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Planning funeral arrangements for yourself or someone you love can take some of the logistical and financial stresses off of your family and loved ones. While some people have no problem figuring out how to plan a funeral for themselves or someone else, others may find the idea emotionally stressful or overwhelming. However, by taking some time to simply inform your loved ones about a few aspects of your wishes, you can make this tough topic easier for everyone involved.
Communicating With Your Family
One of the keys to effective funeral planning is open communication. Letting your family know what you want in terms of burial or cremation and the type of service you’d like can help ensure that you get the funeral you want. Open communication will also ensure that your family won’t have to go through the stress of guessing what you would have wanted or, worse, fight about the arrangements.
These conversations can be difficult. It can be hard to talk to your children or your partner about your wishes and your mortality. At the same time, it can be hard to talk to parents about their wishes and their mortality. Keeping the conversation centered on practical planning—where you would like to be buried, or where you would like your ashes to be scattered—can potentially reduce conflict and emotionally charged disagreements.
Remember that not everyone in your family will agree with your decisions. While it is important to try to get everyone on the same page, if you are making plans for yourself then you have every right to make whatever decisions you’d like. If you are helping someone else make plans for themselves, keep that perspective for them as well.
Have You Made Any Arrangements Already?
It may not have occurred to you just yet, but it is possible that someone has already made certain funeral arrangements or purchases on your behalf. Sometimes family members have cemetery plots set aside. Some family members may have already made full funeral arrangements with a funeral home and even set aside money for the funeral. Asking your loved ones about any existing plans is key to open communication. Double checking will also can help avoid confusion or redundant purchases.
First Decision: Burial, Cremation Or Donation?
First and foremost, consider all of your options for what happens to you physically after you pass. The three main considerations are burial, cremation or donation. Religious or spiritual beliefs, family traditions, and personal preference will most likely factor into your decision. Once you’ve made up your mind, the next step is letting your family and loved ones know of your decision. You can write it in your Will, a letter to your family, or simply let someone know your definitive answer to avoid any unnecessary stress during an already emotional time. If you don’t have a strong preference, it’s important to let them know that as well.
Tip: Not sure what your options are? Consult this checklist that lays out all the different types of services you might be interested in pre-planning for yourself or someone else.
Questions To Consider: Burial
Many Americans prefer to be buried when they die. If you choose burial, you will need to purchase a burial plot or a spot in a mausoleum at a cemetery. A vital question to consider when entertaining the idea of a burial is: where would you might like to be buried?
- Would you like to be buried next to a family member?
- In a religious section of a cemetery?
- On a piece of family-owned land?
- Are you sure of the city in which you would like to be buried?
Even if you are unsure of the exact location of where you prefer to be buried, you can help your family by letting them know the general place you envision yourself being laid to rest.
Questions To Consider: Cremation
When considering cremation, you can decide what you want done with your ashes. There are many options including burial, scattering, or giving them to friends and family members to be stored in an urn. Depending on the options you’re thinking about, it may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:
- If you would like your ashes to be interred in a cemetery, where would you like the cemetery to be? Would you like your ashes to be buried in a plot, in an urn garden, or interred in a columbarium?
- If you prefer to have your ashes distributed among your family or friends, who would you like to receive your remains?
- If you want to have your ashes scattered, where would you like the scattering to take place? Who would you like to have in attendance?
You do not have to answer all of these questions right away. Rather, these are the questions that can help you figure out your end of life wishes if you are struggling to make a decision. Remember, we are in the pre-planning stages.
Tip: If you are ready to plan your funeral and share it with your family, keep all the information organized and in one place with Everplans.
Questions To Consider: Donation
The question to consider here is, have you actually considered donating your remains? The option to donate remains is too often casually overlooked, but understanding the costs associated with end-of-life planning can make this a good option. Did you know individuals who donate their bodies to medical science avoid any costs to them or their families upon passing? Also, nearly all religions agree that donation is a charitable act and you can still have a memorial service.
Don’t let cost be the driving factor here: it’s worth researching this decision and finding out exactly what your body will be used for. This is site offers a list of body donation programs in the U.S. If you want to help others, but still want your family to bury or cremate your body, you can simply donate your organs. Next time you renew your driver’s license select the box that says “organ donor.”
Tip: To learn more about whole body donation, check out this article: How To Donate Your Body To Science
Whether you finally decide to go with a burial or cremation, there are a number of items you’ll need to buy. It can all get a bit overwhelming, so we’re focusing on the main products you’ll need to consider.
Tip: Save all receipts for all funeral-related purchases. These expenses may be deductible on future tax returns.
Casket: Caskets come in a variety of styles and prices. The selection of a casket is ultimately a personal choice. You can purchase a casket from a funeral home or, interestingly enough, from an online retailer.
