What To Include in Your Funeral Planning Checklist November 25, 2020

funeral planning worksheet

Planning a funeral can be stressful, especially if you’re planning a funeral for the first time, and it’s easy (and understandable) to forget important items or tasks in the midst of grieving.

If this is your first time planning a funeral, you might have questions about the process, such as, “How long do I have to make arrangements?” or “Where do I even start?” The answers to those questions vary based on what kind of service you want to have, who you’d like to attend the funeral and a number of other decisions you and your family will need to make.

It might be helpful to organize your thoughts and your funeral planning to-do’s in a funeral planning checklist or worksheet to simplify the process and ensure you don’t miss any important steps.

We’re here to walk you through the decision-making process and help you create your own personal, step-by-step funeral planning guide. 

How long do I have to make funeral arrangements?

This depends entirely on you, your family and any wishes the deceased expressed before they passed. That might sound intimidating, but the good news is that there are no strict rules on how long you should wait after someone has passed before holding their funeral. It all comes down to the type of funeral you want to have.

If you’d like to give your family and friends time to say goodbye to the deceased with a viewing—or open casket funeral—you’ll need to make arrangements soon after the death. The time between death and the funeral ranges from 24 hours to 3 days. 

Funeral homes are equipped with the proper refrigeration to preserve bodies up to 3 days, but after that, the decomposition process begins, which, unfortunately, means the body of the deceased will no longer be presentable for a formal viewing. Of course, you can always choose to have the body of your loved one embalmed to preserve it longer.

When making initial arrangements, it’s also good to keep in mind how far family and friends will need to travel to attend the service. You’ll most likely need to wait a few days to allow people traveling long distances to get into town.

how to plan a funeral

How to plan a funeral step-by-step

One way to organize your funeral planning checklist is to separate it into three sections:

  1. Pre-planning
  2. The actual funeral
  3. Post-funeral

This will help you prioritize making certain decisions or meeting certain deadlines, such as ordering flowers or printing programs.

Funeral pre-planning:

Most of the items on your checklist are going to cover pre-planning, and the first pre-planning item you’ll have to complete is to decide what kind of funeral you want to have. This decision will determine the rest of your funeral planning schedule and timeline.

First, you’ll want to choose between a burial or cremation. When planning a funeral with a burial, you might choose to hold a closed-casket service. This will give you plenty of time to plan ahead and imposes no time limit on when you hold the service. A closed-casket funeral is also popular with people who prefer non-traditional services because it allows them to hold a service at any time and anywhere in the world. 

As mentioned above, open-casket funerals shorten the pre-planning timeline to just a few days unless you choose to have your loved one embalmed.

Some families choose a cremation because, like a closed-casket funeral, it offers flexibility in scheduling a funeral whenever and wherever you want. Cremation also cuts out involving a cemetery or arranging a burial.

According to Funeralwise, cremation is the process of reducing “the body to its basic elements through a process that exposes it to open flames, intense heat, and evaporation. This takes place in a specially designed furnace called a cremation chamber or retort” and happens at a crematory. After the crematory completes the cremation, they will give you the “ashes” or remains often in an urn that you’ve chosen. It’s also possible to attend the cremation, but most crematories only allow 2-3 people, so it’s good to keep that in mind when pre-planning.

Prepaid funeral plans

Your checklist might also include prepaid funeral plans, which means that you prepay the funeral home for a future service. This enables your loved one to make requests and express wishes for the funeral before their death and is a great option for families who want to know that they’re carrying out their loved one’s final wishes. 

Prepaid funeral plans include making decisions about the funeral service, obituary information, headstone information, and end-of-life care, among other things. Don’t worry—you’re not alone in carrying out all of this yourself. When choosing a prepaid funeral plan, it’s good to sit down with a funeral provider of your choice and create a plan that details all costs and available locations for services and burial (if you choose to have one).

Planning the funeral timeline

A typical American funeral lasts about an hour, although some funerals may last anywhere from several hours to days to weeks depending on traditions, customs, or religious beliefs. For example, when planning a catholic funeral, keep in mind that a church funeral, including a Catholic funeral Mass complete with readings, communion, and a reception afterward, could last for several hours. 

Funerals at a funeral home are sometimes as short as 20-30 minutes, but remember to pad your time for people entering and exiting the venue, especially if you’ve chosen an open-casket service. Most funeral homes schedule on the half-hour, so you can easily book a double slot if you want to add in time for people to speak, read, share stories, or play music.

Many people choose to hold a burial service after the funeral, and those will last around 30 minutes with time for a few words, a prayer, or even music. 

Like funerals, cremation services vary in length, but most are around 30-45 minutes. A cremation service may include readings, music, a eulogy, or any other elements that celebrate or honor the deceased.

Regardless of the type of funeral, you decide to have, remember to keep everyone’s schedules in mind from your guests to the funeral home to the cemetery.

Post-funeral to-do’s

Believe it or not, there are quite a few things to do after the funeral is over. This includes:

  • Stopping health insurance coverage
  • Applying for social security (if you are a spouse, child, or parent of the deceased) and any other death-related benefits
  • Pay any outstanding bills for the deceased
  • Notify utility departments to either close accounts or change the account owner’s name and contact information
  • Transfer any titles of personal property—this is mostly for motor vehicles
  • Close and/or make changes to any open credit card or bank accounts. You’ll need a copy of the death certificate for this
  • Report the death of your loved one to other agencies, including the Social Security Administration, Veteran Administration, or any clubs or organizations the deceased was a member of
  • Close or make changes to any active social media, email or other online accounts

After you’ve finished all of that, you might want to send thank you notes to funeral guests or take more time to remember and celebrate your loved one.

funeral planning checklist

Organizing your funeral planning checklist

Hopefully, all of the above information has helped you put together a decent checklist, but organizing your checklist is key. 

Remember to make a to-do list of decisions you need to make and any tasks you need to complete, i.e. “call the funeral home to schedule a service” or “order flowers” or “send invitations.” Your funeral director can help you create this customized checklist so the experience is as easy and straightforward as possible. 

Keep a running timeline of deadlines and events, including days, times and locations, and relevant contact information. 

And most importantly, remember to schedule in time for self-care, spending time with family, and grieving in a way that feels right to you.