What Do I Need to Know About Funeral Planning?

A smiling grandfather bakes with his son and grandson knowing his funeral planning may make their lives easier.

Planning a funeral can be a difficult task, but it can help us honor a loved one and the memories we’ve created with them. A meaningful funeral can help us establish order, understanding, and closure. And yet, it can be difficult. We’re at a sensitive, vulnerable time in our lives, and suddenly find ourselves arranging an important tribute to the life of a loved one. To help, we’ll take a look at what’s involved with planning a funeral, and ways to make the process easier for the people in your life.

Look Into Various Funeral Homes

Funerals can be expensive. On average, they can range from $7,000 to $10,000.1 In some areas, the average figure could be as high as $15,000 for certain types of services.2 It’s worthwhile to see what the funeral homes in your area offer so you can make the most meaningful selections for your family and honor the memory of your loved one.

Many funeral homes offer funeral packages. While the goal is to make the process easy for the bereaved, they don’t generally have an eye towards cost-effectiveness. Despite the convenience factor, all funeral packages are not made equal, and you may not need everything that’s offered in a funeral package. It’s important to know that you’re completely free to break a package up and choose only the services that you need. Moreover, you’re allowed to purchase things like a casket or a grave liner from elsewhere if the funeral home is charging too much.

You may feel uncomfortable taking time to comparison shop for services after the death of a loved one. But you’re spending a large amount of money. Taking time to make sure you know what you’re getting for that money is important.

Know What’s Involved

Planning a funeral involves making decisions in three areas. Hopefully, your loved one will have made their wishes known in advance. However, it may be up to you to make the following decisions.

Final Arrangements

There’s a lot to keep in mind when deciding how to celebrate and remember your loved one after their funeral. If they were cremated, that may mean burying the urn, or scattering the ashes somewhere meaningful.

Other considerations come with a burial. You’ll need to choose a grave plot. Some people have a family or local cemetery that holds meaning for them. You’ll also need to think about the grave marker. Is there a witty phrase they always used to say and would want on their headstone? Or maybe they’d rather have a flat marker that can be easily decorated with flowers and candles on occasion. Honoring their memory is important, and it may be a good idea to consult with family and friends for ideas on how to further celebrate your loved one’s life beyond the funeral service.

Preparing Your Loved One

Ideally, your loved one will have made their wishes known about a burial or a cremation. But if they haven’t, someone else will have to make those decisions as they make the other arrangements.

For a traditional burial, you’ll need to pick a casket. You do not have to take this on alone. Often, a funeral director can help you understand your options and which choices might best fit into your budget.

You’ll also need to choose clothing for your loved one to wear. If you find this decision to be difficult, start simple. Was there a beloved necklace? Perhaps a staple hat or jacket? Focusing on one thing, like a favorite outfit, color, or accessory, can help in taking this difficult planning step.

If your loved one decided to be cremated instead of having traditional burial, work with your funeral director to understand what that may mean for the choices you have to make. For instance, you may not need some of the preparations that go with a traditional burial. But you may pick an urn to keep your loved one’s ashes in and help remember the life they led.

Choices for the Service

Like weddings, funeral services are highly personal. They carry the weight of faith traditions, family traditions, cultural expectations, and more. Some people opt for a funeral or memorial. This is a ceremony, often at a church or a funeral home, celebrating the life of the departed. In a funeral, the body is present in an open or closed casket. In a memorial service, a portrait (or an urn containing cremated remains) is used instead. Some people opt for a service at the graveside, in lieu of a funeral service. Many people opt for both – a funeral or memorial, followed by a graveside service.

Whatever service you choose, the length, message, songs, and presentation are yours to decide by working with your family and the funeral director.

Plan ahead

Think about all of the decisions we’ve discussed here, and all of the decisions you’ve had to make when planning funerals for your loved ones. Doing a little bit of funeral planning in life can make things easier on your family. Start thinking about what your own wishes are for those same decisions. The clearer and more comprehensive you are, the less your family has to worry about.

Don’t Prepay

You can set a plan without having to pay for everything in advance. In fact, it’s often better to wait. What happens if you pre-pay a funeral home, then move out of state to be closer to family? Suddenly, your prep work becomes a lot less convenient. Express your preferences, but don’t pay in advance. One possible exception might be for grave plots, but even then, life changes like marriage or moves can make you reconsider some of your decisions there.

Consider ways to help reduce cost

As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, the choices involved with funeral planning aren’t the only factor to consider. There’s also the element of cost. Fortunately, there are a few things that you can do in advance to minimize the financial impact of planning a funeral.

You might consider joining a consumer advocacy group like the Funeral Consumers Alliance. These organizations use the strength in their numbers to negotiate reasonable rates for their members in an industry that isn’t always the most affordable. They also offer a place to learn more about what your options and your rights are. The organizations usually charge membership fees, but they tend to be very minimal compared to the savings their negotiations can bring.

Another way to defray the cost of a funeral is through life insurance. In fact, one of the major reasons people purchase life insurance policies is to help make sure that their families don’t have to deal with their debts or the costs of their funerals. Policies like whole life insurance or term life insurance can make the transition of planning a funeral a little easier.

Funeral planning can be an emotionally difficult task in a vulnerable time. But it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. If you let your friends, family, and the funeral director help you, you can put together a service that can provide valuable closure to you and your family. Likewise, if you make some decisions beforehand about your own funerary care, you can help your loved ones navigate those decisions more easily on your behalf.


1 Parting (September 14, 2018). “Funeral Costs: How Much Does an Average Funeral Cost?”. from https://www.parting.com/blog/funeral-costs-how-much-does-an-average-funeral-cost/

2 Funeralwise. “How Much a Funeral Costs and Average Funeral Costs: Your Complete Guide”. https://www.funeralwise.com/plan/costs/