5 minute read

How to Plan a Funeral Service

Planning a funeral is a difficult task that doesn't need to be made any more difficult. Use this step-by-step guide to help you plan.

Funerals are simple to plan in theory, but in practice can be quite difficult to manage. The reason is because these events take place in the midst of the grieving process. For many people, planning a funeral is both distressing and frustrating– the responsibility can even seem impossible to manage. We are here to teach you exactly how to plan a funeral to make the process as simple as possible, that way you can get back to focusing on yourself and your family. 

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Step-by-Step Guide to Planning a Funeral Service

  1. Contact the decedent’s legal representative 

  2. Arrange for transportation of the decedent 

  3. Carry out any pre-arranged funeral plans 

  4. Decide on funeral type, service and burial 

  5. Confirm cemetery arrangements 

  6. Decide on any other memorial service details

  7. Arrange for an obituary 

  8. Settle the estate and other financial matters

Planning a funeral is a tough responsibility to take on, especially if the deceased did not leave you with any guidance to follow. The best approach when planning a funeral is often systematic, and below we will provide a step-by-step guide to help you through it:

Step 1. Contact the deceased's legal representative

The first thing to do before planning the funeral service is reach out to the deceased individual’s legal representative. This person -- typically a personal attorney or Estate Planning lawyer -- will have the Estate Plan. This information will be crucial throughout the funeral planning process; and it will also inform you of anyone else to involve in the planning. For example, they may want a sibling or close friend to support you through the process. 

Step 2. Arrange for transportation of the deceased 

Take time to select a funeral home or cremation site to work with, if there is an Estate Plan it may specify this information. Reach out to the Funeral Director to arrange for transportation of the deceased. While this may be an emotionally difficult conversation, remember that these are skilled professionals. They will be able to walk you through transportation details and make the process as simple for you to manage as possible. 

Step 3. Carry-out any pre-arranged funeral plans

Once you obtain any pre-arranged funeral plans, honor and execute the wishes of the deceased. Final arrangement requests traditionally specify funeral plans as well as the following:

  • Whether the deceased prefers a traditional burial or cremation

  • Where to be buried or have ashes scattered

  • Preferred flower arrangements and grave marker

  • What type of memorial service to hold

  • Details on anything to include in the service (music, readings, etc.)

Pre-arranged funeral plans can take a lot off of your plate during this stressful time, so look out for any extra details that are included in the Will. If there are no funeral plans specified, then you will need to decide on suitable final arrangements.

Step 4. Decide on type of funeral & arrange funeral services

There are a few different types of funerals to choose from to honor the deceased. Many families opt for a traditional burial, with a visitation and formal memorial service. However, graveside services are a common option as well. Some individuals will prefer cremation, or a celebration of life ceremony for family and friends. Read this guide to learn more about the various funeral types before selecting one.  

After you learn more about the options available, reach out to a Funeral Director to proceed with the service. In most cases, they will identify any gaps you need to fill in with the funeral plans. For example, they will ask if you want to publish an obituary, provide the details for flower vendors, coordinator picture slideshows, etc. Each of these tasks may seem monumental at the time, but a staff member will likely be there to help you through each step. 

Step 5. Confirm cemetery arrangements 

The next step is to make arrangements with the cemetery you have selected. This will involve meeting with the head of the cemetery to purchase a plot or vault and to coordinate a burial time. Again, the Director of the Funeral home will likely be there to advise you through this process. 

At this time you will also need to make a few personal decisions about the burial. This involves deciding on the casket, urn, or grave marker to use. Purchase the necessary items as you confirm cemetery arrangements. You will also need to coordinate a time to host the graveside service or burial. 

Step 5. Decide on any other memorial service details

In addition to cemetery and funeral arrangements, you may also want to plan an additional memorial service. This can be a larger gathering for extended family members and friends to say their goodbyes. If you need help deciding on the type of memorial to plan, read through these simple and unique memorial service ideas

It is also a good time to invite people to be involved in the funeral or memorial service planning. If you want a loved one to deliver the Eulogy, speak a few words, or even greet family members -- let them know as soon as you have a few details figured out. 

