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.

Select accessories

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.

Prepare obituary

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.)

Select speakers

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.

Choose charities

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.

Select pallbearers

Family or friends can assist in carrying the coffin at a funeral.

Select music

Schedule instrumentalists and vocalists and choose music.

Arrange flowers

Find a florist, select floral arrangements, and designate transportation to funeral service.

Arrange transportation

  • 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.

Organize reception

  • 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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Photo credit: iStock


Estimate your funeral expenses

Our funeral expenses calculator can help estimate your burial and end-of-life expenses and show how those costs could be affected by inflation over time.

Calculate Your Funeral Expenses

Request a FREE Funeral Planning Guide

Do you need help preplanning your final wishes? Request a free copy of our Planning Guide.

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