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Funeral Planning Guide

Dec 14, 2021 3 min read Kevin Johnston

Key takeaways

  • When a loved one dies, a funeral planning checklist can make the process easier to manage.
  • Know how much you can expect to spend for a funeral.
  • A good funeral director can help make arrangements and satisfy legal requirements.


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.



How to plan a funeral

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 Veterans 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.


What are the steps to planning a funeral?

Once you’ve figured out the basics of your loved one’s service, you can begin making a funeral arrangements checklist.

  • Get copies of a death certificate and publish any legal notices needed to move forward with the funeral process.
  • Contact a cemetery or crematory to arrange a burial or cremation.
  • Decide what details you want for your memorial. You can choose a basic, no-frills burial or cremation or a more formal service that includes visitation at a funeral home and transportation to the burial site.
  • If you’re burying your loved one, plan to pay for services that could include embalming, a casket, a burial plot, head stone or crypt. For cremation, you’ll need an urn.
  • Consider working with a funeral director if you’d like a professional to handle most of the logistics of your loved one’s memorial.


How much does a funeral cost?

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 $7,000 to $12,000 Opens in new window. This can include extras such as limousines, flowers, a viewing, and a formal service.

Cremations usually cost $400 to $1,800 Opens in new window, though some cost as much as $7,000 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.

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.


Grieving during the COVID-19 pandemic

Even at the best of times, losing a loved one is devastating. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated those feelings, as many have experienced sudden, unexpected losses within their families and circles of friends. Health requirements that kept family and friends apart early in the pandemic—at least physically—made the grieving process all the more difficult.

The act of coming together physically is an essential part in most cultures and religions for honoring a loved one and grieving their loss. If personal or state health precaution measures are affecting your funeral plans, 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.

Author details

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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