Making Funeral Arrangements
Making funeral arrangements involves many different tasks. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, since many of these things happen simultaneously.
Immediately After Death
Federal law requires that the death must be pronounced by a coroner, medical examiner, or attending physician. State laws and regulations vary significantly regarding which cases must be investigated by a medical examiner or coroner, according to the CDC.
Contact the police or ambulance services, who will come to examine the situation and the law, and then contact the necessary individuals for you.
You can also choose to notify your clergy or a funeral home director at this time as well.
WHN Tip: It's Your Time.
You have the right to spend a short time with the deceased to say goodbye, before the funeral home collects the body.
Death at hospital or care center:
Notify the hospital or care center staff. Tell them the funeral home and contact name, if there is one prearranged, or they can contact a home for you.
At a time convenient to the family, the funeral home will review matters and procedures to be aware of as you move forward with planning and the funeral.
Death at home or residence:
Depending on your state laws, the deceased may have to be transported to a health facility for formal pronouncement of death or transported directly to the funeral home.
At home, under physician's care and family or friends are present:
Option #1: Call the funeral home directly; they will notify the proper authorities by phone, and the police may not need to go to the residence.
Option #2: If 9-1-1 is called and an ambulance responds, the ambulance crew notifies the police. The police will conduct their routine business before calling the funeral home.
At home with hospice service:
Notify hospice or the home health care provider. They will notify the physician, the medical examiner's office (if necessary) and the funeral home.
No one is there at the time of death:
Police must be notified and respond to the residence before the deceased is removed from the home. This may result in a coroner's case.
If the death occurs in another state or country:
Contact a local funeral director in that area to help with details of disposition, which includes transporting the body.
Airlines have regulations regarding body transport. An airline representative or the funeral home director can help explain these to you.
If you need to travel to attend the funeral or make arrangements, you may be eligible for discounted rates, also known as "bereavement" or "compassion rates".
WHN Tip: Bereavement or Compassion Rates.
Call your travel agent or your airline's customer service line to find out if rates are available for your flights. Also, at the time of purchasing a ticket, be prepared to provide information such as: name of the relative and your relationship to the relative, contact details of the funeral home/hospice/hospital, a copy of a death certificate and so on.
Here is a quick form to print out and fill in to keep track of important contact information:
Phone - work and cell
Medical Examiner Name
Phone - work and cell
Phone - work and cell
Phone - work and cell
Phone - work and cell
WHN Tip: Ask Questions.
If you have any questions for the funeral home or coroner, ask them. Be sure you are clear who has any valuable or sentimental items of the deceased, where the body is being prepared and a time when the funeral home or religious organization will call you to plan the services.
WHN Tip: Personal Effects.
If the deceased has any jewelry you would like to keep, ask the funeral home personnel to remove it and give it to you before they leave with the deceased.
Set a date to meet with the person helping to plan and orchestrate the service to discuss the details and decisions.
Decisions to Make
Did the deceased have any specific requests or plans regarding funeral arrangements or burial?
Information may be included in the will. Locate it as soon as possible. (Possible locations: file cabinets, safety deposit box, safe, etc.).
Alternatively, consult with the deceased's family members, faith provider, funeral director or attorney for instructions.
WHN Tip: The deceased may be entitled to a military honors burial.
Did the deceased want to donate organs or his or her body to a medical school?
Check with your doctor or coroner regarding organ donation.
There is no cost to the donor's family or deceased donor's estate for organ donation. Also, there is no financial compensation to the donor's family or deceased donor's estate for the organ donation. It's is considered an act of charity. For more information visit the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services: Organ Donation
How quickly must the deceased be buried?
Time frames vary by:
State considerations. (Note: In some states you are allowed to skip embalming if the burial takes place soon enough. Ask your funeral home about your state's regulations.)
The deceased's wishes
People to Notify
Go here [WHN page link TK] for a printable form that lists people to call, phone numbers, e-mail and the date you contacted them. The list includes family members, friends, legal, benefit providers, services, etc. and an area for the name, phone, e-mail and date for people you may need to call in the first few days.
If possible, have one phone number or e-mail as the main contact for all funeral service and other necessary arrangements.
If you'd like assistance, consider asking a family member or friend to make calls and to help with tasks over the next few days and weeks.
WHN Tip: Out-of-Town Visitors
You may need to provide hospitality arrangements for visiting relatives and friends: food, chairs, bedding, dishes, transportation, maps of your area, transport to and from the airport.
WHN Tip: Keep A List
Designate someone to keep a list of all condolence cards, donations, floral tributes and gifts of food, so you can send thank you cards.
Gathering Information and Documents
There are certain documents and facts that will need to be gathered for arrangements, finances, legal documents and so on (see below). If you cannot do it, ask a trusted family member or friend for help.
WHN Tip: Death Certificates
You might need a death certificate in order to obtain certain information or for other purposes. See below for instructions on writing for a death certificate.