Burial Vault/Grave Liner: The cemetery will likely require a burial vault or grave liner. The funeral home may have a limited selection of vaults and liners, so be aware that you may not have much of a choice for this product.
Urn: Cremation urns come in a variety of styles and prices. As with a casket, the selection of an urn is a personal choice.
Cremation Casket: You may purchase a casket for the funeral service that is then used for the cremation, though the casket should be made without metal (as metal cannot be cremated). If you do not want to buy a casket but want to use one for the funeral service, you may rent one from the funeral home for the funeral service and use an alternative container for the cremation.
What Type of Service Do You Want?
Funerals, graveside services, and memorial services are the most common types of services that people have to remember someone who has died. That being said, there are plenty of alternatives, like having a funeral service in your own home.
Many people confuse memorial services and funeral services. The main difference between a memorial service and a funeral service is that burial or cremation takes place before a memorial service, whereas burial or cremation takes place after a funeral service. A graveside service is a funeral service that is held at the cemetery, rather than in a funeral home or religious place of worship.
Whether you decide you want a funeral or memorial service, organizing the details of these events in advance offers you an opportunity to plan elements of the service to your liking that you otherwise might not have been able to plan. For example, you may decide that you want those attending your funeral or memorial service to wear the colors of your favorite football team instead of the traditional black. You may write a speech that you have someone deliver on your behalf at the service. You may decide that you want everyone to sing your favorite song, or you want the reception to be a barbeque. There are many ways to personalize the service. Talk to your family about the features you would like to incorporate to make it a more personal experience.
Most often, funerals are held in funeral homes, religious places of worship, or a chapel at the cemetery. These places are generally best equipped to handle a funeral service and its logistics. A funeral service generally begins with the body being brought in by pallbearers. We say “generally” because funerals can be as personal as you like. During the service, people may say prayers, deliver eulogies, read passages from scripture or literature, or sing songs. More and more people are incorporating technology-driven features, such as photo slideshows and videos. You can incorporate any of all of these traditions and customize them to your liking. After the service, the body is brought to a cemetery for burial or a crematory for cremation.
Memorial services may be held in any location. Many people choose locations with personal significance, such as a favorite beach, park, or family home, or locations that can accommodate a large group, such as a religious place of worship, a favorite restaurant, a banquet hall, or other event space. You can can choose to restrict your invites to a memorial service to family-only or you can decide to invite friends and extended family as well. As mentioned with funerals, you should feel free to customize the experience to honor your memory as you see it. In line with the open communication policy, discussing options with your family might help you make some of these pre-planning decisions.
How to Choose a Cemetery
Location, religion, and environment are the big factors to consider when choosing a cemetery, as is vacancy (not just for the immediate burial, but for future family members as well). If you are buying plots for multiple people, you will want to find plots or mausoleum spaces that are together.
You should also visit the cemetery and take a look at the grounds.
- Are they well maintained?
- Inspect the plot you’re buying: is it what you had in mind?
Take this opportunity to ask any questions you might have before you sign the paperwork. If you’re unable to visit it yourself, have someone else do it on your behalf.
Tip: Having trouble figuring out how to plan a funeral? Everplans has more information for How To Choose a Cemetery to help you make some of these decisions.
While figuring out how to plan a funeral for yourself or someone else, there are also other events you may want to have in addition to a funeral or memorial service, such as a wake, viewing, or visitation. These are sometimes held before the service and offer an opportunity for family and friends to spend time together before the formal funeral. After a funeral or memorial service, many people organize receptions with food and beverages.
Basic Features of a Wake or Viewing
Wakes and viewings are intended as opportunities for people to say goodbye to the person who died and spend time with other mourners. A wake or viewing takes place before the funeral service and can be held at a funeral home, your own home, or the social hall at a religious place of worship. The body is usually present in a casket, though the casket may be open or closed. Wakes and viewings can be family-only events or many people can be invited.
Basic Features of a Visitation
Visitations are essentially gatherings before or after the funeral service where mourners can gather and remember the person who died. Visitations can be held at a funeral home, your own home, or the social hall at a religious place of worship. At a visitation the casket is closed or the body is not present at all.
Post-Funeral Reception or Gathering
A reception or gathering after a funeral is a chance for people to spend time together and remember the person who passed. Funerals often bring people together who may not have seen each other in some time, so a reception provides an additional opportunity for people to reconnect. As many funerals are formal and somber events, a reception offers a more casual, relaxed space for people to celebrate the life of the person who died.
A reception can be held at a family member or friend’s home, at a restaurant, an event space, or a social hall in a religious place of worship. Some funeral homes also have spaces where a reception can be held.
