Funeral Planning Guide

Victoria Burke by Victoria Burke | Licensed since 2011
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This article was updated on: 09/16/2018

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If you’ve recently experienced the loss of a loved one, funeral planning may feel overwhelming. Here’s a funeral planning overview to help ease the burden during this difficult time.

Funeral planning: getting started

Knowing how to plan a funeral, or even how to start, may be especially challenging if you’re in the midst of grieving for your loved one. Fortunately, there are many funeral planning resources available.

The National Caregivers Library has a useful funeral planning checklist with items to remember, such as finding an officiator for the service, applying for a death certificate or burial permit, and more. The National Funeral Directors Association website is another helpful reference for funeral planning.

Remember, at the end of the day, your main goal in funeral planning is to honor your loved one’s life.

Funeral planning: types of services

As you begin your funeral planning, you might start by deciding on the type of service:

  • Funeral service: this is a ceremony where the deceased person’s casket is usually present.
  • Memorial service: the casket might not be present. Instead, either a picture or urn can represent the deceased.
  • Graveside service: this takes place at the burial site, or, in the case of cremation, at the final resting place.

Before the service, some people like to have a viewing. This usually takes place at the funeral home, where the casket may be present for loved ones to say their goodbyes.

Funeral planning: burial options

In your funeral planning, ask the cemetery about available burial options, which may include:

  • Single- versus double-depth burial space: a typical burial space fits one person, but a double-depth burial space lets two people be buried near each other and saves space.
  • Family lot: this allows for several family members to be buried in one area.
  • Lawn crypt: this is a burial space with a pre-installed grave liner where the casket can later be placed.
  • Mausoleum: in this type of option, the casket is placed above ground.
  • Private estate: this is either a separate building or special arrangement of burial spaces within the cemetery.
  • Green burial: this is a concept that considers environmental protection, funeral worker protection, and other concerns, according to the Green Burial Council.

Funeral planning: burial alternatives

If, in your funeral planning, your loved one has made it known that he does not wish to be buried, you might consider cremation or alkaline hydrolysis (a relatively newer option). In cremation, the deceased’s body is burned to ashes at a high heat. During the funeral planning process, you’ll select an urn and final resting place for the remains. Alkaline hydrolysis is a process that uses heat and chemicals to speed up your body’s natural decay, with remains similar to cremation.

There are other “green burial” options, avoiding the embalming process (which usually uses formaldehyde), according to the Green Burial Council. Green burials might involve using a biodegradable casket or a shroud instead of a standard casket. Minimizing environmental impacts involved with burial is a major focus of green burial. 

Planning a funeral: consider starting now

Planning a funeral can be an emotionally difficult and stressful process, especially when family members aren’t sure what a deceased loved one would have wanted. If you’d like to make sure your wishes are known and carried out in the event of your death, it may be a good idea to start the funeral planning now. Involving your loved ones in the funeral planning process can ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Funeral planning: donating your body or organs

Starting the funeral planning process early may be especially important if you’d like to donate your body to science. Organizations like Science Care coordinate with hospitals and medical schools to use your donated body for medical training or research. If you are just starting your funeral-planning journey, note that some organizations may require an advance physical screening to make sure you’re a medical match for their research needs.

You might also consider organ donation as another option in your funeral planning process. Visit OrganDonor.gov for more information.

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