Updated: September 8, 2022
Once you have taken care of the urgent tasks and decisions, there are many other tasks that you should move on to. After you have decided on the wake, funeral, and disposal of remains, it is time to plan and arrange them. In order to make plans, arrange for, and pay for these, you have to locate certain documents and ensure the executor is involved.
There are family and friends to contact that will need to know so they can have the opportunity to attend any wake, funeral, or burial service that’s been planned. Your loved one may have had a list of their names and contact information. Others, such as employers, will need to know to make their own plans.
There are other tasks that need to be done soon to protect your loved one’s estate, such as discontinuing mail, notifying the local newspaper, and doing a thorough examination and survey of their property. Families of veterans may want to contact the VA to see what help they can offer.
Family and friends
In this age of connectivity, it is difficult for news to not travel fast, so most of your extended family and friends may already know but you should contact them directly to make sure.
Executor of your loved one’s estate
If you are not the executor of your loved one’s will, you will need to notify them. They will be required to do many of the tasks, such as getting the will, accessing other records, dealing with finances, and settling the estate. They will probably need to set up an estate bank account for expenses.
Clergy or other spiritual leaders
If you have not already, contact any religious leaders who can provide spiritual support and/or will be involved in ceremonies.
Employers, military units, and volunteer organizations
There may be others that depend on your loved one who will need to be informed.
Veterans Affairs (VA), if applicable
Many additional services and options may be available for military veterans through the VA. A range of benefits can assist you and help you make final decisions about your loved one’s service.
Mail accumulating in your loved one’s mailbox, front porch, or post office box will attract attention. The knowledge that the residence is unoccupied puts the property at risk for theft or vandalization.
The local newspaper
Like the mail, accumulating newspapers is another sign that their residence is unoccupied. Stop delivery before this happens.
If you want an obituary or death notice printed, it will usually be in the local newspaper. Death notices and obituaries can have varying amounts of information; the information you include is entirely up to you.
The Social Security Office
Your loved one becomes ineligible for Social Security benefits as soon as they die. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recommends that you notify them as soon as possible after your loved ones death.
Visit the Social Security website to learn more about their process and find any forms that you may be required to fill out.
Once your loved one’s body is in the appropriate place and your support system is established, you have a few days to take the next steps. This will include planning the final goodbye which involves contacting those beyond immediate family, decisions about ways to honor, celebrate, and remember your loved one, and arranging their final resting place.
This process could take as much as a week or more, so it is important to take this into consideration when making plans. For example, embalming is usually required if burial or cremation will not take place within a week of death.
These decisions should reflect your loved one’s wishes. Although, even if they are expressed in a document, compliance is not legally required in more than half of states. In addition to reflecting their wishes, there are many ways you can personalize funerals and burials to reflect their life, personality, and beliefs. There will be practical considerations, such as cost and availability.
When planning, it is important to know that you are protected by the Federal Funeral Rule, which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. The Federal Funeral Rule outlines your rights concerning interactions with funeral homes. Unfortunately, these rules do not apply to non-funeral home vendors and cemeteries.
The Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to supply you with certain information and grants you rights to a number of options that you can choose or refuse. This information includes:
The funeral home must grant you the following rights:
Funeral homes are prohibited from claiming that the burial container will prevent water, dirt, or other debris from getting into the casket to prevent decomposition.
Almost all families will have some type of service or ceremony to honor their loved one and provide an opportunity for family and friends to say goodbye. The recognition from the community and the emotional support from well-wishers help the family cope with the loss of their loved one. These events are an important part of the mourning process.
There are different options for honoring and celebrating the life of your loved one, any or all of which can take place. Each event should be personal and reflect your loved one’s personality and beliefs. Even the location of the celebrations can be personal.
The COVD-19 pandemic has put some restrictions on funeral services and ceremonies, most of them are based on CDC guidelines, but actual recommendations or mandates will vary according to your location. It is important for you to look into any that may apply in your area.
A visitation is an informal gathering of family, friends, and well-wishers to offer sympathy, share grief, and pay last respects to your loved one. They are frequently referred to as a Wake.
A funeral is a formal ceremony, usually faith or cultural based, that takes place with your loved one’s body before it is buried or cremated. They are occasionally held with cremated remains. Ceremonies range from an intimate ceremony in a funeral home chapel or your loved one’s home to a large gathering open to anyone who knew your loved one. Your loved one’s funeral may be accompanied by mass or other religious service.
