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Making funeral arrangements

Circumstances will vary, but at some point in our lives, most of us will be called upon to make funeral arrangements. Perhaps you'll make your own funeral arrangements while you're still healthy enough to do so (see Funeral pre-planning: a practical matter) or maybe you'll be called upon to engage in funeral planning for a loved one, either in advance or at the time of death. In any case, understanding the choices you'll be asked to make will help you to be prepared.

Unless you're planning to care for the remains of your loved one at home, the first step in funeral planning is to choose a funeral home. While a small but growing number of people are turning to home funerals, most people still prefer to engage the services of a funeral director to handle the care and final disposition of the body.

If you're making funeral arrangements in advance of any need, you may want to take the time to visit a number of funeral homes, ask for price lists, and make a decision based on your observations. But if you must make immediate arrangements following the death of a loved one, you probably won't feel up to comparison shopping. In such a case, after getting some recommendations for funeral homes, you can obtain prices by telephone.

For more information on choosing a funeral home, see How to choose a funeral home or funeral director.

Details and decisions

With all the details that must be managed when a person dies, it's easy to feel overwhelmed, and tending to them may be too much to handle when you are still reeling from grief. Fortunately, once you've selected a funeral home, the funeral director will be able to assist with many of those details. But even with the funeral director's help, you will still be expected to make a number of decisions, convey the family's wishes, and work collaboratively with the funeral director to accomplish all the necessary tasks. You may find the support and assistance of a trusted friend, clergy member, or attorney to be a comfort at this time.

Here are some of the decisions you can expect to make when planning a funeral. Keep in mind that each decision will impact the cost of the funeral. For more information, see What determines the funeral cost?

  • Funeral service or memorial service. A funeral service is conducted with the body present, and thus usually occurs within approximately three days of the death. A memorial service, on the other hand, does not include the presence of the body, and therefore may take place at any time, even weeks or months after the burial or cremation (see Funerals - what different types are available?).
  • Cremation or burial. Depending on your choice here, you'll also need to decide a place for burial or how to handle the cremated remains (see How to decide between burial or cremation).
  • Final resting place. Unless the deceased or your family already has a burial plot, you'll have to decide on where the body should be interred. If you must locate and purchase a burial place, you may want to consider buying several adjacent plots for future family use. In the case of cremation, your choice will be whether the cremated remains will be buried, scattered, or kept at home (see Choosing a cemetery).

In addition to making these decisions, you will need to assist the funeral director by:

  • Supplying obituary information
  • Selecting stationery, i.e. memorial cards and thank you cards
  • Selecting funeral flower arrangements
  • Providing the names and telephone numbers of people who will be involved in the funeral service (e.g. clergy, pallbearers, musician, soloist).
Funeral planning resources

The following sources of funeral information provide additional information to help you make funeral arrangements.

Funerals: A Consumer Guide, U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

National Funeral Directors Association - Consumer Resources.

Sponsored links

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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