EtiquetteWhat are the Individual Roles at a Funeral?

January 2, 2020Obitia

A funeral, like any other type of event, requires planning. There can be a lot of moving parts with certain individuals playing key roles in making sure the ceremony goes smoothly.

Every funeral is unique and there is no right or wrong way to celebrate and commemorate the life of a loved one. Some funerals are more extravagant and can span several days, while others can last a short time and be a more simple, close-knit affair.

This article is a general introduction to the traditional responsibilities of various roles involved in a funeral service.


Funeral Director

The funeral director is an important part of the funeral planning process (use our Funeral Provider Search to search and compare over 12,000 funeral providers). The first step in planning a funeral is meeting with the funeral director (this is called the “arrangement conference”) to discuss what type of disposition and any goods and service(s) that will be included or not included in your loved one’s funeral. If there were pre-arranged funeral plans these will be given to the funeral director at this time. The funeral director will also be able to go over funeral costs with the family and will be held to the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule regarding pricing transparency and services.

The arrangement conference can take place at your home or the funeral home itself.

We suggest reviewing the Obitia Funeral Planning Checklist to familiarize yourself with the different tasks that may need to be accomplished both before and after the funeral takes place. By reviewing the checklist beforehand you will have a better idea of how everything fits together in the funeral planning process.

The funeral director will act as a general manager to make sure all of the different pieces of the funeral come together in a coherent and efficient manner. The funeral director will also commonly complete any of the required paperwork for the funeral, such as obtaining death certificates, burial permits, and any other official documentation that may be necessary.


Family Members

Family members can take on many responsibilities or few, depending on the emotional state of the individual and the character of the ceremony itself. Family members traditionally will take part in readings, reading a eulogy, or leading hymns. Family members (and friends) are also traditionally the pallbearers if the deceased chose to have a casket burial or traditional burial (more on pallbearers below).


Officiant or Celebrant

The officiant of a funeral was traditionally a priest or minister; however, the term officiant usually refers to any faith leader who will lead the religious service associated with a funeral, wake, or memorial. A celebrant usually refers to a non-religious, atheist, or humanist funeral service leader for those who elect not to have a faith-based funeral or memorial service.



The pallbearers are responsible for carrying the deceased in a coffin. This will happen most commonly when the body is taken to a hearse from the ceremony and from the hearse to the burial plot at the cemetery property. It is common for the pallbearers to be members of the family and/or friends of the deceased. While it is more common for men to act as pallbearers, due to the weight of the coffin and the body, there is no reason a woman cannot act in this capacity. If it is the wish of the deceased or the individual personally to be a pallbearer and they are up to the task physically, then there is no reason that they shouldn’t honor the deceased by performing that task.



The ushers are responsible for seating attendees of the funeral or celebration of life. They will try and seat people at the front of the church, temple, or community center, while also making sure any special seats remain empty until the individuals who will be sitting there arrive. Customarily, at a Christian service, the front right pews and seating are reserved for the family of the deceased, while the front left is reserved for honorary guests, pallbearers, and the ushers themselves.



Funerals come in many different formats, sizes, and types. The individuals involved will depend on the kind of funeral your loved one planned or would have wanted. The above examples are not meant to cover every role someone may play in a funeral, and you certainly don’t need to have all of the above, for example, you would not necessarily need pallbearers if your loved one chose a cremation. As with so much else to do with planning a funeral, the most important thing is that your loved one’s wishes are honored in a way that would make them happy and proud.




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