How To Plan A Funeral: Step-By-Step Guide To Arranging A Memorial Service

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man holding flowers near casket
Heartbreak

Nothing can prepare you for the feeling of losing a loved one. It's likely that, in your grief-stricken state, making funeral arrangements will feel very overwhelming.

Still, there are actually a lot of details you and your family need to take care of as the average time to arrange a funeral is often within one week or less from death.

You're going to be stressed during this time because taking on massive responsibility takes a lot of effort. You also want to make sure that every funeral arrangement is perfect for the deceased.

Therefore, if you need a helpful guide for how to plan a funeral, the following information will help make this difficult time a whole lot easier for you.

The following checklist includes all the right steps for arranging a funeral.

10-Step How-To Guide For Making Funeral Arrangements 

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Step 1: Contact the deceased's legal representative to see if there is a pre-arranged funeral plan.

If the deceased had a legal representative, call them in order to see if they had already been planning for a funeral.

A legal representative may also have the documents you need to arrange a funeral, such as a birth certificate, funeral pre-plan papers, and the deed to cemetery property.

If the deceased actually did make a plan before they died then it will give you a direction on how to proceed with the rest of the funeral arrangements.

Step 2: Make the “first calls” to family and close friends.

If you were close to the deceased you will have to make the emotional call of informing their friends and family members of their death. 

If you don't want to inform other friends, family, and associates of the deceased then you can ask the funeral director to contact those people for you.

You can also ask people you contacted to then contact others who they might think should know about the death of your loved one and any additional funeral plans.

Step 3: Select a funeral home.

When choosing a funeral home, make sure it's one you know and trust.

According to Rachelle Stone, a burnout coach and former sales consultant to the cremation industry, you should ask the following questions before choosing a funeral home: 

1. How long has the funeral home been around?
2. Are they associated with a national chain of funeral homes or independent?
3. Do they have a licensed funeral director on staff?
4. Is there an on-site non-denominational sanctuary?
5. What sort of preparation facility do they have for the deceased?
5. Do they do on-site funeral preparations or cremations or do they outsource?

If the deceased didn’t have a preneed funeral insurance policy, then you'll have to schedule some time with a funeral director to manage that.

A funeral director is great at helping families and people in these difficult times by planning and carrying out most funeral services.

If you don't want a funeral director to help you plan the funeral then you can hire an officiant who will work for you, as they have no religious ties but are able to lead funerals.

After picking a funeral home you should ask for multiple copies of the death certificate from the funeral home or crematorium, which you may need to send to different agencies to cancel services and bills.

Step 4: Meet with the funeral home director and go over all the proper services.

When meeting with a funeral home director they will let you know about all the proper services including choosing a form of disposition (such as burial or cremation) and service type, such as a funeral, memorial service, viewing of the body, etc.

According to Judith Pinto, a registered occupational therapist and mental health specialist, it’s important to remember that funerals can look very different.

"It could be a graveside service or a party at a pub with a rock and roll band. It depends on what honors the life of the person you’re grieving and what would be the most meaningful way to honor that life," she explains. "No matter what is planned, it needs to feel comforting and 'right' for the people grieving the loss of their loved one." 

Next, you have to organize transportation and storage for the deceased from the place of death to a funeral home or other facility.

The director will also help you select things for the funeral or memorial service including the type of casket, urn, stationery, and specific floral arrangements.

The funeral flower arrangement can be purchased through a flower delivery service or a local florist so you can get fresh flowers for the funeral or memorial service. Good flowers for a funeral are those that convey sympathy, such as white roses or lilies

Step 5: Find and schedule a clergy member or officiant.

This is an important step in the funeral process as the help of a clergy member or an officiant can save you so much stress and time.

Find a clergy that's ordained with a religious organization or church and perform the pastoral services.

An officiant is a non-religious option who is there to help you and your family through this difficult time. 

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Step 6: Confirm cemetery arrangements.

If the deceased is going to be buried in a cemetery then you will need to purchase cemetery property.

In order to do that, you need to meet with officials from the cemetery you want to bury your loved one and purchase interment property, which could be a grave plot, a crypt, or a niche for an urn.

You'll also have to choose a grave marker and secure endowment care, which is making sure someone can take care of the cemetery plot. 

Step 7: Prepare the obituary.

An obituary is an article in the newspaper or online that announces a person has died and shares their detailed biographical information.

