Funeral Plans

Your Funeral Planning Guide & Service Questions Answered

Whether you are creating funeral plans for yourself or for loved ones, this is your inclusive and complete guide to everything you need for a smooth funeral service.

Funeral Service Planning Ideas

To start, funeral plans require you to know what type of service you or your loved one desire. In this day and age, you have many options to choose from beyond the traditional funeral service. However, traditional services are still the most popular, so that is where we will begin.

Traditional Funeral Services

First of all, many people continue to choose traditional funeral services when planning a funeral. In the United States a traditional funeral service includes having the remains present during the service. The service is typically led by a funeral director or a religious head.

Additionally, the traditional funeral service is usually held at a church or at a funeral home. When deciding where to have your funeral, consider your personal beliefs and whether there is a specific place you trust to handle the logistics of the funeral. Often, the traditional service will involve poems and prayers, as well as eulogies. You may want to ask specific people to do eulogies, or you may want to ask that specific people not recite any eulogies. Following the service at the location of your choice, the remains might be transported for following services.

Graveside Services

Similarly, the graveside service typically follows the traditional funeral service. At this ceremony, there are final words said and then the remains are lowed into the grave site.

As a burial tradition, it is common for close family and friends to drop a flower and a handful of dirt down as they say their final goodbye. This tends to be a more intimate moment for close family. Consequently, not everyone who attends the funeral service will also attend the graveside service.

Scattering Services

Now, if you opt for cremation, then you may also opt for a scattering service. This is when close family and/or friends help scatter the remains in a specific location. It is worth noting that not all places allow for ash scattering. So, it’s best to get accurate information from the location to make sure it is okay.

The location for the ash scattering is typically a place that the person loved or enjoyed being at. Sometimes, the scattering place might be a distant place, such as a beach or a mountain. In this case, you will need to include travel plans in your funeral planning.

Wake, Viewing, and Visitation Funeral Plans

A wake, viewing, and visitation are not all exactly the same, but they are all similar. These services are usually held prior to the funeral service and are a time when the family can be given condolences.

In additional considerations for your planning, note that:

  • These services and events typically involve having the remains present, and may include casual, yet quiet conversation among guests.
  • You may decided to provide light appetizers and drinks to guests.
  • You may choose to hold these services at the funeral home, at a church, or even at your home.
  • Depending on where you want to transport the remains, you could hold the service virtually anywhere.
  • For burials or pre-cremation services, you will need to consider the costs associated with the transport of the remains from the funeral home.

Alternative Funeral Plans and Services

Finally, there are many options for non-traditional funeral plans in the United States.

Throwing a Party

Something that is gaining popularity is called a Celebration of Life. This service is typically occurs separate from the funeral service and is an occasion that is more uplifting and acts as a celebration as opposed to a solemn event.

A celebration of life is typically done in a style that was enjoyed by the deceased. Some people have a large party with music, while others might go to a beach or go on a float trip on a river. The point of a celebration of life is to throw a party that would have been enjoyed by the person that is being celebrated.

Burial at Sea

At Sea Burials can follow a more traditional service but instead of the service taking place in the funeral home or at the cemetery, it takes place at sea. For the ocean lover, this might be a great final wish.

At sea burials are legal in the United States, but there are regulations set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency. To start, you will need a boat that can go at least 3 miles away from shore. If you decide to go this route, you might want to consider if you have a boat, or will need to rent one, as well as how many people would be able to attend the burial since watercrafts usually have passenger limits.

Creative Funeral Plans for Services

If you are planning your own funeral or understand the desires of your loved one intimately, you can also get creative with the service. Consider what you’re passionate about, or what your loved one was passionate about, and incorporate that into your plans.

A good example of this was the service for Australian drag racer Frank Palumbo, where the family organized for the hearse to take Frank down the drag strip one last time before the burial.

Funeral Service Scripts

After you know what kind of funeral service you or your loved one would like to have, it is time to look at what happens at the funeral.

First, the funeral service script is a document of events and words often given by the officiant of the funeral. The officiant is usually either a religious head or the funeral home director.

The script consists of words that are meant to bring peace and meaning to the loss of a person and bring comfort to those present to mourn the loss. A script will consist of an opening where they welcome and announce the reason for being there. An introduction is given for who is officiating the funeral. Then the bulk of the script is reflection on the life of the deceased, tribute to their life, poems or prayers, and eulogies.

When deciding what should be in the script, you want to consider the mood you are wanting to set. Traditional services may have more solemn scripts. Keep in mind the primary purpose of the script is to bring comfort for the last moments before the final goodbye. The script should be personalized to the type of loss and the person, as well as the type of funeral.

Service Ideas for Funeral Plans

Traditional funeral services tend to have the same basic parts. A wake, viewing, or visitation, followed by a service at a funeral home or church, which is then followed by a burial or a service where the remains are scattered or put in their final resting place.

