Funeral planning is an emotional and often costly process surrounded by a great deal of uncertainty. While it is best to discuss end-of-life wishes with loved ones ahead of time, many people shy away from this difficult conversation or never get the chance to have it at all. Without some guidance, the options and information surrounding funerals and interment can quickly become overwhelming at an already trying time.

The following list outlines an array of goods, services and logistics that are often included in a traditional funeral and/or memorial service. Many of these items can be arranged and even paid for prior to death, lessening the strain on grieving family members. However, other items cannot be pre-arranged and must be seen to following a loved one’s passing.

Common Steps for Planning a Funeral

Keep in mind that these guidelines are provided in no particular order. In fact, many of these are entirely optional but may be worth considering to ensure that nothing is overlooked in the funeral planning process.

  • Obtain legal pronouncement of death from an attending doctor/hospice nurse or call 911.
  • Choose a funeral home.
  • Arrange transportation of the body to the funeral home (or coroner if an autopsy is required).
  • Arrange embalming and preparation of the body if desired.
  • Select clothing for the deceased to wear.
  • Compile information for the obituary.
  • Identify any burial benefits or services the deceased may be eligible for (e.g., veterans benefits, military honors, religious groups, fraternal organizations).
  • Decide on the type of disposition (e.g., traditional burial, cremation, green burial, interment in a mausoleum).
  • Select a casket or cremation container.
  • Select a grave marker and inscriptions.
  • Identify a location for interment.
  • Identify a location for the service.
  • Decide on the type of service (e.g., memorial, wake, military service, Jewish ceremony, celebration of life).
  • Choose a florist and desired flower arrangements.
  • Pick photos to be displayed at the service.
  • Pick funeral music or songs to be played/sung at the service.
  • Prepare any other displays, videos or memorabilia for use at the service.
  • Choose passages to be read at the service (e.g., scripture, poems, other meaningful readings) and who will read them.
  • Write the obituary or select someone else to write it.
  • Communicate the preference for flowers, donations to charitable organizations, or both in the obituary or death notices.
  • Purchase and compile photos for a memorial register or guest book.
  • Purchase memorial cards.
  • Create and print memorial folders or programs for the service.
  • Arrange transportation to and from the service for family members.
  • Coordinate transportation for the casket.
  • Choose an officiant to lead the service (e.g., religious leader, family member, friend).
  • Decide who will perform the eulogy.
  • Choose pallbearers.
  • Obtain death certificates (more than one copy is recommended).
  • Obtain a burial permit (sometimes referred to as a permit for disposition).
  • Set a time and date for the service.
  • Submit the obituary to selected newspapers.
  • Arrange any food or beverages to be served during or after the service.

Locating Funeral Instructions

If a loved one has pre-arranged and pre-paid their funeral arrangements, it is important to locate this information and contact the funeral home they worked with. Encourage loved ones who are still alive to complete a letter of last instruction as part of their estate planning process. A letter of instruction is a document that simplifies the communication of instructions and desires at the time of an individual’s death. This will save surviving family from having to make many of the funeral decisions (because they’ve already been settled) and may have a significant impact on the cost of funeral services.

Understanding Funeral Costs and Pricing

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has mandated that funeral homes must provide consumers with an itemized statement of all costs for the goods and services they offer. This is called a General Price List (GPL). In addition, the law enables consumers to select and purchase only the goods and services they want, rather than having to accept an entire package deal.

Funeral costs can be divided into the following categories:

  • The Basic Service Fee 

    This universal fee covers services common to all funerals, including the use of the funeral home, the services of the funeral director and funeral home attendants, coordinating burial arrangements with a cemetery or other third parties, securing permits and death certificates, etc.
  • Optional Service Charges 

    These fees are assessed for optional services, which may include transporting the body, embalming, use of the funeral home for viewing (or wakes), use of a hearse or limousine, burial containers, cremation, and interment.
  • Cash Disbursements

    This fee covers goods and services that the funeral home buys from other vendors on your behalf with your consent. It may include the purchase of flowers, clergy services, obituary notices, pallbearers, and other service providers like musicians or caterers. An additional service fee may be assessed by the funeral home for making arrangements with these third parties.

Remember that consumers have the right to research and compare funeral homes and request clear and accurate pricing information throughout the funeral planning process. To learn more about your rights as a consumer, visit the FTC Funeral Rule website.

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