All You Need to Know About Planning a Funeral in 9 Steps

Woman writing at desk planning funeral arrangements

The passing of a loved one can shock the very foundation on which we stand. Having to plan a funeral on top of that begins to seem mind-boggling and draining. Here at LifeSong Milestones, we understand and want to put your funeral planning worries at ease. Here’s a 9 step-by-step guide to help you plan a funeral ceremony with ease.

Step 1: Find any pre-arrangements

Step 2: Choose a funeral home

Step 3: Decide on what type of funeral

Step 4: Choose a cremation container or casket/grave marker 

Step 5: Determine the resting place

Step 6: Plan the details of the service and decide who will participate

Step 7: Gather info for an obituary or death notice

Step 8: Secure endowment care

Step 9: Handle estate financial and administrative matters

Step 1: Find Any Pre-arrangements

Before you do anything, first find out if your loved one made any pre-arrangements – like buying funeral insurance to cover some or all costs, paying for a funeral plot, or simply writing down their wishes for their memorial day services. Start by calling the funeral home that your loved one used. The home will be able to tell you what preparations were made and what preparations still need to be made. (FYI if you haven’t made pre-arrangements for your funeral services, you might want to start. It’s very helpful for those grieving individuals who are organizing your funeral. Info on what can be pre-arranged can be found here.) 

Step 2: Choose a funeral home

If the deceased did not make pre-arrangements, then one of the best ways to find a funeral home is via a referral from a friend. Feel free to use your directory or search “funeral homes near me” online to find homes conveniently located for your family. Once you have options, call each provider and discuss your wishes and budgets. 

Just know that price transparency is the law. Whether you visit in person or on the phone, the FTC requires the funeral provider to give you a general price list itemizing the cost of the items and services the funeral home offers.

Step 3: Decide on what type of funeral

There are several types of funeral services you can hold – traditional burial, cremation, green burial, interment in a mausoleum, visitation, wake, graveside funeral, and more. Ask your funeral home for resources or information to help you make those decisions and explain costs.

Questions to discuss with the funeral home include:

  • Will there be a casket – open or closed?
  • If a body will be cremated, will the ashes be scattered? If the ashes are deposited in an urn, will it be placed in a mausoleum?
  • Are there certain religious traditions that need to be respected?
  • Will there be contributions to charities in lieu of flowers?

Step 4: Choose a cremation container or casket/grave marker

The funeral home can help you purchase a casket or cremation urn, but know that you can shop elsewhere. The FTC’s funeral rules state that funeral homes are required to agree to use a casket you bought elsewhere and do not allow them to charge you a fee for using it. 

Prices for caskets or urns vary.

  • Caskets will naturally be more expensive as they are bigger. Being buried in a casket is the most common type of final disposition, but many people have now started to choose cremation as the cost of funerals continue to rise. With a burial, the body will lie in a casket and attendants will lower it into the ground. Your burial plan can specify any sentimental items to be buried with the body, such as the funeral clothes they will wear. Make sure to discuss burial markers available to you to mark the grave.

LifeSong Milestones Brother Keepsake Cremation Urn

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  • With cremations, know that you can still plan a memorial service and a reception. Just remember you need an urn to hold the remains. A great place that sells urns with over 500 different designs and free customization is LifeSong Milestones. These USA-made urns are handmade, can be customized to fit your needs, and cost as low as $69.00. They have urns for pet memorials as well. Now, remember to order an urn big enough to fit all the ashes, unless you are going to divide the ashes up. Each cubic inch in the urn should fit one pound. So a 200-pound man would need a 200 cubic inch size urn. To learn more about calculating what size urn fits your needs visit here.

Step 5: Determine the resting place

If cremation was decided on, a resting place for the remains can be determined at a later date. If burial was decided on, then a location needs to be selected, whether this is a family funeral plot or a cemetery close by. A funeral director can also assist. Note that if you choose a green burial, then you might need a specific cemetery and funeral home since the embalming fluid and casket need to be biodegradable. So check with your funeral home in advance. 