Here are some of the many details to think about when planning your loved one’s funeral.
The graveside ceremony is usually brief, takes place at your loved one’s gravesite or place of entombment and typically involves only immediate family or close friends.
You can choose a private funeral and have a memorial service for any others that want to honor or celebrate them.
You may prefer not to have a visitation/viewing and funeral service and opt for a direct burial or cremation shortly after your loved one’s death. A funeral home, mortuary, or crematory will be involved to prepare your loved one’s body.
There are a number of steps to take when scheduling services and ceremonies. If you have not already done so, begin with these steps:
When making any plans it will be important to consider any requests or preferences your loved one made known.
There are personal tasks to consider and prepare or, such as deciding what you and/or your children will wear or collecting photographs of your loved one or other meaningful possessions for any services.
Other important considerations.
A website, such as Planning a Funeral, can help organize the details. The National Home Funeral Alliance can provide help if you want to have their funeral in your home. A How-to Guide for Making Funeral Arrangements from FuneralWise and Checklist: Pre-Planning Your Funeral or Memorial Service from everplans are also helpful.
Once you have chosen a venue for each event, you should talk with those who will determine the schedules such as the funeral director and clergy. The timing of the viewing and funeral or memorial service will usually be based on availability and be mostly out of your control.
Consult with all others who will be involved in any of the ceremonies and services about what role they will have. Many of them will involve family and friends.
Prepare for meeting with the funeral director who will have the most details to go over and decisions for you to make.
In some cases, arrangements may have already been made. If not, make them according to what your loved one would want and what you can realistically afford.
You may be vulnerable at this time and you may need to take steps to avoid being taken advantage of.
The most important decisions are if your loved one’s body will be embalmed and the choice of casket or an urn if you opt for cremation.
Embalming is a process where blood is drained from the body and replaced with fluids that temporarily preserve a body. It is done by the funeral home or mortuary and cannot be done without permission.
The intended purposes of a casket are to provide a setting for people to see your loved one, a dignified way to move their body before burial or cremation, and a vessel to bury or cremate them in.
Federal law requires funeral homes to accept a casket that you may have purchased from another source, such as an online retailer. Some states may allow you or someone else to build your casket.
An urn is a container that holds cremated remains. Like caskets, urns come in many different materials and decorations. Typically the type of urn will depend on what you plan to do with the ashes.
Be sure to record everything, since concentration and memory may be affected by grief and stress.
Visitations, viewings, funerals, memorial services, and burials can be very expensive, typically between $1,500 and $20,000 depending on the level of services, your choice of casket, the number of ceremonies, venues, available amenities, and where you live. It is important to recognize that funeral homes, mortuaries, and crematoriums are all businesses and strive to make a profit in order to operate. You should be as skeptical of the directors as you would be of any salesperson.
It is not uncommon for these expenses to result in unpayable debt and even bankruptcy, so trying to save on cost and figuring out how to pay for them may be vital to you and your family.
This section will run down the costs and provide some hints on how to control them.
When you have a visitation, viewing, funeral, and/or memorial service there are several expenses that add up quickly.
You will be paying for burial plots or mausoleums, and markers or headstones.
Estimated costs listed are average prices and there will be places where the costs exceed the ranges below.
Embalming is done by the funeral home or mortuary and typically costs between $200-$1,200, although costs up to $1,700 have been reported.
A casket often accounts for much of the cost after your loved one’s death. They can range from a simple $500 box to $20,000 or more, depending on the materials and design. Remember you are primarily paying for the appearance. It is not uncommon for you to be shown only the most expensive caskets, including many with superfluous features, so don’t hesitate to ask to see others.
As a burial vessel, caskets are not intended to, nor can they, preserve your loved one’s remains. While many casket features may delay decomposition, there is really no reason to do so. It may be unnecessary to pay extra for thicker metal caskets, caskets made out of harder woods, “gasketed,” “protective” or “sealer” caskets to delay the penetration of water, or for warranties on how long a casket will last.
As a cremation vessel, the casket will be destroyed by the heat and fire, and therefore should not be expensive. These caskets may be made of unfinished wood, pressed wood, fiberboard, or even cardboard or canvas with an average cost of $1,000. Alternatives are to rent a casket for presentation and purchase a much less expensive one for cremation or opt for a direct cremation (no visitation and/or funeral) and forgo a casket altogether.
