CompleteFuneral Planning Guide and Checklist

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STEP 1Take a moment and allow yourself time to grieve

This process may seem overwhelming and especially difficult at this time, but know that you will get through this. It is important to take the time you need to grieve and nurture your emotional needs over the next several weeks.

It is also ok, and encouraged, to delegate tasks and ask for help as much as you need from friends and family. There is a lot to do and your loved ones will appreciate being able to help and being involved.

STEP 2Decide on the type of disposition

If you haven’t already, perform a search for any documents in your loved one’s home that show whether they had a preference for the type of disposition or any pre-paid plans for their end of life arrangements.

If not, you will have to decide on whether there will be a funeral and burial, a cremation, or an anatomical donation. The type of disposition will affect the type of ceremony that takes place as well as pricing for the services, and it will make a difference in the type of facilities you will need to hire. Read our guide to disposition types for more information.

If your loved one was an organ donor (their driver’s license or advance directives would say so), notify their doctor or hospice immediately as anatomical and organ donations are time sensitive, and must be acted upon quickly.

STEP 3Find and select a funeral home

Search our online database of over 12,000 funeral homes to find the right one for your loved one. We have the most comprehensive and up-to-date database anywhere online, allowing you to filter by location, price, reviews, and specific needs. You can then price out an estimate which will give you a better expectation of costs before discussing arrangements with the funeral director. For some funeral homes, we offer a “Request Consultation” online, to further facilitate the process.

STEP 4aPurchase an urn

Did you know that you can purchase an urn from the comfort of your own home and it shipped directly to the funeral home or your own home? Shopping for such items can be stressful, so our goal is to make this as easy as possible for you. Plus, shopping online provides you with significantly more options, hundreds of reviews, and can save you money.

If you are curious about what you should consider when buying an urn please read our short guide “How to Choose an Urn“.

STEP 4bPurchase a casket

Did you know that you can purchase a casket from the comfort of your own home and have it shipped directly to the funeral home? The average price of a casket at a funeral home is $2,000 to $5,000. Shopping online provides you with more options and can save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.

Our caskets and urns can be delivered quickly to any funeral home and by law (FTC Funeral Rule) all funeral homes are required to accept caskets purchased from third-parties. For more information on what to consider when purchasing a casket for your loved one please read “Buying a Casket: What You Need to Know“.

STEP 5Find and select a cemetery

If your loved one did not indicate where they would like to be buried, there are some important factors to consider in deciding which cemetery to select for their final resting place, such as religious affiliate, availability, and location.

STEP 6Secure your loved one's property

Lock and secure your loved one’s home and vehicles and ask a friend, relative, landlord, or the police to keep an eye on their home if it will be sitting vacant for some time.

It is important to throw out any trash and clear out any perishable items that might go bad. As it may be a difficult task to go through a now empty place, it may be helpful to ask someone to accompany you for support.

STEP 7Begin locating important papers

You will need to have a lot of information and documents on hand, not just for planning the funeral, but for handling the final administrative affairs of your loved one. We recommend starting to compile and locate important papers as soon as possible, as it could take some time to track down everything. If necessary, ask close friends, family, or your loved one’s doctor or lawyer if they know where they can be found, and the location of a bank safety deposit box, if any.

STEP 8Create a Tribute Page

Create and personalize a Tribute Page for your loved one using our free online builder (you will have to create an account with us first).

The shareable page will include an obituary, a photo of your loved one, important ceremony and service details, as well as the ability for friends and family to easily send sympathy flowers directly to the funeral home. Our Tribute Page is a beautiful and simple way to commemorate and share your loved one’s legacy as well as communicate with attendees of the ceremony.

STEP 9Determine if financial assistance will be needed

Funerals can be expensive, and if your loved one did not pre-plan or set aside funds to cover the costs of the arrangements, it can oftentimes place a financial burden on families. However, this doesn’t have to be the case.

