Planning a Funeral

What to do when you need to begin planning a funeral

Last updated: 1 February 2017

Choosing an experienced and skilled funeral home can help unburden you from the stress of planning a funeral.

Before the funeral arrangements can begin, there must be a pronouncement of death, which is usually undertaken by medics if your loved one has died at a hospice or hospital (or under the care of your doctor or a hospice at home).

If someone unexpectedly dies, you should call 911 and notify the authorities. If it appears their cause of death was not from natural causes, the coroner will need to be informed. The doctor or coroner will sign the death certificate.

When you call a funeral home, they will tell you the information they need about your loved one, in order to complete the death certificate and to begin the funeral planning process.

Who takes responsibility for making the funeral arrangements?

Some people leave a ‘living will’ or legal papers called ‘final instructions’ detailing their funeral wishes and the person they would like to carry them out. By law, this should be honored. They may also have expressed a desire to become an organ or tissue donor in the event of their death.

In most cases, it is the next-of-kin who makes the funeral arrangements – the closest related family member who is capable of carrying them out. If they had no spouse or partner, then this could be an adult child, or a parent. State laws set a legal precedent for determining the order of next-of-kin.

Although a funeral can take place at any time, depending on tradition, faith or custom, they often occur a week or more after the death of a person, to accommodate the process of arranging the funeral service program.

Location and transport options, hymns, poems, flowers, planning the memorial, and other details all need to be considered. All of your options can be discussed and arranged by your funeral home.

Many funeral homes have experience in arranging a wide variety of funerals, including those of different religions and belief systems. There are also many kinds of non-religious ceremonies to commemorate your loved one’s life.

Veterans who have served the country are eligible for a military burial in a national cemetery (unless dishonorably discharged, or charged with a capital crime), as are certain members of the Public Health Service and other civilians who have been give Active Duty Service Determinations. Find out more about who is eligible for a burial in a national cemetery.

When your loved one dies far from home

If your loved one has died in a different city or state from where they lived, you can ask your chosen funeral home to arrange for a conveniently located ‘first call’ funeral home to collect them.

A ‘first call’ funeral home will take care of your loved one immediately after their death. But you can also choose a local funeral home to make the arrangements for the ceremony to be held in your home town or city. You’ll need to provide both homes with full information so that they can make the arrangements, including any necessary transportation.

If your loved one dies in another city, out of state, or abroad, certain funeral homes can take care of repatriating their body and the complex paperwork involved in bringing your loved one home.