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Funeral Planning Checklist: Pre-Plan Your Funeral Service Arrangements

Checklist on blackboard

Preparing for a funeral may seem intimidating, but making your plans and wishes in advance allows you to decide on the specific items you want and need. Because funeral expenses can place a financial burden on families, comparing prices for services and products ahead of time can significantly reduce the burden on your loved ones.

Given time, your friends and family will eventually forget their sorrow and come to value all of the fond memories they have of you. But before they attain this peace of mind, they will have to make dozens – perhaps hundreds – of decisions about your funeral, many of which will add to your overall funeral costs. These costs can add up quickly, and your loved ones may not have the necessary funds to cover all of the expenses.

By pre-planning your funeral, you can help save your family thousands of dollars.

Use the following funeral planning checklist to help guide you in making these difficult decisions.

Before Your Funeral Plan Meeting

Before you begin planning your funeral, you will have to take a couple of steps to prepare for the meeting. And the first step is deciding which funeral home you will use. Here are a couple of tips to help you find the right one.

How to Find the Right Funeral Home

Without any expertise or prior know-how, families often resort to calling the nearest funeral home and making all the arrangements without shopping for funeral-related services. As a result, they often overpay for things like caskets and headstones. Be sure to speak with several different funeral homes to find one you are comfortable with.

Learn how we can help ensure your loved ones don’t needlessly overspend!

Whether your funeral will be followed by a burial or with a cremation, you or your loved ones will work closely with the funeral home to finalize arrangements for the cremation or cemetery services. If you are planning a cremation followed by a memorial service rather than a funeral, plan your final arrangements directly with the crematory.

Main Contact

Another key concern is deciding who will be the main contact for the funeral home. Think about which of your loved ones will be best able to handle working with the funeral director to ensure all of your funeral wishes are carried out. You can choose someone close to you such as a family member or you might select someone less emotionally invested who will approach the task and make decisions logically.

Pre-Made Arrangements & Final Expense Insurance

You can plan your funeral down to the last detail as a way of taking the burden off your family after you’re gone. One of the ways to preplan your funeral is to work with a funeral home.

Once you’ve selected your funeral home, sit down with the funeral director, and talk to them about what kind of funeral you want. They will help you select the type of service and burial you want, plus all of the personal details such as music and decorations.

Once you’ve designed your funeral, the funeral director will add up the expenses and tell you the cost. You can either pay it in a lump sum or make payments over a period of time. Keep in mind that if the funeral home goes out of business, your money may be lost. Also, if you die out of state or in another city, the funeral home may not honor your arrangement or transfer any funds you’ve paid.

Figuring out the best way to cover your burial costs can be the most important part of your funeral checklist. There are many different ways to fund a funeral in advance if you don’t want to force your loved ones to work with a specific funeral home.

One of the most common is called final expense life insurance.

Preparing for your final expenses now with a final expense plan can easily protect your family from a significant financial burden in the future. You will also prevent them from emotionally overspending and arguing over the smallest details.

So how can you make sure your family has what it needs to pay for your funeral?

Final expense insurance – also known as burial insurance or funeral insurance – was created specifically to help. It’s a type of whole life insurance that covers end-of-life expenses such as medical bills and funeral costs. Because final expense policies are meant to cover $10,000 – $15,000 worth of expenses, these policies usually offer affordable monthly payments. Most whole life policies have premiums and benefits locked in for the life of the policy as long as you pay the premiums.

What’s nice about final expense insurance is that it’s specifically designed to cover end-of-life expenses such as funeral costs. Because most final expense policies are relatively small, they’re extremely affordable and work well for people on a fixed budget.

Funeral pre-planning with final expense insurance is one of the most trusted ways to help your family with funeral costs. But not all final expense plans give you the option to pre-plan your funeral. Most will provide the cash to pay for your funeral but don’t include any funeral planning options. But if you want to pre-plan your funeral AND use a final expense insurance policy to pay for it, it’s possible.

Type of Disposition

When pre-planning your funeral, you will need to decide what happens to your body after you die. The most common dispositions are burial and cremation.

Burial or Cremation?

The first step in planning your funeral is deciding between burial and cremation. With either choice, you can opt for immediate burial or cremation with no funeral service.

If you decide a burial with a service beforehand is right for you, you will want to decide if you want a traditional or green burial. Traditional burials require the purchase of a casket and often come with reinforcement for the grave. Green burials are more environmentally friendly – with no embalming or embalming with formaldehyde-free products and a biodegradable shroud or casket.

Cremation may require the purchase of an urn and locating a place to store or scatter the ashes. A relatively new cremation option is alkaline hydrolysis, which is a water-based dissolution process using alkaline chemicals, heat, and agitation.

Type of Service or Memorial

Your next step in the process is to decide which type of event you want for your funeral.

If you prefer a service, you have a range of options to consider, from a traditional church funeral followed by burial to an at-home funeral or memorial service. A traditional funeral normally involves a service with the casket present, either open or closed. A memorial service typically involves a gathering or service without the casket present. Some people include other events like wakes and viewings in their plans.

Don’t feel pressured to plan every detail of your service or memorial. Your loved ones will likely want to remember and celebrate you in their own ways, so build guidelines and direction for them to follow but also allow them to contribute their ideas. You can also identify the people you would like to serve as pallbearers if you decide to be buried.


Personalized Options

When planning your funeral, you should make it personal so those grieving can remember your life. There are many ways you can personalize your funeral to make it special for those you leave behind.

