family.

  • Body donation allows your loved one to donate their body to the cause of medical research and scientific advancement. Your loved one, prior to their death, can have a screening performed by the research institution of their choice to confirm the candidacy of their donation. After your loved one’s death, the body would be transported to the research institution, and any unused remains would be cremated and returned to your family.

Gifts and Giving Preferences

After your loved one’s death, it is common for friends and family to want to send gifts in honor of your loved one. Instead of flowers or other gifts, your loved one may have designated that financial donations be given to an organization or cause that was important to them. These organizations may include:

  • The hospice organization where your loved one received care

  • Charities associated with your loved one’s terminal illness

  • Organizations dedicated to social issues

Remembrance Preferences

In discussions with your loved one about death and dying, they may have mentioned specific things that were important to them and their remembrance. Taking into account your loved one’s wishes for their remembrance allows you to provide a funeral or memorial service that honors their life and final wishes.

  • Special insignias or symbols may have been selected by your loved one to have included on their grave marker or tomb.

  • Songs, poems, or scriptures hold deep significance to many. In your time together, your loved one may have mentioned works that they wanted played or recited at their funeral.

  • Specific accomplishments or memberships that were important to your loved one may have been selected for use in their obituary. Including these in their official obituary pays honor to your loved one’s many accomplishments and their impact on the lives of others.

Select a Funeral Provider

When selecting a funeral home or provider, there are many options from which to choose. By knowing your rights as a consumer, understanding the potential service options, and by conducting the proper cost analysis, you can ensure a prudent selection that honors your loved one’s memory.

Funeral Service Types

When considering service types, the traditional, full-service funeral often comes to mind. Today, there are many alternatives to commemorating the life of your loved one. Understanding these options can empower you to make a decision that is in alignment with your needs and your loved one’s wishes.

  • Traditional funerals are the most common funeral option. Traditional funerals include a private or public viewing of your loved one’s body as well as a remembrance service after the viewing. Following the remembrance service, the body is transferred to the cemetery for burial.

  • Graveside funerals allow for the ceremony and remembrance of your loved one to take place at the burial location. These types of funerals are commonly preceded by a brief period of visitation at the funeral home.

  • Memorial services are commemorations of life without your loved one’s body present at the service. Memorial services are most common when cremation is the means of final disposition.

  • Immediate disposition, or non-commemorative services, involves the immediate cremation or burial of the deceased’s body without any form of remembrance preceding or following the final disposition.

Goods and Services Offered by Funeral Homes

Funeral providers can often assist in many facets of the organization, preparation, and execution of funeral services. They may also provide additional services that can compliment your late loved one’s funeral or memorial service. Funeral homes commonly provide most of the following goods and services:

  • Embalming, dressing of the body, and other forms of preparation are commonly handled by most funeral homes. These services are commonly discussed when the body of your loved one will be viewed by friends and family.

  • Creation and submission of obituaries to local newspapers can be performed by most funeral homes.

  • The preparation of cemetery spaces is often offered by funeral homes, particularly those with adjoined cemeteries. These services can include the preparation and arrangement of flowers for the grave marker, grave opening, and closing of the grave.

  • The securing of necessary permits and death certificate for your loved one is normally handled by the funeral home. Be sure to request multiple copies for your personal and family records.

  • Transportation for the body and family to the gravesite is a service commonly provided by funeral homes. It is often required that extended family and friends have their transportation planned ahead of time.

  • Caskets and urns for the body or remains of the deceased can be provided depending upon your loved one’s means of final disposition.

  • Management and execution of the memorial or funeral service is one of the primary offerings of a funeral provider. They facilitate the service, viewings, wakes, and the burial or cremation service that follows.

Your Rights When Selecting a Funeral Provider

Funeral providers are heavily regulated and monitored by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC, in the defense of consumer rights, established The Funeral Rule. The Funeral Rule empowers you with the rights to the following information from any funeral provider in the United States:

  • Funeral directors and salespeople must provide you with pricing information if you request it during a phone conversation. You do not have to disclose any personal information about you or your loved one when requesting this information.

  • You are entitled to a detailed pricing list when you visit a funeral provider. The pricing list, known officially as a General Price List, must clearly define the cost of all goods and services provided by the funeral home. The funeral home must also clearly state their prices for outer burial containers and caskets.

  • Funeral providers cannot refuse a casket or urn you purchased elsewhere, and they cannot charge you any fees for using a casket or urn that you provided them. If you elect to have a casket or urn shipped directly to the funeral home, they cannot require your presence at the time of delivery. Also, if you request the use of an alternative container -- a container other than a formal casket -- during cremation, they must provide it.

  • You have the right to purchase only the goods and services that you want. Funeral providers cannot force you to buy package deals or additional goods and services that you do not want.

  • You have the right to request a detailed statement of purchase prior to finalizing your payment. The Funeral Rule mandates that, if you request it, funeral homes must provide a detailed statement of your selected goods and services prior to your payment.

  • Funeral homes must provide proof of any legal requirements concerning the purchase of additional goods or services involving cemeteries, embalming, or cremation. While no state requires embalming, there may be laws concerning the necessary use of embalming after a certain amount of time has passed since the death of your loved one.

