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.

  1. Contact the legal representative of the deceased to 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.

  2. 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?)

  3. Choose a form of disposition, which is the manner that human remains are handled, such as burial or cremation, and decide whether other preparations of the deceased are needed, such as embalming or type of cremation.

  4. Choose a service type, such as:

    • 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.

  5. Choose a location for the funeral service.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. Choose clothing, jewelry, and glasses for the deceased.

  10. Discuss cosmetology and hairdressing for the deceased with the funeral director.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. Arrange for opening and closing of the grave at the cemetery.

  14. Secure endowment care, which is the general maintenance of an individual’s gravesite in a cemetery.

  15. Arrange the graveside committal service, which is a funeral ceremony held at the gravesite at a cemetery.

  16. Secure use of the cemetery chapel for committal prayers, which are said at the graveside committal service, if applicable.

  17. Choose a grave marker. Better known as a gravestone, a marker is placed over the grave to mark where the deceased was placed.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.)

  20. Decide who will deliver the eulogy, which is a speech or piece of writing that praises the life of a deceased person.

  21. Select scriptures and/or readings for the service.

  22. 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.

  23. Decide on memorial video production, pictures, music, etc.

  24. Select charitable contributions for memorials in memory of the deceased, if desired.

  25. Purchase register book and memorial prayer cards, if desired.

  26. Select pallbearers, who are family or friends who assist in carrying the coffin at a funeral.

  27. Schedule instrumentalists and vocalists and select music.

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

  29. Arrange a hearse to transport the body of the deceased from the funeral service to the cemetery.

  30. Arrange a car to transport close family members from the funeral, to the cemetery, and to the post-funeral reception.

  31. Arrange transportation and lodging for out of town guests.

  32. Select a location for the post-funeral reception.

  33. Contact the church or a caterer to arrange food for the post-funeral reception.

This article may contain links to third party websites, but Great Western Insurance Company is neither responsible nor liable for their content, accuracy, or security. Review our Terms and Conditions to learn more.

Photo credit: iStock

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. The data can help you determine whether Final Expense or Preneed Funeral insurance will meet your needs.

Calculate Your Expenses

Request a FREE Funeral Planning Guide

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

Related Articles

6 Reasons Why Advance Funeral Planning Makes Sense

While no one wants to think about their own death or planning a funeral, creating an advance funeral plan may bring peace of mind to you and your family. 

Read More

Cremation vs. Burial: Which is Right for You?

You'll want to consider more than funeral costs when choosing between cremation vs. burial.

Read More

Funeral Etiquette Guide: What to Say, What to Wear, and More

From the funeral viewing to the post-funeral reception, this funeral etiquette guide will help you properly pay your respects.

Read More

How to Preplan a Personalized Funeral Service

Learn how you can prearrange a personalized funeral service that’s as unique as you are.

Read More

How to Start Planning a Celebration of Life

If you think a celebration of life is more suitable for your loved one than a traditional funeral, you’ll need to consider six key details as your planning a funeral party.

Read More

How Much Does an Average Funeral Cost?

If you’ve started estate planning and preparing your end-of-life plans, you’ll need to know one key fact: how much an average funeral costs. 

Read More

Funeral Planning Trends that May Surprise You

These six funeral planning trends are redefining traditional funeral services.

Read More

What to Remember When Planning a Military Funeral

Whether you’re preplanning your own military funeral or making arrangements for a veteran who has passed, remember to research the benefits that are available to you. 

Read More

Preplan a Green Funeral in 4 Steps

If you’re looking to minimize your carbon footprint when you pass, you can opt for a green funeral — an increasingly popular funeral planning trend — and preplanning an ecofriendly green service is easier than you think.

Read More