Complete Funeral Planning Checklist: Timing, Cost, Procedures, and More

The death of a loved one is one of the most stressful things you can experience.  It’s something that will happen to all of us at some point, but something that can be emotionally crippling and physically draining.

On top of the grief and the problems that come from handling a loved one’s estate, you have to deal with the funeral. By that time, you’re often at your lowest point.

To help you through the process of arranging a funeral, we have created a checklist containing all the essential items you need to consider.

Funeral Planning Checklist

Funerals can be chaotic and arranging one is not easy, nor is it cheap (more on that below). If you have friends and loved ones who offer to help, let them. You might feel like it’s your responsibility, especially if you’re the deceased’s only child or spouse, but they loved them as well and will be happy to help.

Here are the things you need to check off your list:

  • Prepare the Obituary and Make the Announcements: One of the first things you need to do is announce the death to loved ones. Contact your nearest and dearest to let them know, and start compiling information for the obituary, which comes later. You can either ask them to spread the word to other friends and family members, as it’s a long and painful process if you have to contact everybody directly, or announce it through social media. 
  • Memorialize their Facebook Account: If the deceased person has a Facebook page, get it memorialized. You can find more information here. You won’t be given login details and the page will simply turn into a memorial for the deceased, allowing others to send their messages of condolences and discuss their favorite memories. It’s good to have something like this in place before the funeral.
  • Choose a Funeral Home: People often choose the nearest funeral home or get a recommendation from a friend who recently suffered a bereavement. However, why take the advice of one person when you can read the opinions of thousands? Check the funeral home’s reviews, look at recommendations, and compare prices. 
  • Choose Your Burial Options: You need to choose between a burial or cremation. If it’s a burial, will it be a green burial and where will it take place? A grave marker and inscription can also be chosen at this point. 
  • Book the Service: The type of service, such as military, memorial, or wake, needs to be prepared and booked. Select a location and plan the basics.
  • Prepare the Adornments: Speak with a florist to prepare the flowers, choose photographs of the deceased to be shown during the service, and prepare everything else that you want to be displayed, including videos and songs.
  • Write the Obituary: Now it’s time to complete the obituary and send it to local publications. You should also consider a eulogy. You don’t have to do the eulogy yourself but should have someone lined up. Pick someone close to the deceased and someone comfortable with public speaking.
  • Arrange Transportation: Your closest family members need help getting to and from the service and you should also choose pallbearers to carry the coffin.
  • Finalize: Food should be prepared, burial permits need to be obtained, and you should arrange for the receipt of a death certificate and ensure this is sent to the relevant organizations.

There are clearly a lot of things to cover, and this is only the half of it. You also need to think about embalming, clothing for the deceased to wear, and people to speak at the service. However, that’s what funeral homes and service providers are there for.

A funeral home will offer you a package that includes everything from the casket to transportation. If needed, they can even arrange pallbearers. If you have the service at a church, it will help you to choose the music, arrange the time, and ensure you have someone to speak at the event.

Some companies will even combine the two and arrange everything for a fee, including the eulogy, pictures, and video memorials. This will allow you to focus on the sentimentality of the event.

How Much Do Funerals Cost in the US?

The average funeral comes to around $8,000, but it all depends on the services purchased and the options selected. It will help if the deceased has life insurance, burial and funeral insurance, or enough assets to cover the costs. Otherwise, the responsibility will fall on their loved ones.

Take a look at the following cost breakdowns to understand where most of these expenses come from and how you can reduce them:

  • Casket = $2,000 to $6,000: The funeral home will try to sell you the most expensive casket. It will come with all the bells and whistles, including a plush inner lining. In your state of grief, you may be inclined to accept whatever they offer, but doing so is reckless if you’re operating on a tight budget. The costs stated above are the average, but there are much cheaper options available and the funeral home is obliged to offer these if you request them. They include wicker, cardboard, and hemp options that are generally less than $1,000. If you’re not having a wake and don’t have much money, it doesn’t make sense to splash the cash on a casket.
  • Grave Markers/Headstones = $1,000 to $5,000: The material of the marker can make a massive difference in the price. If you opt for bronze, you can generally save a lot of money. However, the best way to save is to source it from a third-party, as the ones offered by the funeral home have a sizable mark-up.
  • Flowers = $500: A nice floral arrangement can make the grave/casket standout, but it can also be expensive. You can shop around to save some money, but it’s better to ask friends and family to provide flowers. Most of them will do so anyway, thus saving you money that you can’t afford to spend.
  • Funeral Home Service Fees = $2,000 to $2,500: Even if you opt for a cheap casket and other simple options, you may still be charged over $2,000 for basic services. This is the funeral home’s fixed fee. However, you can negotiate the costs and argue against them, as some of the charges will include services that you don’t want or need. If they refuse to budge on these, simply take your business elsewhere and find a company that is more transparent.
  • Burial vs Cremation = $1,000 to $10,000: It’s important to go along with the wishes of the deceased where possible. However, burial is rarely a good option for a family operating on a shoestring budget. The average price we quoted above only applies when you factor burials into the equation, which can cost over $10,000. Cremations are generally much cheaper and could be as little as $1,000. You don’t need an expensive casket, burial plot, or headstone, nor do you need to spend the $500 to $1,000 that it costs to prepare the plot.

How Long After Death Does the Funeral Occur?

In some countries, such as the United Kingdom, it’s not uncommon for funerals to occur up to 2 weeks after the death. In others, including some Southern European countries like Greece, they can occur within a day. In the US, the average is just under a week, but they are generally arranged anywhere from 3 to 8 days later. 

On the one hand, having that extra time can help you to deal with your grief, get your head straight and make better decisions. At the same time, however, that grief can be just as debilitating on day 10 as it is on day 1, and sometimes you just want to get it out of the way.

One of the first things you have to consider is when you want it to take place. It’s important not to rush into this decision. Don’t feel like you need to do it quickly or even on a certain date. If you’re the one planning the funeral, you’re in control and shouldn’t allow yourself to be influenced by friends who feel like a certain date would benefit them more. 

People have big families and friendship circles. There will always be someone who wants it sooner because they have work and someone who wants it later because they have a vacation. You’re grieving and you’re in control, so you’re entitled to ignore them and do what you feel is right.