Now there are two other alternatives that not many people realize. Depending on the laws in your city or state, you can get permission for burial on private property and hold your funeral there. The other option is to donate the body to science.

Step 6: Plan the details of the service and decide who will participate

Funeral times and date need to be discussed, as well as whether you want photos, videos, music, memorabilia, passages to be read at the service or a post-service meal. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or accept help from others if offered. You might have to decide which relatives or friends need to serve as pallbearers or give a eulogy, if you are not relying on a clergy representative to speak about the deceased loved one. Photos can be displayed in nice memorial photo frames at the service, available to buy here. You could also put those beautiful memorial day pictures in a custom-made memorial frame as a keepsake in your house.

LifeSong Milestones Memorial Sympathy Picture Frame

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An assortment of plaques can also be made for the service or gifts to those who helped.

LifeSong Milestones In Loving Memory Memorial Sign

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The service often goes by in a blur and sometimes it’s nice to have a memory of it by having a guest book. Over 250 guest book designs can be found here for as little as $49.99. These books have a handmade wooden front that can be customized with bereavement sayings that touch the hearts of all who write in them.

LifeSong Milestones Engraved Funeral Guest Book

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Step 7: Gather info for an obituary or death notice 

Decide whether to run an obituary or death notice in your local newspaper.  An obituary is a detailed look at the life of the lost loved one, sometimes written by a journalist. A death notice is simply a compilation of relevant facts. The prices of these vary depending on your local newspaper. Some simple death notices with no picture have no charge and will be handled by your funeral home, so check with them first before calling your local newspaper. Either way, you need to gather personal info about the deceased from the next of kin. 

Essential details to include:

  • Deceased loved one’s full name (can include maiden name or nickname)
  • Birthdate
  • Birthplace
  • Day of passing + age upon death
  • A list of surviving relatives – grandparents, parents, siblings, spouse, children, grandchildren
  • Location (city/state) of death and/or where the person lived
  • Details about the funeral service: date, time, location (if open to the public)
  • If applicable - what cause or charity donations can be made to in lieu of flowers/memorial gifts

If you are doing an obituary, you can also include any other memorable deeds your loved one accomplished over their life, parents’ names, career/church info, influence on his/her community, and personal character and interests. Send your finished obituary along with a nice photo (preferable a headshot) to your local newspaper or funeral home. They should let you know if any other information is needed. You can keep a copy to display at the service if desired. If you are still stuck on what to write, here are a few examples of especially memorable obituaries. 

 Step 8: Secure endowment care

Make sure the general maintenance of your loved one’s gravesite will be kept up, whether with a secured endowment fund or family assistance. You can discuss the funding needed and options available with your funeral home director.

Step 9: Handle estate financial and administrative matters

After the funeral service is finished, the deceased one’s affairs must still be taken care of. Here’s a list of tasks you may need to take care of:

  • Notify the following people/organizations of the death
    • Employers
    • Fraternal, social and religious organizations
    • Agencies, such as the department of motor vehicles, to transfer all licenses and titles
    • Telephone, utility, internet, water, newspaper, other subscriptions/online services, and any other services that are registered in the deceased names. 
  • Begin the estate proceeding. Whether an extensive probate proceeding is needed is determined by the size of the estate and the existence of a will and living trusts. An executor named in the will (or appointed by the probate court) will shepherd the estate through this process. For extra assistance, you can hire an estate planning attorney to provide legal guidance.

  • Account for all assets and debts. Pay outstanding bills. You may need to have the probate court release short-term funds to cover these bills. 

  • Send death notices to filing death benefit claims with insurance companies, social security, the veteran’s administrations, pension/retirement funds, unions, etc. Remember that certified copies of the death certificate are usually required in making these claims. Visit Claiming Death Benefits for more info. This is an important step and may drastically help you cover funeral costs and any debts, like hospital patient bills.

  • Check to make sure all jointly held accounts have been changed, including bank accounts, credit cards, mortgages, loans, brokerage accounts, stocks, bonds, and other investments.