How to plan a funeral or memorial service

Funerals and memorial services provide an opportunity for family members, friends, and others who have cared for the deceased to honor and remember the deceased by offering comfort and support to those who are closest to them and to each other.

Whether planned after death ("out of necessity" situation) or in advance ("out of necessity" situation), organizing a funeral or memorial service is often an emotional and sometimes tedious process.

This article provides an overview of the steps you need to take to plan a funeral or memorial service, either for yourself or a loved one.

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Service planning

Planning a funeral or memorial service is a very personal process. Your decisions will depend on your life experience, attitude towards the deceased, what the deceased wanted, what you want for yourself after death, what you can afford, and many other factors.

Many people mistakenly believe that burial and burial in a cemetery are the same, or that choosing cremation means that a memorial service cannot be performed with a pre-present embalmed body of the deceased either.

Therefore, it is important to understand that "funeral", as we commonly understand it, actually includes two important functions:

  • What to do with the physical remains of the deceased (final disposition form)
  • How to honor, remember, and even commemorate the life and memory of a deceased person (a form of funeral service or memorial service)

Select the order form

When planning a funeral or memorial service, it may be easier to select the final desired body shape first.

Traditional burial

Either underground in a cemetery / grave, or above ground in a mausoleum or grave (sometimes called a "burial"), traditional burial generally involves the purchase of:

  • Coffin
  • Cemetery or mausoleum site
  • Inserted grave or grave
  • Headstone, headstone, monument or plaque.

Natural or "green" burial

A growing number of cemeteries and traditional burial sites specifically designed for this form of final burial now offer opportunities for natural or green burial .

In general, people who choose natural burial seek to minimize their environmental impact after death.


The cremation process uses heat / flame to turn the body into bone fragments or "ash".

These cremated remains subsequently offer survivors various options, such as storing or scattering the remains, burying them underground in an urn, placing the cremated remains in a columbarium, etc.

Alkaline hydrolysis

This disposition form is relatively new and may not yet be available in your area.

The alkaline hydrolysis process , sometimes called "flameless cremation," uses relatively low heat and pressure (compared to cremation) to turn the body into an inert liquid and skeletal bone fragments.

Service elements

Funeral services have become more personalized in recent decades, although many people still consider the 'traditional funeral' to be the norm.

Personalized funeral or memorial services reflect the unique life and personality of the deceased from the perspective of the deceased and / or their surviving loved ones, regardless of the form those services take.

Today, many families choose to plan a funeral or memorial service to commemorate the deceased as it was during their lifetime, a service to the body / remains of the deceased, or a combination of both.

Therefore, you should imagine and plan a funeral or memorial service that you and / or the deceased person consider the most meaningful way to say goodbye, something that:

  • It conveys the unique qualities of the deceased.
  • It reflects them and / or their religious or spiritual beliefs.
  • Provides a memorable and meaningful opportunity for grieving people to express their grief by comforting and supporting each other.

Some families choose to have funeral services in a place of worship or in a funeral chapel with religious readings and music. Others prefer secular (non-religious) services in public or private settings. Still others choose a private funeral and burial for close family members, and then a memorial service for others.

To customize the service, you should also consider the following, if applicable:

  • The official (s) who will direct the ministry, such as a member of the clergy, executor, funeral director, etc.
  • Readings such as poems, prayers, religious or secular passages, etc., and who will read them.
  • The eulogy (s) who will write and pronounce the eulogy for the deceased
  • Music , contemporary religious hymns, or both, live or recorded.
  • Food / beverages , whether professionally prepared, provided by visitors, or organized by a funeral home or service provider
  • Coffin bearers if final settlement includes grave service
  • Webcast of the funeral or recording of a service available later
  • Personal items such as plaque , commemorative video, personal mementos, etc.

Have a body

Another important decision you will need to make concerns the physical presence of the deceased. As noted above, burial and cremation are simply forms of final disposition of the body and do not require or exclude funeral services with the body present.

For example, you can organize a "traditional" funeral service that includes an anticipated memorial / visitation with an embalmed body in an open casket, even if you want the deceased to be cremated as a form of final order.

Also, some families choose to cremate an unbalanced deceased without prior service, but then perform a memorial service with or without inverted remains.

Flowers, donations or both?

Traditionally, people send commemorative flowers or sympathy flowers as a sign of support and expressions of condolence.

However, in recent decades, families have also used the phrase "Instead of flowers …" in death notices and obituaries to indicate that they prefer funeral donations to or in addition to flowers.

As such, you need to decide whether members can send flowers, prefer they donate to their chosen charity or commemorate the deceased, or any form of expression is appropriate.

Whether requested in a death notice or obituary, on social media or verbally, you must clearly communicate how and where to send donations. Some examples of valuable organizations or reasons you can choose from include:

  • A hospice that cared for a loved one
  • A reason that seeks to find a cure for a disease or ailment that caused the death of your loved one, such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, etc.
  • A charity, organization or business representing a cause or purpose that reflects the personal interests or beliefs of the deceased, or those he or she supported.

Search and contact service provider (s)

The next step is to research your services and provider options.

If death has already occurred, you can contact your local funeral home, cremation service, or cemetery. The provider of your choice can help you:

  • Organize a funeral, memorial, and / or funeral service of your choice.
  • Provide information on various products and services.
  • Explain the costs of goods, services, and other professional fees.
  • Help you create an obituary or death notice
  • Get official death certificates

You should also discuss with your service provider any religious or cultural preferences that you would like to respect.

For example, if you want to hold a secular funeral or memorial service, you can invite a memorial service , which some funeral homes now have on staff. Many funeral homes also have experience serving multicultural families with their own funeral rites and customs.

If you are planning a funeral or memorial service in advance, you should explore options for your products and services at various funeral homes, cremation services, and / or cemeteries in your area.

Most companies provide convenient information on products and services, prices, and even publish a general price list online. This makes it easier to compare prices and options for locally available products / services.

The FTC requires providers to provide customers with accurate and detailed pricing and disclosure information on other services, whether the customer requests in person or over the phone.

Finally, whether you are planning a funeral before or after death, you have some basic rights under the FTC Burial Rule that you should also study and understand .

Consider payment options

The cost will vary depending on the form of the final decision and the type of funeral or memorial service you want, but you need to consider how you will pay for these services. There are many payment methods available today, such as:

  • Personal savings
  • Sure
  • Financing, often through your funeral home
  • Credit cards
  • A Totten / Payable-on-Death (POD) trust account with a financial institution that has specifically set aside funds for final expenses that go to the designated beneficiary and prevent probate.

In addition, you can formally agree your services in advance with the provider and then make an advance payment, either immediately or in installments.

People enter into these "interim" settlements for many reasons, including removing the burden of making difficult decisions after death, to avoid financial hardship for survivors, or to spend their assets to be eligible for certain federal benefits.

Make your wishes known

Finally, if you are planning your own funeral or memorial service in advance, you need to let your family know what you want at the end of your life so they know what you want.

Ideally, you should provide a written report rather than relying on a family member's memory or keeping your plans on a computer, but even a verbal conversation with your spouse or partner, child, brother or sister, or parent may be better than any.

If you have formally arranged your funeral or memorial services with a service provider, you should keep these documents along with other important documents at home , and inform your loved ones of their existence and location , so that they have timely access to them when necessary.

If you keep your legal documents in a safe or off-site in a safe, you need to make sure your loved ones also know the combination of the safe or can access the key.

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