A How-to Guide for Making Funeral Arrangements

What To Do When Someone Dies

Making Funeral Arrangements

When a friend or loved one dies or death is expected to take place soon, there are many details to take care of. You’re going through a tough time, dealing with grief. And on top of that, you’ve assumed the great responsibility of arranging a funeral for someone close to you. The following information will make this difficult time easier for you.

The Funeral Process

We’ll guide you through arranging a funeral, starting with the first calls when someone passes away, followed by handling the money and paperwork. If a death has already taken place and you have not yet begun to make notifications, visit our First Call page. This page has information that can help you understand what steps you need to take right away.

Along with the steps for planning a funeral below, we’ve added links to our Funeral Planning Forms and Worksheets. You may also like our Wise Planning System. These helpful tools can make arranging a funeral and handling costs easier by guiding you through the necessary steps.

How to Make Funeral Arrangements When Someone Has Died

  1. Make “First Calls”

    Make the “first calls” to notify the appropriate parties and have the deceased removed from the place of death. See First Call.

  2. Confirm Deceased Transportation

    The First Call results in an initial transfer of the deceased from the place of death to a funeral home or other facility. In some cases, a second transfer may be required either locally to another funeral home or to another city. See Deceased Transportation.

  3. Look for Pre-Arrangements

    Determine if the deceased left behind a pre-arranged funeral plan. A pre-arranged plan generally specifies the funeral service provider that the deceased selected. 

  4. Arrange for Funeral Services

    Meet with a funeral director to make arrangements for the funeral services. In the meeting, you’ll talk about how the deceased will be looked after. You’ll decide between burial or cremation, and plan the ceremony. See Arrangement Conference.

  5. Confirm Cemetery Arrangements

    If the deceased will be buried and you haven’t bought cemetery land yet, meet with the cemetery staff to buy a spot. For instance, a grave plot, crypt, or niche for an urn. The funeral director may be able to make these arrangements on behalf of your family. See Cemetery Arrangements.

  6. Select Funeral and Memorial Products

    Select and purchase the necessary merchandise (casket, burial vault, urn, etc.), memorial items (grave marker, online memorial) and funeral stationery. See Funeral and Memorial Products.

  7. Handle Estate, Financial, and Administrative Matters

    Following the funeral, the affairs of the deceased must be put in order. These matters range from sending death notices to filing death benefit claims to changing the title of the deceased’s assets. See Estate, Financial and Administrative Matters.

See our Collection of Memorial Programs and Other Printed Funeral Items.

Making Funeral Arrangements when Death is Imminent

If the death has occurred suddenly and you haven’t pre-planned, download a copy of our Funeral Planning Checklist and Planning Form. This document will help you collect all the info you need for meetings with the funeral service providers you’ll be dealing with. Once you make the request we will email you right away with a link to download the document.

If someone you care about is very sick and likely to pass away soon, think about planning the funeral ahead of time. Preparing ahead of time puts you in control and allows you to explore all your options.

It will make your meeting with a funeral director more productive and is likely to save you money. Our online planning tools and forms can help you make funeral arrangements in advance. You can also try the Wise Planning System.

Our Funeral Provider Search Directories can help you locate a funeral home, cremation service, or cemetery. It also details funeral celebrants or other providers of funeral products and services.

The links on the right sidebar (at the bottom of the page on mobile) can help you find more information on the details required in planning a funeral.

Common Questions About Arranging a Funeral

What to do when a parent dies?

Losing a parent is undoubtedly difficult. Yet there are crucial steps you’ll need to take. First, obtain multiple certified death certificates.

Thes allow finalizing affairs like insurance claims and asset transfers. More information on who may need a copy can be found on our Things To Do After the Funeral page.

What if there is no money to pay for a funeral?

Funerals are expensive and unfortunately, people don’t always set aside resources to pay for them. How much public and private assistance is available will depend on where you live and your financial circumstances. You can find detailed information on the many options for financing funerals on our Paying for a Funeral page.

Do I have to call the police when there is a death at home?

You may not have to notify the police when there is a death at home. Exactly who you call will depend on the circumstances of the death. Visit our First Call page for more information on who you need to call when someone has died.

Are there people other than a funeral director that can help me plan a funeral?

You will likely need a funeral director to help you make arrangements for handling the body, but in many states, this is not required. If home funerals and burials are allowed in your area, you might be able to do most of the prep yourself. See our page on home funerals and burials.

As far as arranging the ceremony, you may find that you would like to work with a funeral celebrant. A funeral celebrant is a trained professional whose job is to help you plan the type of ceremony you would like.

How do I decide if cremation is right for me or my loved one?

cremated is a personal decision that only you can make. The best way to make an informed decision is to learn as much as you can about it.

We’ve got a detailed section about cremation. It explains how it works and what questions you should ask to decide what’s right for you. Visit our cremation section.

Do I have to have a funeral?

No! You do not have to have a funeral. For some people, a memorial service (a body is not present) is preferred. For others, there is no ceremony at all. The way you are memorialized is entirely up to you.

How do I plan a memorial service?

Planning a memorial service is an important step in honoring your loved ones memory. First, decide whether you’ll hold a traditional service or something more personalized. Consider their wishes and any cultural or religious customs. Learn more about personalizing a memorial service here.

Tools to Help With Funeral Arrangements

Our Wise Planning System helps you prepare for an arrangement conference with your funeral director. You’ll be guided step-by-step through the planning process using our planning tools. Simply print out your plan and take it to your meeting with the funeral director.

The Quick Plan is the first step in the Wise Planning System. In just a few minutes, you’ll make a simple funeral plan and see how much it might cost you. There’s no charge and no obligation. Give it a try! Get started with a funeral Quick Plan.

Try Our Quick Plan

If you prefer working on paper, print our Funeral Arrangement Planning Form. This will help you compile all of the information you need to provide to your funeral director.

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