Planning the future for your loved ones

Funeral and Memorial Planning

Wake, Funeral, Burial, and Memorial Planning

Although it might not be thought of as an advance directive, you may also have wishes regarding what happens after you die. You can use something formal like a “Letter of Instruction” or “Final Instructions” document and include it in your Advance Directives/Living Will, or just a simple letter to your family.

  • Even if you don’t have specific wishes on how to be treated after your death, any arrangements made in advance will help your family. While they are experiencing grief and stress, any decisions they don’t have to think about or make will ease their situation.
  • In many states your family is obligated to comply with any written wishes you have made.
  • Most states allow you to assign an individual (Designated Agent) to make legal decisions about these issues, someone who will carry out your wishes.

A lot of the preparation and events following your death may be fairly traditional, for religious, cultural, or other reasons. However, you may have some particular things that are important to you for your wake, funeral, and disposal of your remains. You can choose as few or as many details as you like.

There are two subsections in the “Information For Families” sections, “Funeral Arrangements” and “Disposition of Remains” that will go into more detail. Here is a brief list of the possible choices you would prefer your family make about your wake, funeral, burial, and memorial planning.

Wakes and Funerals

As cold as it may sound, funeral homes are a business and, like any business, need to make a profit. At this time your family is vulnerable and may feel compelled to include many expensive options for your wake that only benefit the funeral home. You may be able to help them avoid this by making decisions ahead of time about what you really want. You can even make these arrangements ahead of time so your family won’t have to.

Do some research about what may be offered and make your choices accordingly. 

  • There are many types of funerals and services that you can consider before deciding.
  • The details of the funeral or service should also be determined ahead of time.
  • A website, such as Planning a Funeral, can help organize the details.

Choices about your wake and funeral may include:

  • Whether you want a wake and/or funeral or a combination of the two.
    • Who will lead any ceremonies?
    • Who will be your pallbearers?
    • You may also want to choose the location and restrict who will attend.
  • Specific requests about the content, readings, the music, etc. during the ceremony, and who will present them
  • Whether you want a recording or webcasting the service.
  • Whether you want old pictures or a slide show at the wake
  • Your preferences for the “Viewing”
    • The type of casket. With some funeral homes, you can even elect to forgo a casket altogether if you are opting for cremation.
    • Whether or not you want it to be open.
    • Your choice of what you will be wearing
  • If you want programs, prayer cards, flowers, or other items at the wake/service or would you prefer that the money be donated to your favorite charity
  • Having a party, with everything you would want

Disposition of Remains

A document called the “Disposition of Final Remains” is allowed in many states. It allows you to specifically list your preferences after you die, including your agent who will carry them out. Without specific instructions, which could also be stated in your will, the task falls on a relative, typically your spouse or children, who will make a decision based on what you have told them, what they think you want if you have not, or what they would prefer.

Many states have unique rules about burial or cremation and scattering ashes, so you will need to check your state rules before making any requests.

Choices about disposition of your remains.

  • Interred at a burial site/plot
    • Many people buy their burial plots ahead of time.
    • While bodies are typically buried in established cemeteries, your state may allow a home burial if you prefer.
  • Cremation – If you opt for cremation, check the laws in your state where you may keep or scatter ashes.
  • Donating to science

Memorial Planning

You may also choose how you want to be remembered which may include many possibilities.

  • Whether you want an obituary, what it might include, and what picture would you like to have.
  • Whether you want something like a memorial web page (which your facebook page could be converted to)
  • A dedication or donation in your name. If your family knows what you would choose, they are less likely to choose a cause you may not have supported.
  • Your headstone, crypt, mausoleum, etc.

Planning Ahead Can Lower Funeral Costs and Cemetery Costs

Probably the most distressing but necessary task is to look into and budget for funeral and burial (cemetery) or cremation costs.

It is important to decide what you want ahead of time so your family doesn’t fall victim to emotional appeals for add-ons or packages that you neither want or need, but will allegedly show more respect for you.

As with all purchases it is important to research options, comparison shop, and get quotes for at least three funeral homes. Here is some information to consider when budgeting for these expenses.


General References