Funeral Planning Checklist

Recent research indicated that barely one in three Americans has an advance directive, such as the power of attorney or living will for last affairs. The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) reported that only 21% of Americans have discussed funeral plans with family members.

After a loved one's death, people don't realize how complicated funeral planning can be. It's best to talk about your wishes with the family before the funeral so they don't have to deal with these issues at the last minute.

What to Do When Someone Dies: A Funeral Planning Checklist

You can't handle all of your final affairs alone. A network of family and friends can help you delegate responsibilities. Specialists like CPAs or attorneys can also assist you on financial matters.

It's critical to get your family involved by holding a meeting and creating your funeral planning checklist together.

Before Your Funeral Planning Meeting

A funeral planning meeting, also known as a funeral arrangement conference, is an opportunity to organize an appropriate tribute for the deceased.

You'll have to discuss your preferences, customs, and any religious needs to consider. In doing so, you first have to take into account the following topics.

1. Complete Vital Statistics Paperwork

The funeral home will refer to your Vital Statistics information to create a death certificate at the time of your death. Preparing this in advance can take the burden off of your family and ensure that your death care preferences will be carried out.

This form provides the deceased's name, birth date, ethnicity/race, education, military service, and marital status. The government requires this document to grant transactions under the deceased's name like accessing their life insurance policy, closing bank accounts, and transferring properties.

Besides this, family members should also know where they can get the marriage certificate, retirement account information, investment, and wills.

2. Determine Who Will Be Involved in the Funeral Service

Someone often learns that they have particular preferences about who they want to be included in the funeral ceremony throughout the prearrangement process. In this case, considering the length of the service can help you decide which individuals to involve.

Planning a funeral ahead of time allows you to work with a trusted funeral home where you're comfortable expressing your preferences. This includes handpicking a clergy and other members of a religious group, singers, readers, and pallbearers for the ceremony.

Additionally, you may have a substantial inheritance distributed among the heirs. It's only reasonable to enlist the estate's executor in the planning process.

3. Express Preferences for the Viewing/Service

Having your choices for viewing and funeral services taken into consideration are among the luxuries of pre-planning a funeral. Funeral industry professionals can help families navigate the options and make critical decisions like how the funeral will be transported and where it will take place.

The person's wishes about readings, hymns, and other musical selections would be included in the service's itinerary. If you're going to be doing a viewing, be sure to let them know your preferences for dress, eyewear, jewelry, and other cosmetics.

4. Decide on Disposition and Memorialization

Your method of disposition is personal, and there are more alternatives available than families may know. Individuals who choose cremation, for example, may also include a viewing or embalming as part of their funeral arrangements.

Also, selecting the resting location should be on the list. Start by naming which cemetery can support the arrangements and whether the person currently owns property there.

Preplanning helps individuals evaluate their options and establish preparations that will help minimize family quarrels when the time comes.

At Your Funeral Planning Meeting

As a rule, you should meet with the funeral home personnel to organize your own funeral. Here are some suggestions to help you set the pace and understand your choices, as well as avoid any unexpected events that might disrupt your family's mourning.

5. Select Clothing, Including Undergarments

These items will be used to dress your loved one if you are planning a viewing or prefer special clothing for a cremation or casket burial.

Consider what you would like to wear at the funeral that gives you the best look. You may leave a note in the documents for any last wishes regarding an outfit you'd want them to pick out. On another note, it's acceptable to let the family select a set of clothes that resonates with your personality.

Generally speaking, a funeral home is likely to be in contact with a clothing supplier that specializes in burial gowns or funeral gowns. Though if you want a customized garment, then a local shop can tailor an attire made from wool, cotton, or linen for you.

Remember that it's the family's responsibility to supply the undergarments that the funeral staff will put on the deceased.

6. Eyeglasses and Jewelry

These items may remain with your loved one or be removed and returned after the service.

Did you know that you could get the most out of your eyeglasses? You should look into New Eyes' remarkable work as you plan the arrangements. They recycle outdated eyeglasses and offer them to vision-impaired persons who can't purchase their own, allowing the program to reuse roughly 70% of its contributions.