Select a Cemetery and Plot

When planning your loved one’s funeral, cemetery considerations must also be made. Understanding the types of cemetery and plot options available, as well as the costs associated with their use and maintenance, can help you make an informed decision.

Types of Cemeteries

Cemeteries serve as the final resting place for the remains of the deceased and can vary greatly in purpose and cost. Understanding the different types of cemeteries can help aid you in your selection to choose a fitting resting place for your loved one’s body or ashes.

  • Religious cemeteries reside on the property of a religious house of worship. If your loved one’s house of worship offers cemetery use, and your loved one’s faith was a focus of their life, a church cemetery can be an ideal choice.

  • Veteran’s cemeteries are only for members of the armed forces and their families.

  • Family cemeteries allow for multiple members of the same family to be buried or entombed close to one another.

  • Public cemeteries are the most common option and are often designed to emulate large gardens or parks. Public cemeteries are usually among the more expensive cemetery options.

Plot Selections

Depending upon your selection of cemetery, there can be an assortment of plot options available. There are four options when selecting a cemetery plot:

  • Single plots are the most common form of burial plot. They house the casket and remains of a single person.

  • Double plots, also known as companion plots, come in two variations: side-by-side and double-depth. Side-by-side plots provide room for the burial of two people next to one another. Double-depth plots allow for the burial of two people with one casket atop the other.

  • Cremation plots are burial plots where a cremation urn is buried alongside a casket. These plots commonly allow enough space for multiple cremation urns to be buried within a single cremation plot.

  • Family plots allow for the burial of multiple family members in a single location. Grave markers usually consist of a large monument or headstone marking the location of the family with small, individual markers for each family member.

Understand Cemetery Costs

When selecting a cemetery and plot, it is important to understand that there are one-time and recurring costs. Costs associated with cemetery use can include:

  • Purchase of the cemetery plot

  • Purchase and setup of the monument or grave marker

  • Purchase and setup of the grave liner

  • Opening and closing of the crypt or grave

  • Continual maintenance and upkeep of the plot and its surrounding environment

Inform Family, Friends, and Important Others

Drawing upon the talents and gifts of your family and friends can help make the funeral service a more personalized tribute to your loved one.

Throughout their life, your loved one touched the lives of many people, bringing compassion and love to those around them. Contacting your friends, family, and others concerning funeral plans can be an emotionally difficult task. Though difficult, communicating the funeral information as soon as possible can allow people time to prepare for their attendance and potential role in your loved one’s service.

Inform your Friends and Family

Informing friends and family can be one of the most emotionally-charged tasks in preparing funeral arrangements. When reaching out to others, having a prepared list of the information you wish to share can help you ensure that everyone is fully aware of the important details.

  • Inform them of the time, date, and location of the funeral and all events preceding and following the main service.

  • Provide the names, addresses, and contact information for any charities your loved wished to support. Your loved one may have desired to forego flowers and other gifts, and instead have memorial donations made in their honor.

  • Invite them to be a part of the service events. If your late loved one wanted to have a specific contribution from a friend or family member, such as the recital of a beloved song or poem, let them know during this time. Drawing upon the talents and gifts of your family and friends can help make the funeral service a more personalized tribute to your loved one.

Inform Colleagues and Organizations

Your loved one may have been a working professional and an active member of their local community. After their death, your loved one’s professional colleagues, community organizations, and business contacts will need to be informed concerning the funeral arrangements.

  • Inform your loved one’s church or other house of worship of the funeral service. They may elect to take a memorial offering or provide outreach for bereaved family and friends.

  • Communicate with financial organizations and business associates regarding your loved one’s funeral service. If not already aware of the death, this can allow them to begin the process of closing your loved one's accounts and any pending transactions.

  • Contact your loved one’s legal representation so they may begin preparing any necessary arrangements.

Benefits of Friends and Family Being a Part of the Service

By keeping your loved one’s wishes as your foremost focus during your preparations, you create a funeral service that honors the life and memory of your loved one.

When inviting friends and family, they may ask how they can assist you directly or be a part of the service in some way. Inviting friends and family to lend their talents to the service and its preparation can have many benefits.

  • It creates a more personalized tribute to your loved one. When family and friends are involved in the service, helping as pallbearers, ushers, singers, or speakers, those in attendance can witness and appreciate the impact of your loved one’s life on others.

  • It helps promote closeness among family and friends. With your friends and family lending their talent and service to the funeral, they are brought together in their desire to create a memorable experience that honors your loved one’s life.

  • It can reduce your workload. When family and friends assist in the preparations and logistics of the funeral service, it can alleviate the amount of stress you are under to oversee and manage each aspect of the event.

Though making funeral preparations can be a demanding task, proper planning and organization makes the process much more manageable. By keeping your loved one’s wishes as your foremost focus during your preparations, you create a funeral service that honors the life and memory of your loved one.


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  1. Federal Trade Commission. "Paying Final Respects." Paying Final Respects. United States Federal Trade Commission, 1 July 2014. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <>.

  2. "Complying with the Funeral Rule." Complying with the Funeral Rule. United States Federal Trade Commission. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <>.

  3. "National Funeral Directors Association" National Funeral Directors Association. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <>.

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