How to Plan a Funeral

Funerals are something most people simply aren't prepared for. No one wants to think about the death of a loved one, and it's hard to make arrangements when blinded by grief. To make things easier, here is a simple breakdown of steps when planning a funeral:

Knowing what to do help you from becoming overwhelmed when planning a funeral.Knowing what steps to take can help you avoid becoming overwhelmed when planning a funeral.

Decide on the Type of Service You Want

Choosing a service means more than deciding between burial and cremation. Do you want a viewing, and if so, should it be open to the public or only for a select few? Should you hold a ceremony in a funeral home, a house of worship or at the cemetery? Who should speak at these services? Here's a quick list of the questions you should ask when choosing the type of funeral service you need:

  • What type of service do I want? Are there any cultural or religious practices I need to observe?
  • Do I want any other funeral events, such as a viewing, a reception, or military funeral honors?
  • What sort of music should I use? Organ music? A favorite song?
  • Should there be a display of some sort with mementos, photos, or a collage?
  • Should there be flowers?
  • Who should be invited to the funeral? Who should deliver eulogies, prayers or other words?

Here's a quick rundown of the three most common funeral services available:

  • Traditional: This service is the highest in terms of funeral cost. Traditional funerals include a viewing, a formal service, a hearse and funeral procession and either cremation, burial or entombment. 
  • Direct Burial: With a direct service, the body is buried in a simple container with no viewing or immediate memorial service. In fact, funeral homes usually charge extra when families attend the actual burial.
  • Direct Cremation: This is similar to a direct burial, but the body is cremated instead.

Understand Your Rights

You have certain rights guaranteed by the Federal Trade Commission.

Unfortunately, sometimes people in the funeral can take advantage of emotional distress. They may recommend expensive funeral packages and won't inform grieving families of cheaper options, so survivors end up going over their budget. Consumers have certain rights guaranteed by the Federal Trade Commission. The Funeral Rule was established to ensure consumers have access to all funeral options available and do not have to choose a package containing services they don't require.

As a consumer, you have the right to request price lists for all the services and products a funeral home has available, including caskets, urns and other burial containers. You don't have to offer anything - your name or phone number, for instance - in exchange for this information, and a funeral director has to give you prices over the phone if you ask. You can also pick and choose your arrangements and aren't obligated to purchase a package that includes products or services you don't want.

Know Your Budget

Funerals cost around $7,000 on average but can go to upwards of $10,000. Attaining a proper memorial shouldn't mean spending outside your means, causing you further stress during an emotional time. Take a moment to lay out a budget before shopping for a funeral home. Establishing your finances ahead of time helps you resist any pressure from sales people. Bringing everyone together to discuss money can be stressful, but it's something that needs to be done to keep everyone on budget.

Select a Funeral Home

You don't have to get all your funeral products from one service.

Once you know your rights, budget and arrangement needs, it's time to look for a funeral home. Look at several local options and don't be afraid to compare prices. Remember, you don't have to get all your funeral products from one service. Once you have a few choices, check your local Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) to see if they've received any complaints. Use this feedback to narrow your list down to two or three choices.

Visit your selections and don't be afraid to ask questions. Note the cleanliness of the building and the attitude of the staff. If the people are standoffish, unwilling to answer questions or, as the FCA pointed out, unkind toward your religious or cultural beliefs, it's probably best to move on to the next option.

Decide Any Post-Service Events

Choosing if and where you want attendees to gather after the service is over is one more thing you can decide early on, sparing your loved ones the burden of having to do this themselves. Do you want people to return to your home after the funeral, or would renting a restaurant or community space be more convenient for everyone? Keep in mind cost if you're thinking about renting a space as well as the logistics of supplying food and making reservations. Also, be sure there's a way for people to stand and make a statement if they want to, whether that's a podium, a microphone, or even a spot in front of the fireplace.

You can't predict the date of your funeral, but you can leave instructions for any post-service events in your will or in another secure location. Write down all the information your friends and family will need to set up a meeting space - phone numbers, caterers, flowers, navigational directions, and anything else you want - and make sure your family knows where to find these instructions.

Notify Attendees

Once you've made your final selection, notify anyone who will attend the funeral of the arrangements. Err on the side of formality and send out stationery or cards with the date of the service. If you have arrivals from out of town, try to recommend some affordable hotels nearby. You could call on a close friend or family member to help you with this process if you're feeling overwhelmed.

The most important thing to know when planning a funeral is you don't have to pay for anything you don't want. If it's outside of your budget or you feel like the service is unnecessary, feel free to say no to the funeral director. Once the pressure is off, you can make the right decisions for you and your loved one.