Working with a Funeral Director: Arrangement Conferences

What you need to know and how to prepare for your first meeting.

Arrangement ConferenceAfter a death has occurred, there are many decisions to be made and details to be organized. One of the first things you will do is meet with a funeral director to start the process of arranging the burial or cremation and the funeral or memorial service. When you have this initial meeting, it is called an arrangement conference. Depending on the complexity and detail needed, the arrangement conference will take 30 minutes to several hours.

What is the difference between a funeral director, a funeral home, and a mortuary?

Funeral directors are trained and licensed professionals who help you plan the funeral ceremony. They also coordinate with the cemetery or crematorium. The funeral director provides technical services such as the care, preparation, presentation, and final disposition of the deceased.

Funeral homes, or mortuaries, are businesses with the staff, facilities, and equipment necessary to help commemorate the life of the deceased.

“Alternative” funeral service providers offer the services of funeral directors but may specialize or sell packaged plans. For example, an alternative provider may specialize in cremation or graveside services and may not work with a funeral home.

You will be asked to provide a lot of information and to discuss difficult topics. And all at a time when you are grieving and emotional. Many people find that being prepared for the conference can greatly reduce the stress and confusion that can occur.

Knowing what information to bring with you can be difficult if you have never arranged a funeral before. Our Funeral Planning Checklist and Questionnaire can help you compile the needed information and make the meeting go much more smoothly. Once you have printed out your copy, take it step-by-step. Bring a copy with you to the arrangement conference.

What to Expect During the Arrangement Conference

  • A big part of the Arrangement Conference is transferring information to your funeral director. If the death certificate needs to be filed, the funeral director will ask for information such as the deceased’s social security number, birth and death dates, military status, place of death, etc.
  • A significant portion of the meeting will be used to discuss the services you would like for the deceased. Below is a list of the types of choices you will need to make:
  • Burial Options: Will the deceased be buried or entombed? Will the deceased be cremated? If you choose cremation, what will you do with the remains? Would the deceased donate his or her body to science? Will the organs be donated? (Learn more about burial options.)
  • Ceremony Options: Will you hold a traditional funeral with the casket present, or would you prefer a memorial service? Where would you like the ceremony held? Should the deceased be embalmed? What type of music and readings would you prefer? Who will participate (clergy, pallbearers, speakers)? Will there be a procession? (Learn more about planning a ceremony)
  • Visitation Options: How many visitations would you prefer? Will the casket be open or closed?
  • Once you have decided on burial ceremony options, your funeral director will work with you to help you choose a casket or urn. Keep in mind that you are not required to buy these products from the funeral home.
  • If the funeral director prepares an obituary for you, they will gather the information they need during the arrangement conference. The type of information they will need includes the survivors you want to be mentioned, the history of the deceased, and other personal information. See our page on writing an obituary.
  • Finally, one of the last remaining expectations of an arrangement conference is how to pay for the funeral. This can be one of the more stressful situations when a death occurs, but there are options available to make this easier. If you have insurance policies or estate information, or if the funeral was pre-funded, bring all documentation with you to the funeral home. If you plan on paying in full, using a credit card, or financing the funeral, come prepared with your financial information on hand.

Dealing with Family While Planning a Funeral Service

As with any major event in life, unexpected problems or hurdles can arise. One of those hurdles can be your family dynamic. Does your family normally agree on everything? Most families do not. Discussing certain things with your family before the arrangements conference may help alleviate some of the conflicts. Make sure it is clear who the primary decision-maker is. Try to include your family and consider that everyone has suffered a loss. Tension and stress tend to run high in an emotional situation such as death, and taking a few minutes to have a calm discussion with your family will pay off in the long run.

What to Prepare for the Arrangement Conference

With the right information and a willingness to take the time to be prepared, a funeral arrangements conference can go smoothly and with less stress. Decisions will be much easier to make if you know what to expect and have given it some thought beforehand.

Here is a short checklist of items to remember:

  • Deceased social security number and date of birth
  • A photo for memorial cards and/or obituary, if applicable
  • Military discharge papers (DD-214), if applicable
  • Clothing for the deceased
  • Obituary information
  • Insurance information
  • Service times/details

Now that you are prepared, there is one last thing you should keep in mind when facing the possibility of needing the services of a funeral service provider. The funeral home has a legal responsibility to you as their client. Most funeral service professionals have your best interests at heart. In the rare case that you should find that things are not working well, you do have protections under the law. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces The Funeral Rule, which requires all those in the funeral service industry to be upfront and honest about their pricing and packaging details. In essence, The Funeral Rule states that a provider must supply you with a written price list and written descriptions of all the goods and services that are available to you. This protects you from being blindsided or confused about what the funeral home offers.

Funeral Homes all have similar rules and regulations, but each provider operates just a little differently. If you have questions about the specifics of your local funeral home, give them a call and ask to speak to a licensed funeral director. A reputable funeral provider will be willing to work with you to answer your questions and make sure that you are comfortable with your decisions.

How Much Will Your Funeral Cost? Try Our QuickPlan to Find Out.