There are many options that might be available to assist in financing end-of-life arrangements for your loved one.  Some options include: burial benefits, pay-on-death accounts, fundraising, funeral loans, and life insurance.

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STEP 10Plan the funeral or memorial service

Meet with the funeral director to plan the funeral or memorial service. Decide on who will take part in any readings and eulogies, who will act as pallbearers, whether any symbols will be used during the ceremony and any transportation services that will be needed. Make plans for the reception that will follow, if any, including choosing a venue. Choose and pack any items or clothing that will be buried or cremated with your loved one.For funeral items such as caskets, urns, flowers, and stationery, you can browse and order from third party sites, which might have more selection than the funeral home and could save you money.

Depending on the nature of the ceremony you will need to contact an officiant, celebrant, or religious leader.

Once the funeral schedule is finalized, update the Tribute Page with all the important details for your guests.

STEP 11Browse and order funeral flowers

Browse our large selection of bouquets, arrangements, and wreaths on our online flower shop. When you order online, your flowers will be arranged and delivered by a local florist, and often they offer same day delivery.

Guests and family members can easily send flowers to the funeral home by clicking the “Send Local Flowers” button on either the funeral home’s listing page or the Tribute Page.

STEP 12Browse and select funeral songs & readings

Honor and commemorate your loved one with songs, music, and readings that speak for and memorialize their legacy.

We’ve compiled a list of songs, poems, and readings for you to use as inspiration, to help you customize and create the perfect arrangement for your loved one.

STEP 13Write an obituary

An obituary commemorates the life of your loved one while also providing important details of the services that will take place. When drafting the obituary, ask friends and family for feedback, and when it’s complete decide whether you’d like to have it published in a local newspaper, shared among friends and family, or published online for free.

Our online Tribute Page is a great place to include the obituary and easily share it electronically among friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances.

STEP 14Order funeral stationery

Once the funeral schedule is set and the obituary is written, it is time to design and order any stationery you would like for the ceremony. They include items such as the funeral program, which is the printed document that is given out at the funeral or memorial services outlining the key points in the service and summarizes the life of your deceased loved one, you may also want to send out invitations through the mail.

STEP 15Invite guests

Invite family, friends, colleagues, and anyone else you think your loved one would have wanted to be present at their end of life ceremony.

Notice of the services can be delivered via obituary in a newspaper, told in person, by paper announcement, or shared online via email or by sharing the Tribute Page you created.

STEP 16Order death certificate copies

If you will be in charge of closing and settling your loved one’s accounts, you will need to have several copies of the death certificate on hand to provide to various institutions and agencies. Generally, you will need one certified copy of the death certificate for each major asset, such as cars, real estate, or bank accounts, for which you will need to transfer ownership, as well as for items such as life insurance policies, veterans’ survivor benefits, and annuities.

STEP 17Request that the post office forwards your loved one's mail

This is an important task that will ensure all important documents, bills, and notices get to the individual who will be handling administrative matters for your loved one.

If you shared a residence with your loved one, you can open and tend to their mail without the need to forward. If you did not share a residence, you will need a copy of the death certificate and proof of your authority (as the executor or administrator of the estate) to forward their mail.

STEP 18Initiate probate proceedings

Probate is the judicial process through which a will is “proved” in a court of law and accepted as a valid public document that is the true last testament of the deceased. If there is a will, and the estate is relatively small and uncomplicated, the exectuor or personal representative can take it to the appropriate county or city office yourself to have it accepted for probate.

If a will was not left, the probate will proceed as an intestate estate (meaning without a will), and the estate will be distributed according to the state’s intestacy laws.

For larger or more complicated estates, consider contacting a probate attorney to assist you.

STEP 19Contact your loved one's financial institution

Contact the bank to find any accounts they may have had and locate any safe deposit boxes (if any). It may also be advisable for the executor or the person handling the final administrative matters of the estate to open a bank account for paying final expenses.

