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How to choose a funeral director

Not so long ago, choosing a funeral director was a very simple matter. Decisions regarding who would be entrusted with the care of a loved one's remains were typically based on church, cultural or ethnic affiliations, family tradition, or reputation. Funeral homes were family owned, and many of them had been in the funeral business for decades, if not generations.

Today, community ties typically are not as strong as they once were. And while almost 87 percent of funeral homes are still family owned and operated, the rest are owned by one of five publicly traded stock corporations that have entered the market. At the same time, funerals have become a growth industry, with annual sales of well over $20 billion in the U.S. alone. Under these circumstances, selecting a funeral home has become a more complicated process.

What to expect

As you consider which funeral home is best for your family, remember that the funeral director's job is not only to care for the remains of the deceased, but also to serve the bereaved family by helping with the myriad of details that arise when someone dies. The funeral director will also provide support as you cope with your loss. The following are just some of the things you can expect from your funeral director:

  • Help your family to plan a funeral service that meets your emotional needs within your budget.
  • Write the obituary and submit it for publication.
  • Secure necessary permits and copies of death certificate.
  • Transport and care for the body.
  • Coordinate services with clergy, fraternal organizations, cemetery, or crematorium, as appropriate.
  • Help to secure any benefits (e.g. Social Security or VA death benefits, burial insurance) to which you may be entitled.
  • Provide bereavement services or make referrals for grief counseling and support.
  • Transport family members in the funeral procession.

Things to look for in a funeral director

There are several factors to consider as you evaluate a funeral home's ability to meet your family's needs.

  • Convenient location. The funeral home should be conveniently located for family and friends, as well as reasonably close to the cemetery and to the church, if the funeral will be held there.
  • Reputation. Have you or someone you know used the funeral home before? If not, ask your friends about funeral homes they've used, and whether their experiences were positive or negative. A clergy member may also be able to recommend a funeral director.
  • Facility size. If you have a large family or the deceased had many friends, you'll want to be sure that the funeral home is large enough to accommodate everyone. If there are several viewing rooms in the funeral parlor, ask the funeral director to which room your family will be assigned, and be sure to let him know if you're concerned it won't be large enough.
  • Environment. The interior of the funeral parlor should be clean and accessible, with ample comfortable seating.
  • Exterior appearance. Notice whether the exterior of the funeral home and the surrounding grounds are well maintained, and make sure there is sufficient room for parking at the facility or nearby.
  • Funeral director and staff. As you plan for your loved one's funeral, you'll be interacting closely with the funeral director and funeral home staff. You'll want them to be pleasant, as well as knowledgeable and trustworthy. Trust your instincts to tell you if this is a staff you can work with.
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Further sources of information

You may find our other articles in the Funerals: everything you need to know section helpful too.

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