However, there are a lot of things that can be included or changed about funeral plans. You might be interested in non-traditional funeral services, such as an at sea burial or a tree planting ceremony where the remains are planted with the tree. Simple things can be changed to personalize a funeral service.

  • Music – Music can be played at funeral service of any kind. Build a playlist of favorite songs or songs that reflect life and good memories. Many people choose music that the deceased loved. Some religious services may include hymns to be sung by the attendees. Whatever you choose, consider how the music will affect the mood the service and what kind of service you are wanting to have.
  • Location – The most common location for funerals are the funeral home and a church. The funeral home is a popular place for funeral plans and services because transporting the remains can be costly and add stress to a situation. In cases of cremation, transportation is much easier. One thing I always think about is the beginning of the move P.S I love you. In the movie the widow chose cremation for her deceased husband and held his funeral at this favorite bar. If there is a favorite location, consider if the location could accommodate a funeral.
  • Funeral Photos – Many funeral homes will put up prints of the deceased for the funeral service. Choosing photos for this can be both difficult and a moment of happy reflection. Some people choose a formal photo or a photo of the person smiling. Some may choose a collage of photos that include the person’s happiest moments. You could always ask family and friends to bring their favorite photo print to be displayed for the service. I think allowing others to bring photos can allow everyone to see the different parts of that person’s life.
carnations appropriate funeral flowers
  • Funeral Flowers and Donations – Funeral flowers are tradition, people send flowers for the funeral service and those flowers are then given to close family relatives after the service. The person deciding on the funeral service options may also purchase flower arrangements such as casket topper and flowers that are left at the grave site.
    • Funeral flowers can carry a very powerful sense of comfort because it gives the family something tangible to take home with them.
    • If you aren’t a flower person, you might ask for family and friends to make donations to specific organization in lieu of flowers. This is becoming a much more popular request since flowers can sometimes overwhelm family members if they get a lot of flowers.
    • When making a request for donations, consider what the person was passionate about or if any organizations helped that person in their lifetime. A lot of people choose organizations that directly impacted their family member or an organization the person directly donated to. 

Planning Your Own Funeral

Should I Start Planning My Own Funeral? If So, When?
Yes, and the answer is now.

No matter how old you are, you should prepare for your death so that your loved ones are not left grieving and planning. Death is inevitable, all living things die, not planning for it does not change that. The best thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones is be prepared financially and with a Will.

Having things set up and in writing can prevent family members from arguing during the planning process. Start talking with your loved ones now. Having open conversations about funeral planning can help everyone get on the same page and make a very stressful and sad time, a little less stressful.

Your Funeral is Your Final Wish

Take the time to think about how you want to be remembered and what you want your family and friends to do in your memory. Having a will and a plan for your funeral is a way to give your final Goodbye to your friends and family.

Tell Them What To Do With You

A will is not just about what to do with your earthly possessions. A will is a good way to assert how you want your body treated after your death. If you don’t want to be buried, put that in writing! It will prevent your loved ones from arguing about what to do with your body and will ensure your body is treated the way you want it to be treated.

Be Financially Prepared For Your Death

No one knows when they’re going to die, but we do know if we are financially prepared for it. If you don’t have life insurance (for example, Final Expense or Burial Insurance), ask yourself if you have the funds to have the funeral you want. If you want a burial, do you have a plot already?

Leaving this financial burden to your loved ones is unfair. You may also decide that body donation is a better option for your financial situation, you can start preparing for that now by looking at the places around you that accept whole body donations.

Putting your wishes in your will is a great first step, but being financially prepared is also very important. Click here to learn more about Funeral Insurance Options.

Don’t Be Scared To Be Different

If you aren’t a fan of the black clothing and mourning sadness that make up the traditional American Funeral, be vocal about that and put it in your will. You can tell everyone to wear lime green if you want. It doesn’t necessarily mean they will do as you say, but it might keep them from giving you the funeral of your nightmares.

Checklist for Planning Your Own Funeral

After researching what all goes into a funeral, you might be feeling like it’s a lot to leave to someone else to plan. Or maybe you are feeling like you want to have some say in how people celebrate you and want to include some final wishes.

Planning your own funeral can be extremely helpful to your loved ones. Here’s what to do:

  • Write a Will – The first step in planning your funeral is to write a will. A will is a legal document that includes your final wishes. A will isn’t just for property that you own, but you can make requests for how you want your remains handled and what you want to happen at your funeral. To make it official, contact an attorney that specializes in wills and let your family know that you have a will and what attorney wrote it. Knowing where the will is can prevent a lot of confusion, frustration, and stress.
  • Write Down What’s Important to You – What you include in your will should be what you consider important for your family and friends to carry out. Is there a specific service you want? Is there a specific service you want avoided? If you don’t want a burial or a cremation, or say you definitely want your body donated to science, these are things you need to state in your will.
  • Consider the Cost – Do you have life insurance or the funds to cover a funeral? You might need to research how much specific services costs and what the total cost for a funeral might be for you. Considering the costs can help you prepare financially for a funeral and prevent the financial burden being left to family members.
  • Talk with Your Family – A will is important for legal reasons, but discussing your wishes with your family is also important. Leaving what’s in a will a total surprise can be stressful to family members. Talking with them about your wishes can help them feel at ease with the decisions they have to make because they don’t have to question what you would have wanted. Death is as much a part of life as birth is, and preparing for it is just as important.