STEP 20Contact your loved one's financial advisor

Depending on the nature of your loved one’s estate, you may need to contact their Financial Advisor for more information on their holdings.

STEP 21Contact insurance companies

Contact an insurance company if its policy might pay for account balances (such as for mortgages, credit cards or other loans). Notify the company of your loved one’s death so that the policy can either be changed or canceled. Ask for any unused premium to be returned to you.

Fill out the claim form for any life insurance policies that your loved one may have had. Also, suggest that friends and family who may have listed your loved on their own life insurance policies to update their beneficiaries.

The death of a loved one may also make you think about your own life insurance, which is why we provide a simple means to get your own life insurance quote below.

STEP 22Contact Social Security and other agencies

Contact Social Security (800-772-1213) and notify them of the death, and apply for any possible Social Security death benefits and survivors’ benefits. They will automatically notify Medicare of the death. Notify agencies such as Veterans Affairs (800-827-1000) of the death, to stop payments and to ask about applicable survivor benefits.

STEP 23Contact utility companies

Contact electrical, phone and water companies, if service needs to be stopped. Remember that in the weeks and months after your loved one has passed and the estate is still being settled, it may be beneficial to have some of the utilities still turned on, so make note not to stop service too early.

STEP 24Contact the landlord (if applicable)

You should notify them as soon as possible to discuss any lease or rental agreements, and important moving out dates, if necessary. This is a good time to also ask about the possible return of a security deposit.

STEP 25Order a headstone

If your loved one will be buried in a cemetery, you will need to purchase a gravemarker or headstone to be placed over the grave. There are online options that allow you to personalize and ship the gravemarker to the cemetery of your choosing. Ordering online will likely save you money and provide more options than ordering directly through the funeral home or cemetery.

To learn more about the process of purchasing a gravemarker or headstone read our guide “Choosing a Headstone: What You Need to Know“.

STEP 26Contact any agencies providing pension services

Contact your loved one’s former employer to find out about union death benefits, pension plans, and credit unions. You can visit Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (www.pbgc.gov) to see if they are covered under any other pension plan in order to report the death of a participant and get claim forms.

STEP 27Pay important bills and close accounts

Track down any bills that need to be paid (credit card, mortgage, car payments) to the best of your ability through email, mail, and online accounts, and ensure that these bills continue to be paid on time, or close those that are no longer needed.

STEP 28Close email and social media accounts

Your loved one’s email account should be one of the last things to close as it is a means of accessing other accounts, but once you have tied up loose ends, closing it permanently will help prevent fraud and identity theft. Every email and social media provider have their own process for shutting down the account. We’ve compiled a list of some popular accounts to assist you.

STEP 29Cancel your loved one's driver's license

To help prevent identity theft, go online or call your state’s DMV for instructions on how to cancel your loved one’s driver’s license. You will need to have a copy of the death certificate. You should also notify the local election board to help reduce the risk of voter fraud in your area.

STEP 30Notify credit reporting agencies

Provide copies of the death certificate to credit reporting agencies such as Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion to minimize the chance of identity theft. In a few months, you should check their credit history to make sure no new accounts have been opened.

STEP 31File final income tax returns

Provide copies of the death certificate to credit reporting agencies such as Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion to minimize the chance of identity theft. In a few months, you should check their credit history to make sure no new accounts have been opened.

STEP 32Plan an estate sale and donate belongings

Sorting through your loved one’s personal items, that trigger many memories, and deciding what to sell, donate, or throw away is undoubtedly an extremely difficult and time-consuming undertaking. But it can also be a source of healing and a way of dealing with grief. The best thing to do is take it one step at a time and have a plan. There are different ways of doing it, as well as people that can help, if that’s something you decide to do.

Read our blog for tips on making the process easier and how to make the most of the difficult task of parting with your loved one’s belongings. For bulk removal we recommend 1-800-GOT-JUNK? to ensure everything gets recycled, donated, or disposed of responsibly.

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The information provided does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal, accounting or tax advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.

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