Alternatively, you can follow a recent tradition of burying your wedding ring underneath a tree in memory of a spouse who has passed away. Planting the rings near the sapling's root may serve as a concrete reminder of your love as the spirit of your relationship nourishes the tree's growth.

7. Choose a Recent Photograph

Choose a photograph for cosmetic purposes if a viewing is planned.

It's impossible to maintain our look till death comes up with us, no matter how much we want to. As a result, mortuary makeup artists use restorative art to give the deceased a thorough makeover before their viewing.

It's a good idea to provide the funeral home a reference picture. Work with images no smaller than 6 x 8 inches; we recommend using images that are 8 x 10 inches. Since family albums often have 4 x 6 pictures, the head is just 1/2 inch in size. That's too tiny to see any relevant details.

If the copy you have is blurry, you may convert it to black and white to make it seem clearer. But keep in mind that you'll need to do more than simply remove the color from the picture. Use your favorite black and white effect or add contrast to make the image stand out.

8. Military Discharge Papers (for a veteran, if applicable)

The DD214 form is necessary for veterans to get military benefits, including burial expenses. Also known as the Report of Separation, it details the military personnel's separation from active service.

The form documents their formal dismissal from duty and the reason behind it. Only dishonorable discharges will prevent you from claiming the burial benefits.

While you may rush a form to get the benefits, the typical waiting period for this is 6-8 weeks. Work with your provider to arrange a memorial ceremony after a burial or cremation. After receiving the paperwork, families may then apply for veteran-related benefits in their expenses.

In rare situations, veterans may have an analogous form to the DD214. This is particularly true for veterans released before 1950; even after 1950, various documents like the War Department Adjutant General Office Form 53-55 recorded discharge status and military service.

Pro Tip: You won't have a DD214 if you haven't been dismissed from the military. Instead, you can show your military ID or other documents that prove you're on active service. This will be enough to substitute for a DD214 and proceed with the preparations.

9. Social Security Number

Just as you should prepare for your family's future, you should consider Social Security benefits. The only catch is that you must have worked long enough to qualify for the program.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) should be informed as quickly as possible when a person dies. Unfortunately, you can never apply for survivors' benefits or register a member's death online.

It's also possible to let the funeral home file a report on your behalf. You just need to provide them with the deceased's Social Security number to process it.

For lost or forgotten information, the family can retrieve a copy of the deceased's original Application for a Social Security Card (SS-5) or Numident by mail or online for roughly $20 and $21, respectively.

10. Life Insurance Policies

Make it easy for the insurance company to identify each beneficiary when paying out death benefits years or decades later. The beneficiary's name alone isn't sufficient since it could be changed. Ideally, a policyholder should also provide their nationality, passport number, and citizenship to distinguish them from other clients.

Using the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' Life Insurance Policy Locator Service, you'll need to fill out a "Request for Benefits" form and submit a death certificate. Having the deceased's insurance agent can speed up your claim process. 

Did You Know? Some policyholders can elect a charitable benefit rider, which automatically pays a donation on top of the beneficiary payment as a way to leave their legacy.

11. Names and Contact Information for 6 to 8 Pallbearers (if applicable)

The bereaved family usually chooses the pallbearers; they are generally selected from the deceased's friends and relatives. If you don't have other choices, such as not having enough relatives available for the service, your family might approach the church for help. Most churches will have their members take on this role to assist the family.

Be sure that the people you have asked to be pallbearers have accepted the invitation before making an official announcement. Remember that being a pallbearer is both an honor and a great duty.

12. Record Obituary Preferences and Information

Just as crucial information is needed for documentation, loved ones will require specifics to write the obituary. This isn't always as simple as some families think, and early funeral planning permits people to customize their services. A few individuals even write their own obituaries to capture how they want to be remembered.

