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Your Guide to Planning a Funeral

Apr 05, 2020 2 min read Kevin Johnston

Grieving during the COVID-19 pandemic

Even at the best of times, losing a loved one is devastating. Now, with health requirements keeping family and friends apart — at least physically — the grieving process has been made all the more difficult, potentially exacerbating feelings of loss and isolation. The act of coming together physically is an essential part in most cultures and religions for honoring a loved one and grieving their loss.

While small gatherings for funerals with certain health precaution measures may still be possible at this time — check your State’s regulations — you may wish to consider some of the following options:

  • An increasing number of funeral homes are offering livestreaming of services, which can be recorded for future remembrance.
  • Funeral homes often offer website pages as a perpetual memorial space; ask for details and duration — or consider setting up your own page.
  • Ask family and friends to share written memories and photos of your loved one, which can be the content of a memorial book you can treasure.
  • Plan a memorial service for a later date, once health concerns and restrictions on travel and gathering have passed.


Planning a funeral requires a level head during a time of grief and loss. You will be more likely to do a thorough job if you have some guidelines and perform tasks in a specific order. Follow this guide to determine your next steps as you move through the process of funeral planning.

Before you can start planning the actual funeral, you need to understand the scope of the planning, based on the amount of money available for the funeral and the wishes of the deceased.



Check to see if the deceased had a prepaid funeral plan. Look for a burial policy or account in the name of the deceased. Many times, funeral plans are part of a life insurance policy. If the deceased was a veteran, contact the Veteran's Affairs office or the National Cemetery Association. A deceased veteran may be eligible to receive a free burial.  

In addition to understanding how much money you have to work with, you will need to know the wishes of the deceased. Sometimes people put their funeral wishes in a will, so check to see if there are any instructions there. Many people write a separate document explaining the details of the funeral expectations. If you have no written instructions, you will have to ask surviving family members what they know about the wishes of the deceased.

You will need to know if you should plan a burial or cremation, and whether you should select a cemetery plot or a mausoleum. You should also understand any religious beliefs or traditions that could affect funeral arrangements.


Review typical funeral costs

Some typical price ranges for funerals will give you an idea of how to proceed with planning.

For funerals, basic services include activities that all funerals have. These include funeral planning, obtaining permits, getting copies of the death certificate, publishing notices, keeping the remains sheltered, and setting up the necessary arrangements with the cemetery or crematory. Expect to spend about $2,000.

A traditional funeral that goes beyond the basics ranges from about $6,000 to $10,000. This can include extras such as limousines, flowers, a viewing, and a formal service.

Cremations usually cost $400 to $1,800, though some cost as much as $5,000 with extras, such as a memorial service and transportation to the service for family members.

Note that when considering these costs, they do not include charges by the mausoleum or cemetery. For example, you may have to purchase a burial plot, a headstone, a grave or burial vault liner, and ongoing upkeep of the grave.  

Immediate burial is an option you may consider. There is no embalming required, and no visitation or viewing is provided. It is common to hold a graveside service for immediate burials. The cost for this service is around $5,000.

Immediate cremation is similar to immediate burial, with no visitation. You may choose to hold a memorial service. Immediate cremation costs approximately $1,000, not including an urn. You can provide your own urn or purchase one for $50 to $250 and up.


You can make this job easier by putting together a checklist and working carefully through it.


A casket can cost $2,000 to $5,000. If a funeral home is recommending a casket, you have the right to see the cost in advance of making the selection.

You should know that embalming is not required for immediate burial or cremation in most states, and the funeral home must consult you before embalming. The cost for this service is around $700.

A funeral home may charge you for a room for visitation or a memorial service, as well as charging for transportation of the body from another funeral home.


Select a funeral home

Once you understand what kinds of fees to expect, you can begin shopping for a funeral home. Using a funeral home is not required by law, but it is difficult to make all arrangements and satisfy legal requirements without a good funeral director.  

You can start your search for a funeral home by contacting these organizations: The National Funeral Directors Association; The International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association; and The Funeral Consumers Alliance.

When contacting a funeral home, you have the right to know the cost of everything you discuss. In addition to noting the fees, you should look for professionalism, empathy for your loss, and a variety of options to choose from in making funeral arrangements.




Kevin Johnston is a financial writer who writes about personal finance and investments, as well as financial management and planning. He has written for The New York Daily News, The New York Post, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Houston Chronicle.


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