How to Plan a Funeral: Simple Memorial Planning Steps

Planning a funeral can feel overwhelming.

We’re here to help simplify and demystify the process for you so that you can get to what is most important:

Honoring your loved one.

How to Plan a Funeral

Quick links:

Here’s our step-by-step guide to arranging a funeral.

1. Learn & Begin Planning

The first step in the funeral planning process is to learn.

As much as possible, educate yourself and plan anything you can in advance.

This will ease stress on your loved ones, reduce costs, and help you get what you want.

However, you may be in a position where a loved one has died unexpectedly so it is impossible to plan ahead. Don’t worry, simply begin planning now.

Rely on local funeral directors, browse our hundreds of articles, and continue reading to learn more.

2. Set Your Budget & Arrange Payment

Funerals cost a lot of money. But there are many ways to save while still honoring your loved one the way they deserve.

Much will come down to the choices you make, and our funeral planning guide will help you compare affordable vs high-end options.

Here’s how to set your funeral budget.

  1. Research average funeral costs
  2. Take a look at your finances and funeral insurance, then determine what you can afford
  3. Consider accepting donations in lieu of flowers
  4. Ask a friend to help you stay on task and avoid unnecessary purchases

How will you pay for the funeral? Funeral homes require payment up front via cash, check, or credit card. Ensure you have the funds in your bank account.

How will you get the funds for the funeral? You may have enough in your bank account. Otherwise, look to life insurance or a final expense policy, veteran’s benefits, or crowdfunding via donations. If you’re planning ahead, consider funeral trusts or prepaid funeral plans.

3. Choose Disposition Method

For most of us, this comes down to burial vs cremation. You can learn about all the various disposition methods, which include some out-there ideas, but essentially the choice will be between cremation and burial.

We have helpful guides to both burial and cremation that will answer most of your questions. It’s an important decision, and if your loved one hasn’t already specified his or her end-of-life plans, you’ll want to think through it carefully. You’ll also want to consider a green burial.

Consider whether or not to embalm. And here’s the complete list of everything that you can do with your body, including all sorts of alternative burial and preservation methods.

4. Choose the Type of Service

There are many types of funeral services. We’ve explained each one here, including the “before” events (wake, viewing, visitation) as well as “after” events (reception, cremation, scattering, graveside service).

For most, the main decision is between a traditional funeral or a less formal, more contemporary celebration of life. If the service is to be after burial or cremation, the program can be much the same as either of those but is typically called a memorial service.

Learn more: 10 Types of Funeral Services & Memorial Celebrations

5. Plan the Service Events

Next you’ll need to choose what events should make up the service itself. Think through the order of service – what should be included? 

You’ll want to choose an officiant, decide on readings, Scriptures, prayers, and songs, as well as who should give the eulogy. These are wonderful ways for close friends and family members to participate.

Other elements of a funeral to consider include open vs closed casket, a moment of silence and reflection, special funeral music, open mic sharing time, or any other special memorial tributes.

Funeral Readings, Speeches, and Prayers:

Funeral Options & Events:

6. Plan a Reception

What will people do after the service?

There’s something familiar yet special about sharing a meal, from finely catered delicacies to homestyle potlucks.

Read our Funeral Reception Planning Guide for more.

7. Choose a Final Resting Place

The traditional resting place is burial at a cemetery. Some people choose to have the body interred in a crypt or mausoleum but for burial, most choose a cemetery plot with a traditional grave marker.

But now that cremation is the most popular disposition choice, the final resting place can vary.

Many families scatter all or part of the ashes. Others choose to keep the cremation urn at home. You can also bury the urn, or place it into a columbarium niche at the funeral home.

Here are more creative and interesting things to do with cremated remains.

What you choose to do with your loved one’s remains should be shaped by their final wishes. If they didn’t tell you what to do with their remains or include information about their funeral wishes in their final arrangements, then it’s ultimately up to you.

Funeral Planning Tips

Here are some helpful tips to enable you get the most out of your funeral plans.

1. Educate yourself.

Learn about the various options available. Burial vs cremation. Flat markers vs upright headstones. Funeral service vs end of life celebration.

Know your rights, too, and get familiar with what costs to expect. There’s lots to learn, but we’ve provided easy-to-digest resources on just about every topic. (Just keep scrolling.)

The more you know, the more confident you’ll be that you’re honoring your loved one in a way they would appreciate. This provides much-needed peace of mind.

2. Only buy what you need to.

Aside from the basic services fee, you don’t need to buy a thing from the funeral home.

While it’s often convenient to choose what the local funeral home has to offer, just know that legally, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule, you can buy whatever you want from whoever you want.

You’re in charge, and you can get the funeral you want for your loved one. Learn more.

3. Consider ahead of time what you need to do.

Here’s a helpful checklist for what to do when a loved one dies. It’s a good idea to get ready now so that you’re not worried later.

Get your important documents together, make arrangements with the religious leader and place of worship (if it’s going to be a religious funeral), locate any end-of-life wishes your loved one may have written down, and contact extended family members to mobilize them to help with various smaller tasks.

4. Tell the funeral provider you’d like to save.

They’ll work with you to help meet your needs in a way that is cost-effective yet also honors your loved one. They won’t know unless you tell them.

Use these funeral budgeting tips to help maximize your savings, and ask the funeral director about payment options.

5. Personalize the event as much as you’d like.

Add one small touch that means so very much. Or plan something that is completely out of the norm – just like your loved one. Here are 100 creative life celebration ideas to help you do just that.

6. Remember to grieve.

The most important thing is to honor your loved one. But you’re important too! Take some time to take care of yourself. Get plenty of rest and nourishment, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. The people you love, and all who loved your loved one, will be ready and willing to support.

Planning the funeral can be a wholesome, healthy part of the grieving process, so we certainly want to encourage you to give it your best. Just remember that you’re grieving, and that you have physical, mental, and spiritual needs as well.

Complete Guide to Funeral Arrangements

Scan through the list of common options and topics below. We have detailed resources to guide you through each step of making your own funeral arrangements or those of an immediate family member.

First Things

Funeral Preplanning

How Do I Plan My Own Funeral?

At the Time of Death

Planning the Service

What to Consider When Planning a Funeral

Funeral Products

Final Resting Place

Questions? Browse Our FAQ Section

Our Funeral FAQ page is the most extensive funeral resource on the web. We’ve answered every question you might have:

  • Who should participate in the funeral?
  • What does the average funeral cost?
  • How can you save on funeral expenses?
  • Are you supposed to tip the funeral director?

… and many, many more. Browse FAQs.