Funeral and Memorial Planning

Updated: August 8, 2023

Although it may not be considered an advance directive, you may 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 a 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 and carry out your wishes.

A lot of the preparation and events following your death may be 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.

Honoring Your Loved Ones section will go into more detail. Here is a brief outline of the possible choices you would prefer your family make about your wake, funeral, burial, and memorial planning.

Wakes and Funerals

Funeral homes are a business and strive to make a profit. At this time your family is vulnerable and may feel compelled to include 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 want. You can even make these arrangements yourself.

Research what may be offered and make your choices accordingly.

Choices about your wake and funeral may include the following:

  • Whether you want a wake and/or funeral or a combination of the two.
  • Who will lead any ceremonies?
  • Who will be your pallbearers?
  • Choice of the location and restrictions on 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 webcast of 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 elect to forgo a casket altogether if you are opting for cremation.
    • Whether or not you want the casket 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 a charity or cause you support.
  • 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 decisions based on what you have told them, what they think you would want, or what they would prefer.

Many states have unique rules about burial or cremation and scattering ashes; check your state rules before making any requests.

Choices about the final resting place.

  • Interred at a burial site/plot/crypt/mausoleum.
    • 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 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 published with it.
  • Whether you want a memorial web page (which your Facebook page could be converted to).
  • A dedication or donation in your name or memory. 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 package deals that you neither want or need, but would allegedly show more respect for you.

It is important to research funeral and burial options, comparison shop, and get quotes from at least three funeral homes.

Here is some information to consider when budgeting for these expenses.

More detail on funeral planning and costs can be found in the Saying Goodbye section

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