Guide to Planning a Funeral

It’s a pretty simple concept that if you want any event to go well, you plan in advance. Well, sometimes it is just not possible to plan in advance. Statistics from the National Funeral Directors Association show that only 25 percent of U.S. funerals are pre-planned, meaning that the vast majority of people who are putting together a funeral service are vastly unprepared. When you unexpectedly lose a loved one, planning a funeral becomes a responsibility that needs to happen fairly quickly.

But that doesn’t mean that some planning isn’t possible. There are plenty of resources for you to plan a thoughtful service recognizing the life and properly mourning the loss of your beloved. has a fantastic comprehensive list of actions to take after a loved one dies. We’ve incorporated some of that list below for you to consider.

For General Preparation

  • Notify authorities of the death if it has occurred outside a hospital, hospice, or nursing home
  • Assemble personal information for the death certificate and obituary
  • Notify family and friends – You have to decide what’s the best way to let people know that your loved one haspassed on. Sometimes calling may be appropriate for those closest. In thisage, sometimes social media surpasses us, so you may have to instruct people not to post of your loved one’s passing on outlets such as Facebook and Twitter without your permission.
  • Locate and read the last Will and Testament
  • Take care of financial needs as suggested as the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs.
    • Locate the family’s important papers, including wills, life insurance policies and stock certificates.
    • Call employee benefits office with deceased’s personal information
    • Notify Medicare.
    • You can get death certificates, and request multiple copies of it, by calling the NYC Department of Health (212) 788-4250, though your funeral director can also assist you with this.
    • Notify Social Security by calling (800) 772-1213.
    • Investigate whether you can get emergency cash before insurance claims are paid.
    • If your loved one served in the U.S. military, call the Veterans Administration at (800) 827-1000.
    • Avoid spending large sums of money while you’re in an emotional state. Consider taking a friend along with you during your funeral planning.
    • Contact a financial counselor.
  • Choose a charity for donation in lieu of flowers (if requested).
  • Gather photos and memorabilia for display.
  • Gather cemetery information such as deed to the plot and receipt of purchase.

Funeral Preparation

  • Decide what kind of service you will have. The services can include variations of the services below.
    • Traditional funeral with burial
    • Traditional funeral with cremation
    • Direct burial (no viewing or funeral service)
    • Direct cremation (no viewing or funeral service)
    • Memorial service with burial
    • Memorial service with cremation
  • Determine who will pay the costs of the service.
  • Select a funeral director.
    • In New York, state law says you must have a funeral director to handle all of the arrangements of preparing and transporting your loved one’s remains for cremation or burial and filing the death certificate. No matter what your religion or culture is, be prepared to seek out the assistance of a funeral director.
  • Select your funeral home.
    • Be sure to shop around and check various prices for the services you have selected. By federal law, the funeral home must provide you with a general price list.
    • Have an idea of the clothing and jewelry you want yourloved one to wear, which can include special pins for membership and various associations or other accessories that may have been special to them.
  • Select clergy.
  • Select speakers for the eulogy.
  • Select pallbearers (typically 4-6).
  • Consider catering food/options for after the funeral procession.

There are several details of funeral planning that can make packages very costly. Here are some of the costs associated with purchasing caskets on

Metal Caskets

Metal caskets can range from $1,200 to more than $10,000. Experts say the breakdown includes standard/carbon steel caskets that range from $1,200 to $2,500. A stainless steel casket will range from $3,000 to $10,000-plus. A copper casket will also range from $3,000 to $10,000-plus and a bronze casket is the most expensive, clocking from $3,000 to $10,000-plus.

Wood Caskets

Experts say wood caskets can often be hand-crafted and can vary in selection, and pricing will vary depending on where the wood came from and the quality of the wood. Common hardwoods include poplar, cottonwood and pine and can range from $900 to $2,700. Standard hardwoods include oak, maple and cherry and can cost from $2,200 to $4,500. Premium hardwoods include walnut and mahogany, which can run from $5,000 to $10,000.

Burial Vault/Liner

A burial vault or liner is not required by law but they are often required by cemeteries. To help offset the cost of an average vault, which runs about $1,195, purchase a liner instead which runs from $400 to $800.

Personalizing Your Funeral Service

Once you have gotten through the basic checklist, you should be on track to make the service more unique and personal to honor your loved one. There are several ways that you can either follow tradition or create a different kind of experience.

  • Music – Was there a particular kind of music that your loved one liked to listen to? Consider playing some of their favorite tunes or having musicians come to the service to sing or play live.
  • Photographs/slideshows – Pictures really can be worth a thousand words. If your friend/family loved to travel and have fun and have the photos to prove it, why not shows those memories in a short movie? Make sure the funeral home has a projector and the audio/video equipment to accommodate the display.
  • Presentations from family/friends. – Funerals can often be used as a celebration of a person’s life by those who loved them the most. There may be people who would like to say a poem, read a religious scripture or sing a song as a tribute. Other tributes can include displaying a work of art or giving some sort of award posthumously.
  • Resolutions/Presentations from organizations – If a person was active in the community or their church, a representative from those organizations may want to read a resolution honoring the person. The representative may also want to present the family with a certificate or written copy of the resolution. Certain membership organizations, professional clubs, sororities, fraternal organizations also have ceremonies they reserve for their deceased members. You may want to contact them to see if there are any presentations that they would like to include on the program.

Memorial Service/Funeral Etiquette

There are many different kinds of funeral services based on different cultures, religions and faith. If you are having a service for someone where a person of another faith, culture of religion may be invited, consider that the person may abstain from certain rites and traditions and do not take it as an offense. If a person of a different faith or culture is for some reason unable to attend a funeral due to his or her beliefs, be sure to let the person know if you are having a viewing where they can come, pay their respects and sign the guestbook.

You may be in a bit of a fog during the planning, but you still have to get through the service. There isn’t necessarily a “right” way to act at a funeral, especially if you are grieving. But if you feel like you’re not prepared to greet or interact with people at the service, or the funeral itself, gives several helpful tips:


  • Don’t worry too much about what to wear (people will be there to support you, not to worry about what you are wearing) but make sure that your clothing is clean, appropriate and comfortable.
  • The first two rows of seats or pews are typically reserved for immediate family so that is where you should sit.
  • Be prepared to greet people who come to the funeral as they come in and respond to condolences, handshakes and hugs. You don’t have to have a long conversation, but thanking them for coming is appropriate.
  • If someone says something insensitive or otherwise acts inappropriately, Everplans suggests that you tell the person you would rather not discuss the issue, thank them and walk away.
  • Write thank you notes to everyone who signed the guestbook at the service. You may be able to coordinate this through the funeral home.

Planning funerals can be a bit overwhelming and there is no doubt that it can be an emotionally draining time. However, staying calm and taking advantage of resources as you plan can make all the difference — resulting in a beautiful service that is as memorable as the person’s life you are celebrating.


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