Identify the publication(s) that will publish the obituary in advance. The plan should also include the names and addresses of any family members mentioned. As well as other relevant details, such as:

  • Volunteer work
  • Career highlights
  • Notable achievements, degrees, and certifications
  • Date of marriage (if applicable)
  • Schools attended
  • Memberships in any organization

13. Make Payment Arrangements

Folks may alleviate the financial stress on loved ones by prepaying for the funeral expenses. Providers of preneed services are well-positioned to discuss the many alternatives and payment methods accessible to their clients.

For example, funeral trusts may provide some growth based on the underlying investment, making them a popular choice for individuals considering funeral planning. Before signing a contract, make sure you fully understand the provisions of your funeral trust, including the portability of your trust money.

A person may put up irrevocable prepaid burial arrangements as Medicaid-exempt assets to assist them in qualifying later in life. It's recommended to talk to a pre-planning specialist about signing an insurance policy to finance a prepaid funeral plan.

14. List Friends and Family Members to Notify of Death

The immediate family may fail to notify close friends or coworkers of the deceased's death. Your family can determine who to invite to the ceremony and fulfill your final request by writing their contact details and relationship to you. It's also a chance for guests to express their sympathy for the family's loss.

If the deceased had a Facebook account, a selected immediate family member could publish a death notice. Once uploaded, the author can confirm the latest information following the announcement.

Your message should be delivered in a dignified and solemn tone. It's also polite to provide a disclaimer at the top of your message. This allows those who have to rush to go to a meeting or work to put off reading the news until later.

You may also attach a picture highlighting the funeral ceremony specifics so that the deceased's network of friends and acquaintances can pay the family a visit.

Additional Funeral Planning Items

The family has the option to purchase additional products if they so choose. These optional services and goods aren't included in the basic service fee. While funeral homes are obliged to notify customers about a mark-up fee for the items, they can leave out the percentage or exact amount.

1. Choose a Florist and Desired Flower Arrangements

Choose a florist near your home or the recipient's address for convenience. Proximity may help save costs and improve delivery time, particularly when placing an online order.

We suggest going for a "floral showstopper" if you want nothing but the best. Yellow million-star baby's breath, purple orchids, and white lilies make up this arrangement. The florist weaves six lilies together with the baby's breath filling in the gaps. The orchids create a U-shape underneath the flowers, providing a dark green foundation.

This huge design will look great as a stand-alone item for memorial services or funerals. It has a strong presence and may be displayed as a centerpiece for the reception following the ceremony.

2. Pick Funeral Music or Songs to Be Played/Sung at the Service

When picking music, think about the mood you're going for and ask for advice if necessary. Make sure you have the support of loved ones around you while you work on the tribute since this can put pressure on you.

For example, "One Sweet Day" is a way to remember them and look forward to their return. This song doesn't try to hide your grief, but it does employ a lovely melody to convey the idea that the person you miss is still with you in your thoughts.

If music has always been important in your life, your family may want to compile a funeral playlist that they can play or sing from your collection during the funeral.

3. Prepare Any Other Displays

For example, you might select videos or memorabilia for use at the service

Artifacts from the deceased's life may be shown during funeral ceremonies and visitations to remind people of happier times. Certain items, like a cherished musical instrument or golf club, might evoke memories and change the emphasis from death to life.

Making a documentary on the deceased's life is one possibility. Take out your phone or a video camera and document all of the locations where your loved one studied, lived, visited, and worked. Then compile these shots into a documentary-style video using computer editing tools.

This might be a lighthearted endeavor, or it can be more serious. You can write up screenplays for each spot beforehand to record a narration. Then, at the burial or on the last day of the wake, you can play the video to commemorate your memories with the deceased.

4. Choose Passages to Be Read at the Service

Select items such as scripture, poems, other meaningful readings and who will read them.

In a Catholic funeral, readings are an essential element of the service. Catholics find the phrases soothing while assuring them of hope for the departed as they rest in peace. However, organizing the funeral readings is still a tough chore, starting with picking the relevant passages.

