The Ultimate Funeral Planning Checklist

A Checklist to Help Avoid Unnecessary Stress from Funeral Planning

Funeral planning often comes upon us without warning, and the details can seem overwhelming. This article is intended to provide a funeral list of things to do in preparation for the ceremony—either for planning ahead of time to save your family stress, or for the friend or family members who find themselves suddenly with the task of preparing a funeral.

Pre-planning is one of the best things you can do for your loved ones to save them the added anxiety of dealing with it at such an emotional time. Through this you’ll be able to save your family and friends the stress, possibly save money by paying in advance, and choose some of the elements that are important to you. When pre-planning for your own funeral, you’ll have the peace of mind to know you’ve done as much as you can to relieve their burden. Even if you don’t finish completing all the items on the funeral planning checklist, getting a start on it will reduce the stress for your family and friends.


Funeral Arrangements Checklist:

[ ] Get an Executor.

The first step to end-of-life planning is to ask someone to serve as your executor. The executor of your estate will be responsible for your financial details, for funeral and burial arrangements, and will pay for associated costs out of the estate. has a very helpful checklist for picking an executor to manage your will.

Note on government accounts:

The executor should call any source of government benefits (such as SSA or VA) and be certain to close accounts. A particular problem can be Social Security benefits received through direct deposits.  The SSA should be notified immediately to avoid financial and legal hassles. It is important to create first steps for your executor, friends, and family and make the process a little less stressful and maybe just a little easier. The Social Security website provides an outline on how to report a death.

[ ] Make Contact Lists.

Make a list of friends and family who will wish to be contacted in preparation for the funeral. Make this list as thorough as you are able, and don’t forget the details. Contact information will be important: names, addresses, phone numbers, email, and social media. The contacts on this list may not be familiar to all family members. It wouldn’t hurt to leave a note describing your relationship to some of the more distant family and friends on the list. You might also want to include in this list any ideas you have for pallbearers.

The executor should have their own list of information for all accounts that need handling after death. For instance: bank accounts, insurance policies, retirement plans, investments, properties, law firms, and safe-deposit boxes. The executor of your estate should be easy to reach and communicate with in order to ensure that everything is in order. You should add this list as a letter of instruction to your last will and testament. This Guide to Accounts, Passwords, and Digital Details will help you compile the list.

[ ] Managing Online, Personal Accounts.

Also look for someone to manage any online accounts such as email and social media. Steps can be taken to cleanly preserve or close your accounts so they are not left in a state of uncertainty. You should also add this list as a letter of instruction to your last will and testament.

If you are responsible for handling social media accounts after the loss of a loved one, this post contains useful information on handling accounts on all common platforms.

[ ] Consider Arrangements for the Family Pets.

You can dedicate a provision in your will for this. You can also set up a formal pet trust. The internet also has a solution to this. The company LegalZoom offers a DIY Pet Protection Agreement. This is an affordable option to a formal pet trust. The documents can be completed online.

[ ] Talk to a Funeral Director and Plan the Actual Service.

One of the biggest impacts you can make on the stress of your loved ones after your passing is to speak with a funeral director and make plans and payments, or plans for payment. The funeral director should be aware of the relationships of people attending to seat them appropriately. You’ll also want to take into consideration any special recognition for the accomplishments of your life, necessary religious observations, or fraternal orders. You can choose other things such as flower arrangements, burial plot preparation, what kind of memorabilia should be on display, and who you would like to deliver the eulogy. You can pay ahead for your cemetery plot, marker, funeral arrangements, services, and transportation.

The following is a list of items that the funeral director will help you determine. We also have a Funeral Cost Spreadsheet, along with more details about planning the actual funeral, available for download.