For instance, think about how you can personalize each of these areas:

  • Music: Select songs that have meaning to you and your loved ones.
  • Flowers: Are there any flowers that have special meaning to your family?
  • Location: Do you love the beach or mountain areas? Think about having services in a special spot that has meaning for you or your family.
  • Food: Do you want a catered meal or a potluck where everyone brings a dish? You can even request that friends and family members bring your favorite recipes.
  • Words: You can request that someone reads poetry or certain scripture at the service.
  • Friends: Choose who will give the eulogy at the funeral. You can also choose your pallbearers.
  • Memories: Would you rather have a large, framed photograph at the service or a memorial video?
  • Gifts: If you have a special charity, you can request that guests at your funeral make contributions to it instead of sending flowers or other gifts.

Place of Final Rest

Whether you choose cremation or burial, you will need to select your final resting place. You will have options regarding grave design and casket choice that you can include in your funeral planning.

If you choose cremation, some cemeteries offer designated areas where loved ones can bury cremated remains. You may wish to have your ashes scattered. Be sure to check with a funeral director in the area you wish to have the ashes scattered to ensure it is permitted.

Costs & Payment

As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Today the funeral business is a $20 billion industry, and the average cost of a funeral has increased nearly 30 percent in the last decade, according to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). Currently, the average cost of a funeral is close to $9,000.

People often underestimate how much money and time go into planning a funeral. Surviving loved ones often have to pay for everything from flowers to transportation days before the actual service. Other common funeral costs include:

  • A hearse to transport the remains to the funeral home or cemetery
  • A casket or urn depending on the final resting place
  • A headstone or grave marker

Caskets alone can cost as much as $10,000 or more depending on the type of material used.

And these are only funeral costs. There may be unpaid medical bills as well as regular monthly bills such as mortgage payments and utilities. These expenses add up fast for your surviving loved ones.

If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t spent much time thinking about your funeral or the costs associated with it. You might have some money saved for a rainy day, but it’s unlikely you have thousands of dollars set aside specifically for your funeral.

When you’re gone, it’s unlikely anyone other than your family is going to handle your final arrangements. But where will they get the money? Without financial preparations in place, they may be forced to use their savings. How far will they extend themselves trying to give you the best funeral?

In addition to these questions, they’ll be forced to figure out the following funeral logistics:

  • What clothing you’ll wear
  • What jewelry you’ll wear (and whether it should be buried with you or passed along)
  • What songs to play
  • What passages to read

These decisions will fall directly on your family if there is no plan to guide them. And you know your family members better than anyone. Everyone has an opinion about everything! The last thing you want them doing is fighting with each other during this emotional time.

Families often emotionally overspend by hundreds – sometimes thousands – when planning a funeral.

If you’re lucky, they’ll choose a respectable funeral home to carry out all your final arrangements. Unfortunately, there are funeral homes out there that have one objective: to make your family spend as much money as possible.

Funeral Infographic

Final Wishes

Finally, and most importantly, make your final wishes known to your friends and family. Collaborate with them and get their input and recommendations, and be sure to put all of your decisions in writing.

When planning your funeral, your family won’t be making decisions rationally. They’ll want to give you the best funeral possible and can end up overspending as a result.

And what about what happens after the funeral? What happens to your belongings?

Have you sat down and talked with your family about what happens to your collection of __________ when you’re gone? About giving ______________ to one of your family members? It’s not hard to fill in the blanks when we consider our most treasured possessions.

Although planning your funeral in advance might seem morbid or even frightening, sharing your planning process with loved ones can make things go smoothly when it comes time to carry out your final wishes.

Here are some other ways to convey your final wishes to your loved ones:

  • Make a voice recording that outlines your wishes.
  • Write them a letter explaining your funeral preferences.
  • Ask the funeral home to convey your plans to your family.
  • Create a funeral plan outline and give it to your family.

Also, it’s important that you don’t leave your funeral plans in your will. That’s because most people don’t get around to looking at the will until after the funeral. And by that time, it will be too late.


For many families, the only help they will receive when planning a funeral is a one-time payment from the federal government, which amounts to roughly $255. This one-time payment has remained the same since 1954, even though funeral costs have increased dramatically year after year.

If you are a veteran, your family may receive $300 if your death is non-service related and up to $3,000 if your death is related to service. Ensure that your family is aware of this and understands how to collect the benefit. You can also check out our Funeral Planning Guide For Veterans.

Additional Checklist for Survivors

In addition to pre-planning your funeral, you can make things easier for those you leave behind by taking care of a few things now.

Here is a checklist of things that will make things easier for them after you pass:

  • Create one place to store all of your important documents and let someone know where they are. For instance, put your will, the deed to your home, your car title, your social security card, health and life insurance papers, and other important documents they will need like marriage or birth certificates and discharge papers in the same place. Be sure to include a master list of all your computer passwords – and update it regularly.
  • If you decide to create a funeral plan, store that in the same place or give it to loved ones beforehand, so there is no confusion.
  • Writing an obituary is difficult, but you can write your own beforehand to make things easier on friends and family. If you decide to write yours, keep it with your funeral plan.
  • Create a list of people you want to be notified, and make it easier by including their phone numbers and addresses.
  • Make a list of the valuables in your home and where you’d like to see them go, so loved ones can find them and remove them before holding an estate sale or giving away your things.
  • Think about leaving behind a family history. For example, write down the full names and birth dates of your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. You can also include some details such as immigration dates and history. Otherwise, once you’re gone, some of the family histories may be lost.