Since funeral readings are so varied, you may sometimes be encouraged to use a poem instead of scriptures to best portray the deceased's life. Consider adding a few humorous moments to the readings if the deceased was full of life, humor, and laughter. If they were strongly religious, you could pick passages from the New Testament, Psalms, and Old Testament.

Of course, if the departed knew they weren't going to live much longer, they may have selected their own readings or songs to be sung and performed. Always keep their desires in mind and incorporate them into the service.

5. Write the Obituary or Select Someone Else to Write It

A funeral home could provide obituary services on top of the funeral preparations. They're well-versed in writing, revising, submitting obituaries, and connecting with local newspapers to publish such works.

The Society of Professional Obituary Authors also publishes a directory of writers. Each entry provides a biographical sketch of the author and information about their area of expertise.

A writer may conduct an interview to gain a detailed image of the dead, while some may choose their own research. You'll learn things about the dead that you might not have known. Another option is to send them an email with all the relevant information they need.

Writing an obituary requires a writer's capacity to recast tragedy into a compelling narrative.  They might be heartfelt and moving, or they can be amusing or serve a larger cause. As rates differ per person, it'll be in your best interest to negotiate the price before starting the project.

6. Communicate the Preference for Flowers or Donations to Charitable Organizations in the Obituary or Death Notices

If you wish to advise readers to send flowers and/or donations to a funeral memory fund or a specified charity organization, offer information on how and where to contribute (include a website link or address).

You may collect online donations using a secure payment processor like PayPal. Donors must input the recipient's contact name, phone number, or email address to process their transaction. Those who currently use PayPal may benefit from not having to provide credit card information. At the same time, those who must first create a PayPal account may be put off.

Alternatively, you may use GoFundMe, which is geared toward receiving contributions via the internet. As a GoFundMe user, you're not just asking for money; you're also expressing your goals and aspirations through videos, images, and even the campaign itself.

Donors may donate through a computer or their phone. With a single click, they may post your fundraising on social media. Simply include your payment handles in your fundraising description if you already have other contribution choices. Donors may then choose the most convenient option for them, encouraging more to make a donation.

7. Purchase and Compile Photos for a Memorial Register or Guest Book

Funeral guest books, similar to scrapbooks, are an excellent way to record a memorial or funeral event. It's also a terrific method to gather final words, recollections, or notes that attendees wish they could have uttered to the individual who has gone away.

Online funeral guest books are generally preferred over physical ones because they permit people to write lengthier remarks, attach images, and keep anonymity. They can also be shared, allowing you to reach a bigger audience than just those attending the funeral while minimizing waste.

Assuming that the deceased was an elderly person, you may likely have to search through their stacks of physical pictures. Fortunately, Google PhotoScan makes digitizing old photos a breeze. Simply download the app and follow the instructions. 

When selecting a picture, duplicate those that reflect a significant event in the deceased's life. These might be snapshots from a military ceremony or high school graduation. Then tweak them using the app's advanced editing features.

Keep in mind that although no one is expecting a professional-level product, your unique touch is what sets it apart!

8. Purchase Memorial Cards

What you write on memorial cards may be drawn from the whole of a person's life story. You can also tailor the tribute to highlight hobbies, personality, or achievements to emphasize how the deceased impacted you.

There are no guidelines on who should receive the memorial card. Ideally, the recipient's relatives and friends would be included in the household's list of recipients. Some people like to buy fewer cards and distribute them to close family and friends from an individual standpoint. In contrast, others tend to send them to a more extensive set of people.

If the deceased was a member of a local group or a running club, purchasing a bigger batch of cards is a sensible option that'll guarantee that everyone gets one.

9. Print Memorial Programs for the Service

A memorial program is a brochure that includes homage to the departed and the funeral schedule. Also, they serve as excellent references for visitors about the ceremony's events.

A standard brochure will cost between $1 and $2 per print. Depending on the size of the funeral and your needs, you should anticipate paying around $25 to $150. It pays to compare prices and paper types to discover the greatest deal that suits your budget.

While UPS is well-known for delivering goods, they also provide printing services for in-person and online orders. Their online printing services are accessible on short notice, simple to use, and have various options.

