Pre-Planning a Funeral? 25 Things you need to Consider
Planning Your Funeral or Memorial Service
Pre-planning your funeral is the best way to ensure your wishes are followed after you die. When you do it, you also relieve your loved ones of the burden of dealing with all the funeral arrangements at a difficult time. After all, dealing with death is never easy, but it is easier for you now than it will be for your family members later.
Funeral planning involves making both major decisions like whether to be buried or cremated and minor decisions like what type of flowers you want for your casket. It involves facts and figures as well as feelings. You can even begin to make arrangements for your wishes to be carried out.
This three-part series is intended to help educate you on the decisions you are about to make and the actions you need to take to follow through with those decisions. Since the decisions you make about the service you want will impact the other, more business-oriented decisions, you may find it best to start by planning the service that will be your farewell to your loved ones. Consider the following points.
Where will the memorial service take place?
You can choose the venue for your service, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be held at a funeral home. It can be held in a church regardless of whether you have been a member of a church or not. If you want a religious ceremony, you can contact a clergy member and talk about the service you want. If you choose not to have the casket present or if you have chosen to be cremated, the service can take place anywhere you choose.
Who will lead the service?
A clergy member can conduct the service, and this is usually appropriate if you do have a religious service. If you are not a member of a church, you can still have a clergy member officiate. If your service will be non-religious, you can have anyone you like lead the service. It’s best to choose this person and discuss it with them ahead of time to make sure they are willing to fill this role.
How will friends and family members participate?
Usually, someone close to you delivers the eulogy. Pallbearers are typically chosen from among the friends and family as well. You can also let people know if you want a portion of the funeral or memorial service to be devoted to your loved ones’ stories and memories about you.
Who will come?
You probably want members of your family and your closest friends to attend your funeral. If you want a larger crowd, you can have your loved ones or the funeral director put an announcement in the newspaper or have your clergy announce your funeral during their weekly church services. There may also be people you do not want to be there. Write up a list of those to be invited and not invited so the person completing your arrangements can follow your wishes.
Will there be a viewing?
A viewing is a time for family and friends to gather and share their grief. They may talk about their loss as well as good memories they have of you. If you have a viewing, your body will be present. This helps loved ones deal with the reality of your death. However, it is not necessary if you prefer not to have a viewing. One other option is to have a visitation where loved ones can come together to respectfully share their grief. The body does not need to be present for a visitation.
What music and readings will be performed?
Most funerals and many memorial services include music and readings. You can choose the music to be played as well as the singers and musicians that will perform them. You may also have a favorite poem or scripture that is appropriate to the service. Let others know what it is and who you would like to read it.
What visual reminders will be displayed?
Choose a photo of yourself that can be displayed at the service. This is particularly important if your body will not be present. You can choose many photos if you like, and have them displayed on a table or set them up as a slideshow on a computer display.
What clothing and jewelry will be put on the body?
If you are being buried or if your body will be present at the service before cremation, you can choose what clothes and jewelry you want to be put on the body for your loved ones’ last sight of you. Some people choose clothing that presents their best, formal image, while others want their loved ones to see them in clothing that is more representative of the clothing they wore most often. You will also want to decide if any rings or other jewelry is used, especially if you have heirloom jewelry.
What decorations will be used?
Typically, a floral arrangement is used on the casket, and there may be other floral arrangements chosen for the venue. While friends and family members may send plants and flowers, you can choose the main floral arrangements. Parents and grandparents with little ones may select a balloon arrangement that can be divided up among the children as they leave.
When you have made all your decisions for the type of memorial service or funeral you want, it’s important to write it down so there can be no question. Let others know what you have planned and where they can find these notes about your last wishes. Then, with the service planned, you can go on to making the more concrete, business-type decisions and setting them in motion.
Cremation and Burial Options
The most important decision you make when pre-planning your funeral is whether to be buried or cremated. This one decision greatly affects your funeral costs and the types of arrangements you need to make. It also allows you to follow your own beliefs and feelings about what should happen to your body when you no longer need it.
The big decision
No one else should decide for you whether you want to be buried or cremated. Burial or cremation is a very personal decision that may perplex those closest to you if they have to choose. Pre-planning this aspect of your funeral gives your friends and family members the gift of assurance that your wishes are being carried out. It is never easy to think about what will happen to your body after you die, but it can make all the difference to your loved ones to know. You can record your decision in your will or in a letter to your family.
Before you go any further, find out if anyone has purchased a plot or a space in a mausoleum for your burial. This could save you money, but you don’t have to accept the gift. If you would rather be buried somewhere else, it’s okay to tell the person who purchased the plot so they can gift it to someone else. If you do want to accept their kind gift, tell your family members that the plot or mausoleum spot is already available when needed.
The funeral director
A funeral director can help you make both decisions and arrangements for your burial or cremation. Find someone that you respect and feel comfortable working with in these difficult tasks. The funeral director can offer you burial and cremation products and help you buy the plot if you are to be buried. However, if you are being cremated and don’t choose to have a viewing, you may be able to work with the crematory instead of a funeral home.