An urn is a container that holds cremated remains. They come in many different materials at various costs, some as low as $100.
The average cremation cost is between $1,000 to $3,000 (average $2,183) without basic service fees. With a funeral service and viewing the total cost averages $6,970.
Although the casket may be a major expense, the number of services/ceremonies affects the cost. Expenses usually include rental fees for each facility you are using, costs of all the necessary staff and equipment, and transporting your loved one’s remains. The average fee is $325-350 per transport, plus a rental fee of $350 if you want to use a hearse in the procession. The cost of a vehicle, such as a limo, to transport family members averages $150.
There are many costs associated with burial or interment as well. Unlike funeral homes, cemeteries are not bound by the Funeral Rule.
Burial containers are placed in the grave before your loved one’s burial and the casket is lowered into it. They are there to prevent the grave from caving in or sinking.
A typical flat grave marker is $1,000, a simple headstone is typically $1,000-$3,000, and an upright headstone can be upwards of $10,000, depending how elaborate the design is. The price may or may not include the cost of installation.
Perpetual or endowment care fees for the gravesite are typically 5% to 15% of the plot price. This is a one-time fee that does not include maintenance of headstones or other gravesite memorials.
It will not dishonor your loved one if you consider cost when scheduling events. In fact, they most likely would have been glad that you have not bankrupted yourself or unnecessarily reduced their beneficiaries’ inheritance.
It is important to try and minimize the cost by finding out what your options are, how much they will cost, and avoiding emotional overspending. Funeral home prices are available by telephone without having to give your name, address, or telephone number. However, they are not required to put their prices on their website. If there is no reason to choose a particular cemetery, such as proximity to mourners or family members interred together, comparison shop for burial sites as well.
While you can’t change how much these things cost in your area, there are some measures you may consider to reduce your costs. The Funeral Consumers Alliance website may be able help you make choices about more affordable funeral-related costs.
Average Funeral Costs from Choice Mutual lists average funeral costs by location.
If your loved one has recently died, you will not be at your best and decisions can be difficult. You will be faced with the distressing task of planning and paying for funeral and burial (cemetery) or cremation costs.
You can avoid this emotional decision-making process by you and your loved one planning and possibly paying for these expenses in advance of your loved one’s death, sometimes even before they are ill, although prepayment has many hazards.
The major advantages of planning ahead is the peace of mind that you will not have to face these decisions when the time comes and that you have funds available to pay for it, leading to less anxiety and stress in an already difficult time.
As with all purchases it is important to research options, comparison shop, get quotes from at least three funeral homes, and ask a lot of questions before agreeing to and paying for anything.
Unfortunately, there can be some drawbacks to doing this, especially if you plan too far in advance. Many will result in you losing your investment.
It is best to make a formal arrangement regulated by the state that locks in prices and guarantees that equivalent substitutes will be provided at no additional cost if products and services currently purchased are not available in the future.
If you do not want to prepay for funeral and burial (cemetery) or cremation costs, there are many options to save money specifically for these costs. This is necessary since any inheritance from their last will and testament will not be available for some time.
The average funeral or cremation is expensive and can be an enormous burden on many families. While there are ways to save money on a funeral, you may want to consider financial assistance from one or more sources.
You will likely be at your most vulnerable after the death of your loved one and unethical people may try to take advantage of this. While it is normal for funeral directors to offer additional services, you should look for another provider if you feel at all pressured or shamed to do more than you have planned for.
There are ways to reduce the risk of this happening.
While not technically fraud, the most commonly encountered ploy is various forms of sales pressure to convince grieving family members to purchase unnecessary or more expensive items and services or expensive packages to prove their devotion to their loved one.
Some of the sales tactics may include:
Perform a thorough check of your loved one’s residence.
If your loved one died in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or hospice facility, remove their personal property from their room.
Organize a post-funeral gathering.
Notify those close to the deceased about the service.
Make a list of well-wishers. Keep track of who sends cards, flowers and donations so that you can acknowledge them later.
Handle the ethical will, if there is one.
Make sure you continue to get support after the services and ceremonies.
Finally, remember that this does not end for you after all of the events are over. Going forward, it is important for you to arrange for ongoing contact and support from family and friends.