The UPS printing costs are determined by the size and material used. This is one of the easiest methods to create your printed funeral programs, as you can also pick them up in-store.

10. Arrange Transportation to and from the Service for Family Members

Choosing a funeral transportation service should be based on your individual interests and requirements. Funeral transportation for close relatives usually consists of sedans matching the hearse's color to guarantee a dignified procession.

Cars for visiting relatives are typically provided by funeral homes. If a funeral home doesn't have any cars to rent, they may partner with nearby businesses that assist similar clients where a typical individual service vehicle starts at $150.

11. Coordinate Transportation for the Casket

Traditionally, a hearse was a large rear-drive car with a coffin in the back. While the typical hearse is black, they come in multiple color options. However, they might not be available at all funeral homes.

Until recently, Cadillacs comprised the majority of conventional hearses in the United States. This pattern altered in the 1990s when the business reduced manufacturing of vehicles that might be used as hearses.

The cost of a hearse varies from one funeral home to another. It doesn't include factors like the distance the hearse must drive to the cemetery. With that said, the average cost starts at around $340.

12. Choose an Officiant to Lead the Service

This might be a religious leader, family member, or friend.

Funerals are usually presided over by clergy. Officiants may even include funeral home directors or close relatives or friends of the person who has passed away. There are no hard and fast regulations when it comes to these services and activities. Legally, anybody may preside over a memorial or funeral ceremony.

While religious leaders or clergy members may be willing to undertake these activities for free, they may ask for a small contribution.

Even if you weren't part of their congregation, these leaders charge a nominal fee for their services, which vary from $50 to $200 based on the service required. However, unlike celebrants, clergy might have specialist funeral training as they're already familiar with religious and funeral rituals that many families appreciate.

13. Decide Who Will Perform the Eulogy

The most important issue for the individual tasked with writing the eulogy is the deceased's religious affiliation. Scripted funerals are available from certain religious groups, but they don't make room for a lot of customization.

The local community's customs may also play a role in who delivers the eulogy. As a starting point, we've listed several potential candidates.

  • Funeral home director: Some people are reluctant to compose eulogies because the dead had no religious convictions. In this scenario, a funeral director may be asked to speak at the funeral. Directors who didn't directly know the deceased may make brief and broad remarks and interview family members to grasp the dead's characteristics.

  • Spouse: Nothing prevents a spouse from speaking at a loved one's funeral, but it doesn't happen frequently. The spouse's feelings are often too fresh to prepare a speech. Writing a eulogy on top of collecting images and arranging preparations for out-of-town visitors may be hard on the person.

  • Business associate: Maybe the dead had a stellar career. They may have served in a leadership position in the government or been a prominent company owner in the neighborhood. A coworker might be invited to write the eulogy if this is the case. While this eulogy may concentrate more on the deceased's personal and professional lives, it may not have anything to do with their religious views.

Understanding Funeral Costs and Pricing

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires funeral homes to give customers an itemized list of all expenditures for products and services known as the General Price List (GPL).

The rule also allows customers to choose and pay for the items and services they need rather than a bundle offer. These can be broken down into the following categories.

The Basic Service Fee

This universal fee is based on operating costs and averages roughly $2,000 at many funeral homes, which covers 24-hour on-call service, livery, and facilities costs, such as:

  • Funeral home arrangements
  • Attendants and director's services
  • Coordinating funeral plans with third parties, like cemeteries
  • Obtaining additional papers and permits as mandated by law
  • Completing and filing the death certificate paperwork

Optional Service Charges

These charges are levied for optional services like transporting the corpse, using the funeral home's limousine or hearse, cremation, embalming, internment, and burial containers.

Cash Disbursements

This charge covers products and services purchased by the funeral home on your behalf from outside suppliers with your permission. Pallbearers, flowers, obituary announcements, religious services, and even musicians or caterers' fees are included in this category.

The funeral home also reserves the right to charge an extra service fee for transacting with these third parties about your arrangements.