Step 6. Invite friends and family to the services

Let family and friends know as soon as you finalize the funeral details. Many people will use email or social media to share the news, as it may be emotionally difficult to call everyone who wants to attend. That being said, it is custom practice to call close family and friends when inviting them. 

Be sure to share information about where to send flowers or donations at this time. If you are hosting a unique service, you will also want to tell people what to wear to the memorial or expect at the event. Let people know how they can celebrate the life of the deceased and also where to send any notes or gifts.

Step 7. Arrange for obituary, if desired

An obituary is an article published in the local newspaper sharing details about the deceased’s life, and in some cases the memorial details. Reach out to your local newspaper with this information as well as a photograph they may want shared. The Funeral Director may offer to coordinate this process, but be prepared to provide the necessary information if you want an obituary published. 

Step 8. Handle estate and financial matters

Finalizing the funeral plans will allow you to move on to financial matters and proceed with the Estate Plan. Review the Will and any Trust documents with the deceased person’s legal representative, as they will know where to begin. 

Typically at this time you will need to work to close any accounts, notify creditors and financial institutions, and eventually take control of the deceased’s finances. Assuming you are the Executor of the Estate, you will also notify any heirs of their inheritances and delegate the necessary assets. 

Unfortunately, it is all too common to die without a Will or Estate Plan. This can leave the deceased’s spouse or close loved one in charge of planning the entire funeral and navigating their assets through Probate. At Trust & Will, we aim to help you put together your end of life plans so you can avoid placing these decisions on a loved one. 

Other Helpful Tips for Planning a Funeral

Walking through the steps on how to plan a funeral can leave you with a few additional questions. Read through these helpful tips as you walk through the process: 

  • Think about donations: Many families prefer to receive donations instead of flowers during the memorial service. This can be a great time to contribute to a charity that the deceased was passionate about and preserve their legacy.

  • Consider payment options: Estate Plans will typically include how to cover end of life expenses, for example, by using life insurance proceeds. If they do not mention this, consider financing through the funeral provider or using savings to pay for the necessary services.

  • Make your wishes known: if you are in the situation of planning a funeral for a close relative, consider how you want these matters handled for yourself. It can be challenging to think about but leaving behind your wishes could take the stress away from your spouse or close relative in the future.

  • Remember the options: Funeral plans are extremely personal, and offer a way for people to say goodbye and grieve loved ones. Remember that there is no requirement saying you are required to host a traditional funeral. Think about how the deceased would want their final arrangements handled and follow your instincts. 

How to Plan a Funeral with No Money 

Funerals can cost thousands of dollars on average, and without an Estate Plan it can be difficult to know how to cover these expenses. Consider using a payment plan provided by the funeral home or cremation site. There are also several ways to minimize expenses as you plan the service and burial. 

Natural funerals are becoming increasingly common as families attempt to reduce overall costs. This eco-friendly option can reduce expenses by choosing natural materials for caskets, eliminating large markers or gravestones, and avoiding the embalming process. Aside from natural burials, there are other ways to reduce costs including: 

  • Hosting the memorial service at home

  • Opting for a direct burial or graveside service

  • Choosing cremation over a burial

  • Researching multiple funeral homes 

How Long Does It Take to Plan a Funeral?

Typically it takes one to two weeks to plan a funeral -- though it can be shortened if the deceased left behind clear instructions. It is customary for funerals to take place soon after someone passes away, which forces the planning process to move quickly. 


Funerals are an important step in the grieving process, though each event will be unique in its own way. Fortunately, learning how to plan a funeral is as simple as following the above steps. At Trust & Will we want to help you through this difficult process, whether it’s by creating an Estate Plan with your own end of life wishes or by walking you through the necessary steps to care for a loved one. Remember that planning a funeral may be challenging, but it can be done. Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Reach out to us today or Chat with a live member support representative!