You'll need this information for death certificates, other applications and obituaries.
Citizenship status (U.S. or other country)
Date and place of birth
Father's name and birthplace
Mother's maiden name and birthplace
Length of time deceased resided in the state (for the death certificate)
Name of business, address and telephone number, occupation and title
Name, home address and telephone number
War Veteran's serial number, branch of service, discharge date
Legal and Financial Documents and Information
Try to gather as many of these forms as possible and keep them all together in a file. You will need them when settling the estate and for other financial and legal purposes.
Understand you might need a death certificate in order to obtain some of these documents (see below for instructions on how to apply for death certificates)
Cemetery plot proof of ownership (if pre-purchased)
Deeds to property
Family trust documents
Income tax returns
Insurance policies, credit life insurance
Legal proof of age or birth certificate
Safety deposit boxes
Social Security card and number, benefits
Statements and books (savings and checking)
Stocks and bonds
Travel documents: passport, visas
Veteran's discharge papers
Whom to contact:
The county clerk's office where the death occurred.
What to provide
Type of record you are looking for (death certificate)
Number of copies desired
Your loved one's full name as it should appear on the death certificate
Date of death
Place of death (Name of hospital, county, state)
What it costs
$10-15 for a copy of a single death certificate. You will probably need a minimum of 10-12 certified copies for administrative purposes. (Note: Save the contact information for the county clerk's office in case you need additional records.
Writing the Obituary
An obituary includes a biographical outline and possibly a picture of the deceased. As early as possible, begin compiling the information for the obituary. Friends and family can help write this.
WHN Tip: Read our article Writing an Obituary for a general starter guide.
Planning a Funeral, Memorial and/or Committal Service
Types of Services
There are at least three different kinds of services; they vary by state, religious requirements, and the wishes of the deceased or of family. Discuss your options with whomever is in charge of your service. A memorial notice detailing information about the deceased's life can be distributed to those in attendance as well as others who are not able to be present.
A funeral service is held with the body present soon after death, and usually takes place in a religious setting or mortuary, or possibly in the family home.
A memorial service is held without the body, and can be scheduled several weeks after death to allow friends and family members time to gather.
This is the ceremony at the graveside or in a crematory chapel before cremation. WHN If you choose to have a ceremony at the graveside, consult with the cemetery regarding arrangements and restrictions.
For the service (funeral, memorial, committal) you may need to make decisions on any or all of the following (these might also be specified in the will):
Locations for gatherings and services
Who should lead the service (faith provider, friend, family member, funeral home director)
Who should be invited
If the service should be private (invited guests only) or public (open to anyone)
Makeup/jewelry and clothing the deceased will wear for service
Open or closed casket
Prerecorded/live music that will be played, hymns to sing
Who will give eulogies (friends, family members, faith providers)
Any special readings for the service and who will read them
If you would like to compile books, photos, stories, videos, other memories for viewing by attendees
If you would like to arrange a memorial fund WHN in honor of the deceased
A Funeral Program
A funeral program explains the schedule of events for the service and includes any special instructions for post-funeral gatherings.
You can have a family member or friend create one and print it at a copy shop, or allow the funeral homes or a religious organization to create a program for a fee (cost depends on the quantity of programs printed, type of paper, color copies, etc.)
A typical funeral program usually includes any or all of the following:
Full name of deceased, date of birth/death,
Date and time of funeral service,
Name, address, city, state and phone number of location of funeral service,
A photo of the deceased,
A short essay about his/her life,
List of the music in the service (if you are asking guests to sing, be sure to include the name and page number of a favorite hymn or include the music itself).
Poetry/passage/readings with name of reader, source and page numbers
Eulogy with name of reader
Address and time of post-service gathering (if applicable)
Planning an After-Service Gathering
Prior to the service, either you or a helper (friend, family member) will need to determine:
Where the after-service gathering will be held
WHN Tip: Have a friend or family member direct people to the after-service gathering. Provide copies of directions for guests who may be unfamiliar with the area.
Who will be invited and how they will be notified
Who is supplying the food (a caterer, a local restaurant, a grocery store, family and friends)
What items (tables, chairs, serving pieces, plates and utensils) will be needed
How you will store any perishable foods or baked goods that have been sent for future meals
Where you will place any floral tributes
WHN Tip: Floral Tributes
You may also wish to arrange for floral tributes to be delivered to nursing homes, hospitals, friends and family following the ceremony.
Whether you will need to arrange for any transport from the service to the gathering: ask for volunteer drivers from friends and neighbors
WHN Tip: Have someone track food containers and serving pieces that need to be returned to the donors.
The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional legal advice. These tips are from lawyers, insurance agents and people who have shared real-life advice; always check with a lawyer, or appropriate professional you trust before making any legal or decisions.
Thank you ...
A special thank you to the industry professionals, lawyers, insurance agents and families who gave us their time, insight and real-life advice.
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