How to plan a funeral step-by-step
Ease your emotional strain by letting this step-by-step checklist guide you through the funeral planning process
When you’re overcome with grief, every task seems overwhelming. To ease your strain, we’ve compiled this list to walk you through planning a funeral, step-by-step. We’ve also created a checklist that you can download for free to keep track of where you are in the process.
Contact the deceased's legal representative
When you contact the legal representative of the deceased, you will learn whether he or she has a prearranged funeral plan. If a plan exists, it will give direction on how to proceed with funeral arrangements.
Select a funeral home
If the deceased didn’t have a Preneed Funeral insurance policy, select a funeral home and schedule time with a funeral director. A funeral director helps families plan and carry out funeral services. (To budget expenses, read How much does an average funeral cost?)
Choose a form of disposition
Disposition is the manner that human remains are handled, such as burial or cremation. You'll also need to decide whether other preparations of the deceased are needed, such as embalming or type of cremation.
Choose a service type
Types of services include:
Religious funeral service: A funeral typically held at a religious place of worship and involves prayers and rituals from the deceased’s religious background.
Military funeral service: A funeral service that can happen at the deceased family’s request if the deceased was a part of a military organization, and it sometimes involves an honor guard participating in the funeral service.
Fraternal funeral service: A funeral that incorporates aspects from the deceased’s fraternal involvement.
Choose a location for the funeral service
You may hold the service at a religious location, like a church, or you may select a place that held special meaning for the deceased.
Find and schedule a clergy member or officiant
Clergy are ordained with a religious organization or church and perform pastoral services, while an officiant has no religious ties but is able to lead funerals.
Select a casket
If burial was chosen, select a casket, which is a specially made box used to contain a deceased person’s body, and decide whether it will be open or closed at the funeral.
Select a burial container and/or vault
A burial container or vault is typically made of concrete and encloses a coffin to assist in preventing it from sinking.
Choose clothing, jewelry, and glasses for the deceased.
Choose final touches
Discuss cosmetology and hairdressing for the deceased with the funeral director.
Select a cremation container
If cremation was chosen, select an urn or niche space and a cremation container.
An urn is a large vase used to hold the ashes of a cremated body.
A niche space is a recessed compartment in a wall where an urn can be placed.
A cremation container is a casket that is usually made of all wood and is purchased for the funeral service that is later cremated with the body.
Arrange a cemetery plot
Find the cemetery deed or proof of ownership. A cemetery deed is a document that proves someone owns a grave and has the right to be buried in it in the event of their death.
If the deceased hasn’t purchased a plot, you will need to secure interment space and get an exact location of burial disposition. An interment space is where an urn or casket is buried in a cemetery.
Make grave arrangements
Arrange for opening and closing of the grave at the cemetery.
Secure endowment care
Endowment care is the general maintenance of an individual’s gravesite in a cemetery.
Arrange the graveside committal service
This service is a funeral ceremony held at the gravesite at a cemetery.
Reserve the cemetery chapel
Secure use of the cemetery chapel for committal prayers, which are said at the graveside committal service, if applicable.
Choose a grave marker
Better known as a gravestone, a marker is placed over the grave to mark where the deceased was placed.
Arrange the visitation
Choose a time and place for the visitation service, which is a time when the family of the deceased makes itself available to friends and extended family members who want to express their sympathy.
Provide information about deceased to newspaper to have an obituary created. An obituary is an article that announces a person has died and offers detailed biographical information. (For a complete list of details to provide, read Checklist: What to do when someone dies.)
Decide who will deliver the eulogy, which is a speech or piece of writing that praises the life of a deceased person.
Select scriptures and/or readings for the service
Choose text that has special meaning to the deceased or tells a story about him or her.
Gather items for a memento display or memorial board
It’s an opportunity to display personal possessions or photographs of the deceased to show others a glimpse of his or her life.
Choose forms of media
Decide on memorial video production, pictures, music, etc.
Select charitable contributions for memorials in memory of the deceased, if desired.
Purchase register book
If you want to collect more than guests' signatures, you may also use memorial prayer cards, if desired.
Family or friends can assist in carrying the coffin at a funeral.
Schedule instrumentalists and vocalists and choose music.
Find a florist, select floral arrangements, and designate transportation to funeral service.
- Arrange a hearse to transport the body of the deceased from the funeral service to the cemetery.
- Arrange a car to transport close family members from the funeral, to the cemetery, and to the post-funeral reception.
- Arrange transportation and lodging for out of town guests.
- Select a location for the post-funeral reception.
- Contact the church or a caterer to arrange food for the post-funeral reception.
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