How to Plan a Funeral

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If your departed loved one didn't leave specific notes for his funeral, start the planning process by calling several funeral homes to check prices, practices and policies. Although it might seem callous to concern yourself with money at this emotional time, a funeral can be quite costly. After picking a funeral home, plan the service in a way that comforts you and helps you celebrate your loved one's life. The funeral director will help guide you through the intricate details of the funeral.

Getting Your Loved One Ready

A difficult but necessary part of funeral planning is deciding on items specific to your loved one. You must decide what she should wear, including jewelry, for example. Many people choose to have the body embalmed, but it's not required in most cases. Embalming uses chemicals to preserve the body and postpone decay -- you must bury your loved one quickly if you choose not to use embalming services.

If your loved one chose cremation instead of a traditional funeral, you don't have the same choices unless you plan a visitation prior to the cremation. In a direct cremation, the funeral home places the body in a cremation container and returns the ashes to you, but no preparation is required of the family.

Choosing the Burial Details

Because many people view the casket as the final place of rest, choosing the casket can be an emotional decision. Funeral homes offer options in several price ranges, or you can buy one elsewhere and have it delivered to the funeral home. Budget guides many casket decisions, but some people have a strong preference toward color or material, such as preferring wood over metal caskets. If your loved one is cremated, choose an urn to hold the ashes or decide on a time and place to scatter them.

While planning the funeral, choose a cemetery that offers a convenient location in your family's price range. Ask about the price to open and close the grave, as well as whether the cemetery offers perpetual care so you don't have to worry about maintenance of the grave site after the burial.

Pick a time and date that's convenient for the family. Some people wait for up to a week so out-of-town family can attend, but many people prefer to have the funeral within a couple of days of the loved one's death. Visitations often occur in the evening before the funeral, which often happens during early afternoon. Some choose a short visitation, such as two or three hours, prior to the funeral on the same day. But the schedule depends on what works best for you and the rest of your family.

The funeral director helps you share the details so friends and acquaintances can attend or send condolences. He walks you through writing an obituary that he sends to the local newspaper to publish in print and online, and he posts on the funeral home's website, in most cases.

Planning the Service

The funeral service should comfort you and help you remember your loved one. You might choose a traditional visitation and service at the funeral home, or perhaps you prefer a short graveside service. Many services have one or more people close to the deceased speak about her, sharing stories or describing her positive traits. This can be a minister, family member or close friend. The services often include music, which can reflect the deceased's favorite songs or comforting religious hymns such as "Amazing Grace."

Some people choose to hold a separate memorial service or wake at a church or a family member's home. These typically are more casual than services at a funeral home, with friends and family gathering before or after to comfort each other and swap stories of the deceased loved one.

After deciding what type of service you want, ask people to participate in the service. You might want one or several officiants as well as pall bearers, which are people who help carry or escort the coffin to the grave site. Pall bearers are typically men who are related to or close to the deceased.

Other Planning Duties

While discussing the arrangements with the funeral director, decide on how friends and family can share their condolences. Many people traditionally send flowers to the visitation and funeral service, but you might prefer that they donate money to a charity in your loved one's name, for example.

The family typically decorates the casket, often with flowers. Veterans might prefer a flag over the casket instead. Some families buy floral sprays to place on either side of the casket as well, or specialty memorium products such as stone angels or plaques with Bible verses or other comforting sayings. You must also purchase a tombstone to be placed at the grave site after the burial, although it's not usually in place for a few weeks after the burial.

Ask the funeral director about the guest book, which is usually placed at the door of the memorial service. Guests sign in with their names, addresses and an optional short message for the family. Families use this book to send thank-you notes to the guests after the service.