Funeral Plans Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, we address the most frequently asked funeral service questions.

How Much Does a Funeral Cost?

Average Funeral Costs for planning and budgeting

Funerals can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands, but usually cost around $7,000 to $10,000. Social Security will only give your a lump-sum check of $255, which is not near enough to cover the average U.S. funeral cost. So, you will need to budget for all the funeral costs you or your loved ones deem necessary. For your reference and research, we have a very comprehensive article on average funeral costs available here.

What is the Difference Between a Funeral Viewing and Visitation?

  • A funeral viewing is a moment when people can view the deceased. Viewing options include either open or closed casket form, and either pre- or post-cremation. This gives the attendees of the funeral a short moment to say their final Goodbye.
  • In contrast, a visitation is usually a time held the day before the funeral. At the visitation, the family is present and available for the funeral attendees. This is a time when attendees can express their condolences to the family. In addition, they can leave flowers for the funeral the following day.

What Days are Funerals Usually On?

Funerals can be held any day of the week. When trying to plan a funeral, consider if there are any major holidays that could impact travel or attendance.

You may also want to consider if those closest to the family member work and what their schedules might be. Because weekends are usually a day off for most people, funerals can be more common on Saturdays. However, if anyone in the family is religious, Sunday may not be a great day for a funeral service.

What is Funeral Make-up?

Commonly referred to as “mortuary make-up”, this is the practice of putting make-up on the deceased to give them a life-like look. After death, the complexion of the body changes significantly. After embalming and fixing post-mortem trauma, the body can look very different from how it did during life.

If an autopsy was done or if the body was deceased for a longer period of time before being cared for by the mortician, facial features can be distorted. A good mortuary make-up artist will use color blending to help make the deceased look like they are sleeping.

What Does a Funeral Consist Of?

Funerals are different for every culture. Even within the United States, funerals vary because there is a variety of acceptable post life options.  In the United States, is it not uncommon for a funeral to be a multiday event for close family.

  • Visitations: To start, some funerals may include a visitation, which is different from a viewing. You will usually hold a visitation the day before the funeral. It is a time when the family of the deceased is available to meet those who wish to give them their condolences.
    • Burial Funerals: The day of the funeral usually involves a short period of viewing before the funeral ceremony. This is a time where people who could not make it to the viewing can see the body. However, sometimes you will reserve this time for only close family.
    • Cremation Funerals: For cremation funerals, there might be a visitation before the cremation. However, the family may decide not to let anyone see the deceased. The cremation visitation process and ceremony are often similar to a burial. However, instead of going to a cemetery, the family may choose to scatter the ashes immediately or they could decide to hold onto the ashes. In addition, it is common for there to be a casual get together with food after a funeral.
  • The Funeral Service: Now, you can hold the ceremony anywhere, but is most commonly held at the funeral home or at a church. The ceremony usually includes sermons, songs and eulogies, given by those closest to the deceased. Often, the family and the casket are then escorted out of the area and the process of going to the cemetery follows. Then, a concession of cars follows the hearse to the cemetery where final words are given and the casket is lowered into the ground. Finally, some families have large meals after the funeral where everyone can talk casually.

What is a Celebration of Life vs a Funeral Service?

“Celebrations of Life” are becoming more popular and taking place of traditional funerals. It isn’t uncommon for families to celebrate their loved one by doing something they enjoyed. People design these celebrations to spark joy and bring together those that loved the deceased.

How Long Do Funeral Services Last?

Funeral services times vary significantly. Time length will depend on if:

  • It is a religious service with specific steps involved (such as readings, prayers, songs, etc.).
  • People will be giving personal memorial speeches.
  • There is a sermon or a prepared speech involved.

Expect a funeral to last at least an hour. Also, be prepared for it to go longer if many people are speaking.

What is a Pre-paid Funeral Plan?

Sometimes funeral service providers will offer you the option to purchase their products and services in advance. For the more expensive services or items, they may offer you a pre-payment plan. This is a good way to make sure that your family or loved ones are not stuck paying for your funeral plans. However, when you buy a prepaid funeral plan you are often limited to how your money is used.

A more flexible option for making sure your funeral arrangements are paid for is a Final Expense Life Insurance Policy. This provides your survivors with a lump sum of cash to spend on whatever they need for your burial.

Conclusions on Your Funeral Plans

Your funeral plans do not have to be overwhelming. Moreover, a little pre-planning can go a long way. Whether you are planning for yourself or for someone else, the most important thing is to take it step-by-step. Additionally, make sure to give yourself patience and understanding through the whole process.

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