Funeral planning is an emotional and often costly process that is 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 can only be seen to following a loved one's passing. Keep in mind that many of these guidelines are entirely optional but may be worth considering to ensure that nothing is overlooked.

If a loved one has pre-arranged or pre-paid their funeral arrangements, it is important to locate this information and contact the funeral home they worked with. This will save the family from having to address many of the following items (because they’ve already been decided on) and may have a significant impact on the costs of funeral services.

Common Components of a Funeral

  • Compile information for the obituary
  • Choose a funeral home
  • Decide on the type of disposition (traditional burial, cremation, green burial, interment in a mausoleum, etc.)
  • 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 (memorial, wake, military, Jewish ceremony, celebration of life, etc.)
  • Choose a florist and desired flower arrangements
  • Pick photos to be displayed at the service
  • Prepare any other displays, videos or memorabilia for use at the service
  • Write the obituary
  • Communicate the preference for flowers, donations to charitable organizations or both in the obituary or death notices
  • Pick funeral music or songs to be played/sung at the service
  • Select clothing for the deceased to wear
  • Choose passages to be read at the service (scripture, poems or other meaningful readings)
  • 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 (religious leader, family member, etc.)
  • Decide who will perform the eulogy
  • Decide who will read the chosen passages
  • Choose pallbearers
  • Obtain legal pronouncement of death from an attending doctor or hospice nurse or call 911
  • Arrange transportation of the body to the funeral home (or coroner if an autopsy is required)
  • Obtain death certificates (multiple copies)
  • Identify any burial benefits or services the deceased may be eligible for (veterans benefits, military honors, religious groups, fraternal organizations, etc.)
  • Obtain a burial permit (sometimes referred to as a permit for disposition)
  • Set a time and date for the service
  • Arrange any food or beverages to be served during or after the service
  • Arrange embalming and preparation of the body if desired
  • Submit the obituary to selected newspapers

Understanding Funeral Costs

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 that 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 basic categories:

  • The basic service fee. This universal fee covers services common to all funerals including the use of the 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 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 such as musicians. 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 planning process. To learn more about your rights as a consumer, visit the FTC Funeral Rule website.

Browse Our Free Senior Care Guides