Preparing a funeral can be overwhelming for grief-stricken families. The task becomes even more daunting when you’re unfamiliar with how long the process takes. Fortunately, knowing what to expect can make the process easier to navigate.
Planning a funeral generally takes less than three hours, but planning every detail from death to interment and beyond can take days to weeks. Most funerals occur within a week after the deceased’s passing, whereas some families may plan the service for two weeks or longer.
This article walks you through the funeral planning process. We’ll discuss how long each step takes to give you a general guideline on what to expect. Continue reading to familiarize yourself with the funeral planning process and timeline.
Estimated Time To Plan a Funeral
When a loved one passes, families may wish to honor the deceased by planning a special funeral service.
Determining how long it takes to plan a funeral from death to interment and beyond depends on multiple factors. Primary considerations include the funeral’s complexity, whether the deceased has funeral plans as part of their estate, and where and how the individual passed away.
Additionally, there are many steps involved in the planning of a funeral. Depending on how the family approaches each step, it could prolong the process.
Before Planning a Funeral
The very first steps in planning a funeral involve obtaining a legal pronouncement of death and determining pre-planned funeral arrangements and burial benefits (if any).
Legal Pronouncement of Death
Before proceeding with funeral arrangements, you’ll need to obtain a legal pronouncement of death.
Doctors, nurses, and coroners typically make legal pronouncements of death. When someone dies in a healthcare or nursing home setting, doctors or nurses make the pronouncement. If the person dies at home or in another area, the coroner usually pronounces the death date and time.
In some cases, the County Medical Examiner must perform an autopsy. This could be because the family requests it or the cause of death is unknown. While a coroner can usually complete an autopsy within four hours, the full results may take up to eight weeks to receive.
Fortunately, families aren’t required to wait for the autopsy results before moving forward with burial or cremation.
Pre-Planned Funeral Arrangements and Burial Benefits
Sometimes, the deceased may have pre-arranged and pre-paid funeral arrangements. In that case, you’ll need to locate this information and get in contact with the funeral home where the deceased made the arrangements.
When loved ones pre-arrange funeral details, all that’s usually left is picking a time and date for the service. This can have a significant impact on the hours or days it would take to plan a service since everything is already decided upon.
In addition to pre-arranged funeral plans, look into any burial benefits. Burial benefits may be available for veterans, religious groups, and some organizations. These benefits can help reduce the time it takes to plan a funeral, as they may already offer free burial locations and other services.
Preparing for a Funeral
Once you’ve obtained a legal death pronouncement and have determined whether the deceased has made pre-planned funeral arrangements, you can move on to preparing for the funeral.
There are several things to do:
- Choose a Funeral Home
- Arrange Body Transportation to the Funeral Home
- Decide on Embalming and Body Preparation
- Provide Clothing for Deceased
Choosing a Funeral Home
When choosing a funeral home, begin shopping around as soon as possible. This gives you time to compare prices on different companies without feeling rushed.
Most funeral homes offer packages including vaults, caskets, embalming, and other services. However, you can purchase services separately — you are under no obligation to opt for a package that includes services you do not need.
The Federal Trade Commission requires that funeral homes provide a detailed price list when requested, so never hesitate to ask.
When utilizing all resources (i.e., reviews, calling around, etc.), comparison shopping for a funeral home shouldn’t take more than a day or two.
Transportation of the Body
After choosing a funeral home, you’ll need to arrange transportation of the body to the site. Usually, the funeral home handles this.
The time it takes to transport the body to the funeral home depends on where the body is currently. In cases where the body is out of the state or country, the funeral director must flesh out legal details before obtaining the body.
This could take several days or weeks and may ultimately delay the funeral.
Embalming or Body Preparation
When planning a funeral service, the family must decide whether to have the body embalmed. Embalming can increase the amount of time (usually up to two weeks) the family has to arrange services. If you opt for a public viewing of the body, the funeral home or crematorium may require embalming beforehand.
Clothing for the Deceased
Choosing an outfit for the deceased to wear during their final service can be an emotionally overwhelming process. Some families may take a day to think about what their loved one would prefer to wear or shop for the perfect ensemble. If you’re having trouble, think about their fashion preferences in life — were they more business, casual, or comfortable?
Deciding on Body Disposition
Once families have successfully arranged the earliest funeral details, they’ll need to decide on the following:
- Type of Disposition
- Casket or Cremation Container
- Grave Markers
- Location for Interment
In addition, they’ll need to obtain a burial permit.
Type of Disposition
The two options for body disposition include burial or cremation.
When choosing burial, most families opt to hold a funeral service and then a meeting at the gravesite for interment.