An obituary should include a lot of different information about the deceased like their full legal name (and maiden name), date and place of birth, marital status, name of spouse (if married), and full names of all children and grandchildren.

You'll also need to know about their occupation, job title, nature of work, and employment history to include for the newspaper to create a solid obituary. 

Step 8: Select speakers for the funeral, write a eulogy, and elect scriptures or readings for the service.

At a funeral, you can either let an officiant oversee the actual funeral or you can decide to assign certain people to deliver a eulogy.

A eulogy is a speech or piece of writing that is supposed to praise and celebrate the life of the deceased.

You could also select someone to read scriptures and readings for the service. One person or multiple people could choose a text that has special meaning to the deceased or that might tell a special story about him or her. 

Step 9: Prepare memento items for display or presentation during the service.

At a funeral, a memento display or memorial board is a form of comfort for funeral goers to look at and think fondly of their family member or loved one who passed away.

In order to make a memento display or a memorial board, you have to gather items such as personal possessions or photographs of the deceased to put on display and give a glimpse of their life. A memento display could also be a slideshow of photos paired along with the favorite music of the deceased.

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Something special you could add is making or buying a guest book where guests and family members could write special messages to the deceased. 

You could also ask the funeral director or officiant about help with a post-funeral reception. If you do that you have to prepare some funeral comfort food and snacks for all the guests. 

Step 10: Handle estate, financial, and administrative matters.

After the funeral, all the legal and financial affairs of the deceased need to be put in order. These affairs include sending death notices, filing death benefit claims, and changing the title of the deceased’s assets.

Sometimes this whole process will already be done by the deceased before their death but it's normal for the family to help with this process if the deceased was unable to do so on their own.

In order to get an idea of what needs to be handled, there needs to be a reading of the will with your family and the deceased's legal representative. The assigned legal executor will meet with the deceased's attorney or with the funeral director for the reading of the will.

You may want to consider options for arranging a funeral before death.

Stone explains that funerals, just like marriages, require pre-planning that involves a massive number of decisions to be made and multiple signed contracts.

"When this isn't done in advance prior to the deceased passing, it is a painful, draining, expensive, and often tumultuous experience for the loved ones left to ‘take care of planning.' Not taking care to make your own end-of-life plans because one is ‘uncomfortable with the conversation' can scar your loved ones for the rest of their lives at the time of your passing when they are left to make these decisions for you."

When arranging a funeral before death, "ideally, the loved one has had a say about what they might want - or not want. But ultimately, a funeral is a significant step in a grieving process for those left behind," says Pinto.

According to Stone, absolutely every detail needed to have a complete funeral and even a celebration of life or memorial service can, and should, be planned well in advance before the death of your loved one.

"While many wait until their retirement years or their health to start failing to even consider what they want at their time of death, funerals, just like every other tangible product that is sold in the world, is subject to inflation! What will cost you $10k today, will cost you $13k tomorrow. This is a wonderful financial motivation to get it done now."

Others might feel very strongly that "I'll be gone and it won't matter," Stone says. However, this does not take into consideration the loved ones left behind who now need to not only make the arrangements but to pay for them.

"Those left behind now must make decisions based on assumptions about what the deceased would have wanted. This can be incredibly painful for the family and can even lead to conflict within the family at a time when all they want to do is mourn the loss of their loved one."

Therefore, paying for a funeral before in advance is your best option. According to Stone, when all the arrangements are done in advance, it gives the family space to focus on remembering their loved ones instead of stressing out about paying for a funeral. They can make the calls necessary to gather other loved ones around and celebrate their life. 

What if there is no money to pay for a funeral?

According to Lincoln Heritage Funeral advantage, nowadays you should expect to spend between $7,000 and $12,000 for funeral arrangements. These include viewing and burial, basic service fees, transporting remains to a funeral home, casket, embalming, and other preparation.

"Affordability will also play a role. The expense involved may limit some choices, but there are always ways to honor a life. It is important to remember that the amount of money spent does not equate with how much love or grief is felt," says Pinto.  

If you have no money to pay for a funeral then usually you can sign a release form with your county coroner's office that proves you cannot afford to bury the deceased. That way, the county, and state will then be able to help bury or cremate the body.

You could also contact other family members and see if they can help pitch in and then if there still isn't enough money you could maybe call on your church community for assistance.

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Megan Hatch is a writer at YourTango who covers news & entertainment, love & relationships, and internet culture. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.