Losing a loved one is difficult, but if you’re also in charge of making funeral arrangements, it can become overwhelming. You’re grieving while dealing with the financial decision-making, the dreaded paperwork and all of the details.

While companies like Parting.com have made it easier to find and compare funeral homes, arranging a funeral is still daunting task.

This is especially true if your loved one didn’t leave behind pre-planned funeral arrangements. You’re under immense pressure to make decisions quickly and under very emotional circumstances.    

Bank investments and savings

Planning Ahead

While it’s always best to talk to your parents or spouse, for example, ahead of time so you can plan a funeral that respects their wishes — that can be an uncomfortable conversation and one that might never happen.

“The biggest mistake is we teach our kids about money, politics, religion and maybe sex, but we do a terrible job teaching them about death, dying and funerals,” said Lisa Carlson, co-author of Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death.   

“It’s really important to sit down with your family and find out what they want and don’t want in a funeral.” Carlson said if your family is hesitant, try using humor. “Do it while you can still joke about it,” she said.

John Jung, funeral director and owner of California Mortuary near Los Angeles, said the majority of funerals that he sees are not pre-arranged.

“Everybody knows that you’re going to pass away one day, but not everyone likes to plan or think about it,” he said. “This can make planning a funeral very stressful.”

Here are eight tips for organizing a funeral that can help relieve some of that stress:

1. Check for Funeral Instructions

If your loved one documented their funeral wishes before they died, you have a plan to follow, and most family members will be in agreement with that plan. Include everyone in the planning who should have a say, or plans to help pay for the funeral.

2. Determine the Budget

“You have to figure out how much you can afford to spend,” Carlson said. “How much you spend isn’t proof of how much you love someone. It’s important to remember that.”

Some people may have set aside money to help their loved ones pay for their funerals, but that isn’t always the case. Funeral expenses can add up fast, so don’t be afraid to talk with family members about money.

A funeral home with coffins being sold

3. Choose a Funeral Home

Most states don’t require you to use the services of a funeral home; however, it can make funeral arrangements easier and less stressful. Factors to consider include location, recommendations by family/friends, and cost.

Comparison-shopping website Parting.com offers price lists of funeral homes throughout the United States. By entering your ZIP code and the type of funeral you’re considering (for example, a traditional funeral or cremation memorial) into the free website, you can receive estimated prices from funeral homes in your area.

“One of the beauties of Parting is it gives people access to information,” said Anita Sheline Gaytan, a bereavement counselor for Gerinet Healthcare in Downey, CA. “This company allows people the privacy of just having their immediate family around and discussing this and making their decisions.”

Make sure that all costs are clearly listed upfront so there are no surprises. Obtain a contract that includes any extra fees, such as transportation costs and visitation hours. A list of funeral costs is mandated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

“It’s a little weird because not a lot of people want to do price hunting, but funerals are very expensive, so it’s smart to look around,” Jung said.

Jung said Parting.com makes it easier to make sure you are getting a fair price.

“They keep calling to a minimum, because if you’re really price hunting you have to call multiple funeral homes. Here you have it laid out and you can compare — and you can do it at your time and your convenience,” Jung said.

4. Have the Necessary Documents

Once you’ve chosen a funeral home, the funeral director will need information to help make arrangements, complete paperwork and acquire the necessary permits, including the death certificate and burial or cremation permit.

You may be asked to provide:

    • The deceased’s birth certificate
    • Marital status
    • Social security number
    • Date and location of death
    • Cause of death
    • Next of kin
    • Veteran status
    • Usual occupation
    • Place of burial/cremation
    • Deceased’s doctor name
    • How soon the service needs to be

It’s helpful to collect this information prior to an impending death or know where your loved one keeps important papers. Many times it’s difficult for adult children to easily find crucial documents like a social security number or military papers.

funeral home parking sign

5. Write Down All Details

Once you’ve chosen the funeral home and type of burial, you can focus on details including where the funeral will be held and who will officiate the service. You can decide if there will be a visitation and what the deceased will wear. You can choose a casket or cremation container and a grave marker and inscriptions. You can decide if there will be a reception, music and flowers. You can choose pallbearers and arrange for transportation for the family. The funeral home typically will transfer the body to the funeral site and the cemetery.

Write everything down to keep plans organized. You may think you won’t forget the details, but emotional stress can take a toll. Share information with key family members and funeral home staff, who will help with the funeral.

6. Contact Family, Friends and Neighbors.

Make a list of names and enlist the help of your family to notify those who need to know.

7. Place An Obituary.

Writing an obituary for a loved one can be daunting. For help, check out this useful guide from the National Museum of Funeral History.

8. Take Care of Yourself 

“Even if the deceased individual was sick for a long time and the end was in sight, there’s always an element of shock involved in any death,” said Jade Wood, a psychotherapist in Washington, D.C. “While there might not always be surprise, people are operating under a great deal of shock. Lots of time shock can be useful, because it allows people to get things done and focus on tasks, and in fact, that can keep some of that grief at bay.”

Carlson agrees that staying involved as much as possible in the funeral planning is important. “Having something physically to do takes away the sense of helplessness,” she explained.

Wood also said practice as much self care as possible.

“That can look like different things for different people, but certainly means putting sleep at a premium and keeping some of the daily habits or activities in your life that in the past you found grounding or soothing–such as your morning walk,” she said. “Keeping those in place can be really useful.”

Liz Wolf