A How-to Guide for Making Funeral Arrangements

What To Do When Someone Dies

Making Funeral Arrangements

When a friend or loved one has just died or a death is expected to take place soon, there are many details to take care of. This can be a very stressful time. You are grieving and may have assumed a great responsibility by taking on the task of making funeral arrangements for someone you care about. The following information will make this difficult time easier for you.

We’ll take you through the steps of arranging a funeral — from making the first calls when someone dies to taking care of the financial and administrative matters that have to be handled following the funeral. 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.

In addition to the information on the steps to planning a funeral that you see below, we’ve included links to our Funeral Planning Forms and Worksheets  and our online funeral planner. These valuable tools can help make arranging a funeral and managing funeral costs much easier.

Steps in the Funeral Planning Process

  1. First Call

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

  2. 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. 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. Funeral Services

    Meet with a funeral director to make arrangements for the funeral services. This will include how the deceased will be cared for, whether you will have a burial or cremation, and what type of ceremony will be held. See Arrangement Conference.

  5. Cemetery Arrangements

    If cemetery property has not already been purchased, meet with officials of the selected cemetery to purchase interment property (e.g., grave plot, crypt, niche for an urn). The funeral director may be able to make these arrangements on behalf of your family. See Cemetery Arrangements.

  6. 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. 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.

Making Funeral Arrangements when Death is Imminent

If the death has already happened and you do not have time for pre-planning, download a copy of our Funeral Planning Checklist and Planning Form. This comprehensive document will help you gather all the information that you will need when meeting with the funeral service providers you will be working with. Once you make the request we will email you right away with a link to download the document.

If a friend or loved one is seriously ill and expected to die in a matter of days or weeks, consider making funeral arrangements in advance. Preparing ahead of time puts you in control. It will make your meeting with a funeral director more productive and is likely save you money. Our online planning tools and forms can help you make funeral arrangements in advance. Try the online funeral planner.

Our Funeral Provider Search Directory can help you locate a funeral home, cremation service, cemetery, or other provider 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 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 you are in an area that permits home funerals and burials, you may be able to handle most of the preparation 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?

Today, about half of people decide that cremation is the right choice for them. Whether or not to be 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 have a comprehensive section of information relating to cremation that can help you understand how the process works and what type of questions you should ask in order 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 (no body is present) is preferred. For others, there is no ceremony at all. The way you are memorialized is entirely up to you.

Tools to Help With Funeral Arrangements

Our Wise Planning System can help you be prepared 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 a matter of minutes, you’ll have created a basic funeral plan and will find out your estimated funeral cost. There’s no charge and no obligation. Give it a try!

Try Our Free Quick Plan

Please enter your name and a valid email address and we'll send you an email with a link to try the Quick Plan.

If you prefer working on paper, print our Funeral Arrangement Planning Form to 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.