  • Find a funeral director you’re comfortable with as they will be assisting you and carrying out your wishes.
  • Choose funeral music and songs—what type of music, scripture, or personal readings would you like?
  • Decide on flower arrangements:
    • Relatives and other well-wishers may also need to be advised as to your desired floral selections.
    • Name a charity, church, or organization which you would like to receive memorial donations in lieu of flowers.
  • Select pictures, photo album, or memorabilia for display at the memorial.
  • Decide who will deliver the eulogy, read the scripture, and on any other speakers you would like to include.
  • Decide on burial or cremation, along with casket or urn selection.
    • Embalming and body preparation for casket. (This decision will determine the timing of many decisions you make. The law requires bodies that are not embalmed be buried sooner than bodies that are embalmed. Some clergy persons insist that the casket be closed for the memorial service.)
  • Select a grave marker. (Veterans or members of a charitable organization may be eligible for a special insignia or marker.)
  • Talk to the funeral director to make plans for transportation and funeral cars.
  • Arrange for pallbearers. (Usually 4 to 6 men are needed, usually not next of kin.)
  • Bring the burial deed plot with you when you have chosen a funeral director. (If you know you are missing the deed, the funeral director can contact the cemetery overseer to arrange confirmation.)
    • You might want to consider choosing a vault—the funeral director can describe the types of vaults available.
  • Make sure you have a burial permit.
  • Make people aware of the location of your cemetery lot.
  • Plan seating arrangements.
  • Consider special recognition for accomplishments, religion, military service, etcetera. Some Fraternal Orders and the Military may provide special ceremonies for the funeral service.
  • Decide on burial dress, or open casket viewing attire including clothing and jewelry such as cuff links, club membership pins, watches, or tie tacks.)

[ ] Death Certificate.

You will need documentation for the funeral home to complete the death certificate (outlined below). Also try to be aware of how many copies of the death certificate you’re going to need. You’re going to need copies when notifying most financial accounts, including life insurance, SSA, and VA accounts. The executor will also need a copy for filing the final tax return. It is recommended to order twice as many certificates as you think you’ll need, just to be certain that you have enough.

  • Parent’s names (including middle initials)
  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth of the decedent
  • Decedent’s occupation and place of work
  • How many copies of the death certificate

For more information, visit this article from which contains specific details on the obtaining a death certificate.

[ ] Prepare the Obituary.

Obituary composition is something that can be prepared ahead of time as well.

With your other lists, you can leave notes of things you would like to have included in an obituary. Also, include any instructions if you have a particular publication in which you’d prefer your obituary to appear.

Common items included in an obituary are listed below, and a full walk-through along with downloadable templates are available here.

  • Vital statistics
  • Memberships and associations
  • Hobbies
  • Decide on which newspapers or other publications will be used to place the obituary notice
    • Some newspapers will request confirmation with the funeral home or ask to see a death certificate

[ ] Decide if there will be a wake or other gathering to celebrate the life of the deceased.

Take some time to think about a memorial service that would be pleasing and respectful. Consider your guests and their transportation, as well as the roles they might play in the ceremony. What kind of atmosphere would be most considerate for their feelings and for the feelings of the departed? Remember to think in terms of a celebration of the accomplishments and a life lived well, of the stories of family and friends, and of the things that bring you all together.

  • Location (including housing and transportation for friends and family members if needed)
  • Date and time
  • Food and drink (catered, potluck, or hybrid approach)

Additional memorial ideas and resources for planning a funeral are listed below:

4 Responses to “The Ultimate Funeral Planning Checklist”

  1. From Ivy Baker

    Selecting a grave marker sounds like a difficult step. I would want to covey a lot of information about on the stone. Especially, if I had a good connection with the person who passed away.

  2. From Ridley Fitzgerald

    I really like your funeral planning tips. I like how you said to talk to a funeral director so that they’re aware of relationships and what not. My wife and I are trying to pre-plan our funeral, so this is some great advice.

  3. From Lindsey Smith

    A sign of the changing of times is definitely the suggestion to have someone manage your email and social media profiles after you pass away. I didn’t even think of that but I definitely think it’s important. I think telling someone what you’d like them to do with your digital impression is important and providing them with your passwords before your pass is equally important.

  4. From John

    Finding a funeral director you can trust sounds important. They’ll be carrying out your wishes in your absence. Funerals are complex arrangements that involve caskets, possible cremation, flowers and services.

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