If you decide to be buried, the next choice you need to make is where the burial will take place. It can be in a burial plot or a mausoleum at a cemetery. If you choose to be cremated, your urn can be buried in a cemetery, sent to be stored with friends or family, or taken to your favorite location for your ashes to be scattered. If the casket or urn will go to a cemetery, you will need to choose and purchase a plot or a space in a mausoleum.
When considering different locations for a burial, consider the environment of the location, religious affiliations of a cemetery, whether you want adjoining plots for other family members, and whether the cemetery has vacancies. Then, take a trip to the location to see it for yourself. Observe how well the cemetery is maintained and ask any questions you have before you sign the papers to reserve your spot.
Types of burial spots
There are several types of plots to choose for your burial. The most common are single-depth burial plots, but if space is limited, you may choose to have a double-depth burial plot for you and a loved one (typically a spouse). Some cemeteries offer family plots where a section of the cemetery is set aside for several members of your family. Another option is called a “private estate,” and it could include a private mausoleum building, a private section in the cemetery for family plots, or a custom-designed burial space for your family.
Types of spaces for cremation urns or ashes
If you choose to be cremated, you still need to decide what will happen to your ashes. They can be given an earth burial, where they are buried either in a section of a cemetery designated for urns or within a family plot where some caskets are or will be buried as well. The ashes could be placed in a columbarium, which is similar to a mausoleum but specifically designed for urns rather than caskets. Or, you can request your loved ones scatter part or all of your ashes in a specific location. Run this decision past your funeral director to be sure there is no law or custom preventing your ashes from being scattered there. One more option is having a friend or family member keep your ashes in their urn for a time. This should be considered a short-term solution, because you also need to decide where your ashes will go after the death of the person keeping them immediately following your service.
Always remember that your loved ones cannot follow your wishes if they don’t know them. Communicate all your choices to your family members and close friends, preferably in writing. Once you have made these basic decisions about your cremation or burial, you can begin making specific arrangements as described in Part Three of this series.
Products and Arrangements
After you’ve chosen the type of memorial service or funeral you want and considered where your remains will go, you can start the process of purchasing burial and cremation products and services. You can make these purchases by paying up front, or you can assign an insurance policy to pay for them when the time comes. The more of the following products and services you can arrange ahead of time, the easier it will be for your family to deal with your death.
Talking to the funeral director
After you choose a funeral home and funeral director, you need to open up the conversation with them, discussing your preferences and asking for options. Don’t be afraid to ask for a general price list, as each funeral home should have one and it is your right to see it. The funeral director should also be able to give you a planning list that you can follow to make sure you see to all the important details of planning your funeral.
Caskets come in many different styles. Their prices tend to vary based on the material they are made from and the level of workmanship that goes into producing them. Ask your funeral director to show you your options. Although the exact casket you choose now might not be available if you die many years later, choosing it gives your family members a clear idea of what you want.
Outer burial containers
The cemetery where your casket will be buried may require you to have an outer container around your casket. Or, you might prefer it even if it isn’t required. You can arrange for a burial vault or a grave liner and pay for it now.
An enormous variety of urns are available, so it is important to let your loved ones know which type you prefer. Traditional urns are made of metals, such as bronze, brass, copper, or even gold. They can also be made of stone, wood or other materials. Some urns take the form of sculptures, while others are simple cubes. You can even choose a special container that grows a tree from your ashes.
The style and material of the urn will determine the cost. You can purchase the urn from a funeral home, although the exact urn you get might be slightly different if you die many years later. Or, you can purchase an urn directly and set it aside where your loved ones can find it at the appropriate time.
Although the body doesn’t necessarily have to be present if you are being cremated, you may want it to be there. If so, you need a suitable container for the service as well as for the cremation. You can purchase a casket that has no metal parts if you want the casket to be used for the cremation container. If you prefer to have a casket with metal or a more elaborate casket, you can arrange for a rental casket to be used for the service only. Then, the body can be cremated in an alternative container.
One of the easiest things you can do in pre-planning your funeral is to choose and purchase a burial plot. Before you sign the paperwork, be sure the cemetery representative answers all the questions you have about the practices, policies and conditions at the cemetery. Once you have bought the plot, store the deed to it in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box at a bank.
After you die, your body will need to be transported to the location of the funeral home or crematory and then to the cemetery if you have chosen burial. If your burial site is far from the funeral home, the transportation costs can be substantial. Also, if you die far from home, additional transportation may be required. While you can’t plan for every possibility, you can set aside funds for transportation based on the most likely course of events. If you are purchasing a complete funeral plan from a funeral home, you can include these expected costs in the plan.
Communicating your plans is the single most important part of pre-planning your funeral. After all, if no one knows about the arrangements you have made, your time will have been wasted and you are not likely to get the burial you want. When you have purchased products and services and made specific arrangements for your burial or cremation, let others know what you have done. Talk to your lawyer about including as much information as possible in your will. Write a letter to your family that lists all the details of the purchases and arrangements you have made as well as where to find receipts and any deeds or rental agreements you have. Pre-planning your funeral is a gift to yourself and your loved ones. Communicating those plans is the presentation of that gift.