As many survivors know, there can be a surprising number of decisions to make when pre-planning a funeral. Pre-planning your funeral (also known as “pre-need planning”) might make some uneasy, but it’s one of the best gifts you can leave your loved ones. It also ensures that your end-of-life celebration reflects you and your wishes.
Help make things easier for your family by outlining your wishes for your memorial in advance and separately from your will. (Wills are often not read until after the funeral.)
Planning a Funeral or Memorial Service: Critical Questions to Ask
First, think about the type of service you’d like to have. This will in part be determined by your wishes for final disposition, such as burial, entombment or cremation. Among questions to ask:
Will you have a funeral or a memorial service?
The difference between a funeral and a memorial service is the presence of remains. If the deceased’s body is present, then it is a funeral. A tribute without a body is considered a memorial service, even if the deceased’s cremated remains are present at the event.
How would you like your remains to be preserved?
If you are opting for burial or interment, would you like a burial before or after the ceremony? Will there be a viewing or visitation? Will you have an open or closed casket? Have you purchased a burial plot or mausoleum space and have you informed family members where the property deed is? How you would like to be laid to rest helps guide your funeral planning. Learn more about making burial and cremation decisions.
What type of tribute would you like to have?
Are you more traditional, or would you like to have a unique service? Do you want to have a religious ceremony based on your beliefs? Are you a veteran and wish to observe military burial traditions? This will help determine the location of the event, the structure and more.
Who will speak at the event?
Will a religious leader speak? Who would you like to give the eulogy? Are there religious verses, poems or other readings you’d like someone to recite?
Would you like a public memorial service or a private one?
Listing the time, date and location of a memorial service in a publicly accessible obituary indicates that the service is open for the public to pay their respects. State whether you’d like your service to be private so it can be outlined in your obituary. Read more about what to include in your obituary here.
Who will be pallbearers?
Are there specific personal items, videos, or photographs you’d like displayed at any of your funeral events (viewing, memorial service, etc.)? Gathering these in advance prevents your loved ones from having to sort through pictures and guess which ones you would have wanted to show.
Are there pieces of music you’d like to be played at your memorial service?
How would you like to handle flowers and/or donations?
Often families will request a donation in lieu of flowers. What are your wishes on this? Is there a non-profit organization, religious establishment, school or other group that you’d like to support?
Will you be selecting your burial clothing, jewelry and other personal items that will be buried with you?
Will you be pre-paying for your funeral services?
Pre-payment contracts for funeral services are regulated at the state level, with some states enacting legislation to ensure pre-paid costs are still able to cover expenses at a person’s time of death. The Federal Trade Commission has outlined key questions to ask when pre-paying. The National Funeral Directors Association has also created a Bill of Rights for Funeral Pre-Planning to make sure you know you’re selecting a reputable funeral home.
Are there friends or family that you want to ensure are contacted about your death and funeral plans?
In the days after your death, there might be some people that aren’t notified in time for your funeral. Let your immediate family know the contact information for anyone you’d like notified, such as friends from childhood, college or military service.
While there are some things that you can’t pre-plan, such as transportation from your place of death to a funeral home or death certificate, you can prepare a large portion of your end-of-life plans in advance and lessen the burden on your loves ones.
For me the ultimate act of love is planning ahead. I call it Death Etiquette™: Death Etiquette™ - Being thoughtfully prepared for one’s own passing. Accordingly, making things easier for family and loved ones by leaving clear and concise instructions in regard to your final wishes for funeral desires as well as location and access to important documents and accounts. Further identifying who should be responsible for carrying out the final wishes and ultimately settling all the final affairs. It is a simple act which saves loved ones Stress, Time and Money…. the things which divide families!
Let’s face it, life and our stuff, is significantly more complicated than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Technology has made it so. Technology, while simplifying our lives immensely, has made for a very complicated departure.
While 70% of men and women ages 40+ agree that everyone should have an end-of-life plan before the age of 60, few actually do (only 43%).
As more people are “going green,” the funeral industry is beginning to offer green services for those who wish to leave the world with minimal impact on the environment.