It is common for at-home receptions to be potluck-style, with friends and guests bringing prepared food and drinks. In some religious communities it is traditional for the social committee to provide the food and drinks for the reception. This is where a Lotsa Helping Hands Community can come in handy.
Setting up a Community to coordinate funeral arrangements is a great way to keep everyone informed of the plans while organizing offers of help during a difficult time. While pre-planning a funeral will help your loved ones when the time comes, typically there are people that are willing to help. Let your loved ones know about the Lotsa Helping Hands service so they won’t be overwhelmed by these offers, rather they can easily accept help while grieving. Family and friends can sign up to bring meals, flowers, send Well Wishes, and make sure they are honoring the family’s wishes.
There are endless options to choose from when it comes to the format of the service. Many people incorporate a mix of religion, remembrance, spirituality, and a celebration of life into funerals. This eclectic combination can appease many family members by accommodating everyone’s wishes. There are event planners and funeral home staff who can help with logistics and allow you to create a unique funeral that is a true reflection of your life.
You may consider identifying desired participants, readings, and even decorations if you wish. Other things to consider:
Religious considerations: Many religions have specific rules and rituals around funerals. If you would like to follow some or all of your religious funeral traditions, do a bit of research or speak with your local religious leader to learn more about the customs.
Choose a location: Funerals are typically held at funeral homes, religious places of worship, chapels at cemeteries, or at grave sites.
Choose an officiant: If you will be having the service at a religious place of worship, the religious leader there will likely lead the service. Otherwise, anyone you choose can lead the service.
Choose participants: There are many ways for friends and family to participate in a funeral or memorial service. Identify who you would like to serve as pallbearers and deliver eulogies and other readings. Participants may also sing songs, play music, or offer other tributes.
Make a list of guests to invite: If there are specific people you would like to have invited to the service, write down their names and contact information so that the person managing the service will be sure to invite them.
Design other elements of your funeral or memorial service: Let your family know how you’d like the service to look and feel. Choose flowers, music, and other personal touches.
Tip: Looking for some of the Best Ways to Memorialize a Loved One?
People are increasingly concerned with the impact that humans have on the earth. Choosing a green burial means using green burial products and being buried in a green cemetery or natural burial ground. Green burials have become a unique way to lessen your impact and reduce your “carbon footprint.”
Many people view green burial as the traditional way of being buried and a return to the way people were buried before the industrialization and commercialization of funerals.
In order for a burial to be “green,” the body should have as little impact upon the earth as possible. The main areas of consideration in a green burial are:
- The conservation of natural resources
- The preservation of the environment
- The protection of the health of industry workers
How To Have A Green Funeral
There are a number of ways you can engage with “green” or environmentally friendly practices when planning a burial. The features of a burial that can be “green” include:
- Working with a certified green or green-friendly funeral home
- Burying the body in a green casket or shroud
- Burying the body in a green cemetery or a natural burial ground
- Burying the body without an outer burial container (burial vault or grave liner)
- Marking the grave with a green headstone
Finding A Funeral Director
Engage the services of a funeral home you trust and work with their funeral director to plan your burial or cremation and funeral or memorial service. The funeral director can also help you purchase any goods and services that you will need for the burial, cremation, funeral, or memorial service.
- If you are planning a funeral followed by burial: You will typically work with a funeral director at a funeral home who will help you with all the arrangements, including working with a cemetery to purchase a plot and orchestrate the burial.
- If you are planning a funeral followed by cremation: You will typically work with a funeral director at a funeral home who will help you connect with a crematory to arrange the cremation.
- If you are planning a direct cremation followed by a memorial service or ash scattering: You may be able to work with the crematory directly—you don’t have to work with a funeral home.
The costs of a funeral can add up quickly, so don’t be shy when it comes to talking about money. You do not want to put yourself or your family into financial crisis because of the funeral. Be realistic about what you can afford to spend and be comfortable making objective decisions based on your budget. Reach out to family members who can help pitch in with some of the costs. Most importantly, research your options. Prices can change drastically from one funeral home to another, so gather quotes from several places. Be sure that all costs are clearly listed upfront so that there are no surprises. Get a contract that includes any extra fees, which could include everything from transportation costs to visitation hours to staff salaries.
When making pre-arrangements, it’s common to pre-pay for some or all of the products and services you’re organizing. There are a number of ways to pay for pre-arrangements, and some may meet your needs better than others.
Tip: Learn more about pre-purchasing goods and services from a funeral home and pre-paying with funeral insurance if you are concerned about costs.
Once you’ve finished learning how to plan a funeral, you should create an Everplan where you can store, easily update, and share these plans with trusted deputies who will carry out your wishes.