Plan your funeral

Planning a funeral can be an emotional and difficult task after a friend or loved one’s death. It can be helpful for you to plan out details in advance so those you care about won’t have to.

Select a funeral home

First, you should select a funeral home. You can contact the funeral home for more information to ensure it can meet your needs and wishes. Speaking with a funeral director, also known as a mortician, can help you understand the range of services provided from hosting a visitation to ordering a headstone. If you are a veteran, you also might want to see if the funeral director can arrange for military honors to be performed at your service. The funeral director might even be able to help obtain copies of the death certificate. If this is the case, ask what information you need to provide in advance that would be helpful in obtaining it quickly and easily.

Consider the cost

Beyond just considering the services a funeral home can provide, you should also consider the cost. While laws regulate some of what a funeral director does, which present fixed costs, many costs of a funeral are variable. For example, your desire to have a high-end casket or urn, a lengthy visitation, flowers, in memory cards, etc., can increase the price of your funeral services. While it might be difficult to predict, you should think about what the value of your estate might be at death. If you have a concern that there will not be enough money in the estate to cover more expensive options or you want to keep as much money in the estate for your beneficiaries as possible, you should make a mental note of these things as you select services available at a funeral home.

As you meet with the funeral director, you also should discuss payment options. Will the funeral home bill the estate and accept payment when the estate is closed? Will payment need to be made relatively quickly then reimbursed by the estate? You might even consider pre-paying for particular services. If you do, be sure you get a contract outlining what you are paying for and a receipt of payment. You should let your executor and family or friends know that you’ve pre-paid and keep the documentation filed in a safe place they can access easily.

Decide on burial/cremation details

Now that you have information from a funeral director on the variety of services offered, you need to make some decisions about these services. For each decision you make, you should write your wishes down and tell your loved ones where they can find these details.

You should decide whether you want to be buried or cremated. If there are religious or cultural mandates surrounding the handling of your body, you should be explicit as to what they are or who should be contacted to ensure they are properly performed. If you want to participate in organ donation programs or would like your body used for medical research, you should convey these wishes, too. If there are any necessary organizations you need to contact regarding these wishes, you should research that now to get the necessary information recorded and filed for your records.

Pick a final resting place

You should next consider your burial location or desired location for your ashes and/or memorial. Since laws, rules, or regulations dictate appropriate and inappropriate places for this, you might need to check to see if your wishes can be legally carried out. If you choose a burial location, you should consider whether you want to go ahead and purchase a grave site or just designate the desired location and have your family or friends arrange for the purchase.

If you do purchase a grave site in advance, be sure to file the paperwork with your funeral wishes and let your loved ones know where to find the information. Similarly, with a memorial location, you might have to purchase a plot or space. Consider whether this is something you want to do in advance.

While you might not be able to purchase a casket and vault, or urn, in advance, you should write out your wishes on the subject. You might want an ornate style, or a simple one. Be sure to record your wishes and keep it in a safe place.

You also need to record any desires regarding your headstone/memorial. If there are specific things you want written, those need to be recorded. If you want a simple or ornate one, you should record that, too. You might even consider going ahead and purchasing a headstone or memorial now. If you already purchased your grave site or memorial location, many companies will install your desired headstone or memorial and will engrave it later.

Plan the service details

Next, you should plan the service details. You should write out everything related to the timing and specifics of the ceremony, including speakers, singers/songs, religious aspects, open or closed casket, location, graveside, eulogies, photos or memorabilia on display, etc.

Think about funerals you’ve attended. What did you like and what did you not like? You should even plan details such as if there is any specific clothing you desire or if you want all jewelry to be given to your executor for safe-keeping and to be held as part of your estate. You should also write down whether you want flowers of if you prefer charitable contributions, and if so, what organizations you wish to support.

Draft an obituary

Finally, you can write your obituary or create an outline of the types of details you wish to include. An obituary can be short, noting basic details like age, place of residence, surviving family and service details. It can be longer, too, including personal details like degrees and schools attended, military service, hobbies, and notes about memorial contributions or flowers. Remember that most newspapers no longer offer free space for the publication of obituaries. They instead charge by the length of the text.

In addition to drafting an obituary, you should include details about its publication such as which newspapers you want to use. You might move after retirement and would want your obituary published in your current location and your former hometown. You also should consider the timing of the publication. If you want your obituary to serve as notice and invitation to your funeral and/or visitation services, it should be published before those services are held. If you want your funeral and/or visitation to be small and private, you might want to omit details about the service or publish the obituary after the services take place.