Cremation allows for a broader range of options. With cremation, families may host a funeral with the body present and later have it transported to the crematorium. Alternatively, they may opt to have a funeral after cremation. This gives the family unlimited time to plan a memorial service. However, most typically take place within a month of the date of passing.
Casket or Cremation Container
After choosing a disposition method, families should decide on a casket or urn. Funeral homes usually have packages that include caskets, burial vaults, cremation services, urns, and other items. This can expedite the funeral planning process.
However, you do not have an obligation to purchase any items from the funeral home. You can buy items from a different provider. With that said, these items may take time to arrive at the funeral home, delaying the service.
Note: There are no laws requiring a casket for burial, and there are no laws regarding the materials used to make the casket. In regards to cremation, there are no laws against using an alternative container to hold a loved one’s ashes.
Location for Interment or Ash Scattering
Choosing a burial location may take some time. Families usually want to explore their options. It can take several hours or the course of a few days to find a suitable interment site.
In any case, burial requires the purchase of a plot and vault.
Before moving the body to the grave site, a burial permit is required. After producing the death certificate, the county registrar issues a burial permit. This allows the funeral home or family to move the body for interment or cremation. Funeral homes typically handle this process if they’re providing transportation of the body from the funeral home to the grave site.
Cremation (Ash Scattering)
Cremation requires the family to decide whether to scatter the ashes or keep them. If they opt for the former, they’ll need to find an ideal location for scattering and then check the local laws in that area. Some public properties require special permits or fees, whereas others may ban the distribution of remains.
Prior to a funeral, many families choose to prepare for burial by purchasing a grave marker (you do not have to purchase your headstone from the chosen cemetery). It can take several weeks to create and ship a grave marker. However, it is not necessary to purchase or receive a grave marker prior to the funeral or interment.
Planning the Details of the Funeral Service
Once all of the legal and technical details are out of the way, it’s time to decide on the details of the funeral service.
- Determine the Service Location and Type of Service
- Choose a Time and Date
- Prepare, Print, or Order Photos and Other Memorabilia
Service Location and Type of Service
Most of the time, the chosen funeral home hosts the service. However, that is not always the case. Some families choose to hold a funeral service at home.
In addition to deciding the location of the funeral, families must choose which type of service to hold. Some people opt for memorial services, whereas others prefer a wake. Religious ceremonies are another possibility.
Time and Date
When planning the time and date of a funeral, families should consider out-of-town friends and family who must travel to attend. In some cases, this could delay the funeral service by several days, depending on where they live and whether there are extenuating circumstances that may delay them further, such as inclement weather.
Funeral Decor and Memorabilia
Families can add a personal touch to a funeral service by choosing and including:
- Floral Arrangements
- Photos and Videos
- Selected Quotes or Religious Scripture
- Personalized Music Playlist
- Memorial Cards/Programs
None of the above-mentioned items are required for a funeral service. However, they do add to the sentimentality of the funeral. Additionally, families are under no obligation to purchase these items or extras from the funeral home — they can order them from a separate company or even make them themselves.
Floral arrangements may be purchased from the funeral home, a florist, or created by a friend or family member.
Photographs and memorabilia allow attendees to reminisce on the good times with their loved one. You can print photos and paste them on poster boards to set up on easels or frame photos for placement around the casket or urn. Families may create a memorabilia spread on a table for viewing.
Quotes, scripture, or other passages should be written down and provided to the officiant before the service.
Many funerals include music, and many funeral homes offer speakers and ways to hook up your device so that you can play a customized playlist during the service.
Families may also want to include a guestbook (many funeral homes provide these) and memorial cards or programs.
Overall, planning the decorations for a funeral may take anywhere from a day to several days, depending on their complexity.
Once families have worked out the majority of the funeral details, it’s time to write an obituary. Obituaries are not required, but it announces the funeral service date and time to those with whom the family may not have contact.
Families should write the obituary and submit it to their local newspaper or other publication.
Writing an Obituary
Funeral homes can help you write an obituary, or you may enlist the help of a family member or friend with a gift for writing. Ensure that the obituary includes preferences for flowers or donations.
Obituaries do not have to be long and elaborate. A simple mention of the deceased’s passing and the funeral arrangements is more than enough and can save on costs.
Writing an obituary usually takes no more than an hour.
Submit the Obituary
Families should gather photographs (if they intend to print them alongside the obituary) and submit the written obituary and picture to the publication, along with the desired dates they wish the obituary to run.
To do this, visit the newspaper’s website and locate the “Obituary” or “Obits” section. There should be a link to the publication’s guidelines for obituaries. These guidelines often include a maximum word count and pricing, with most charging by the line.
You may need to submit the obituary through an online form or send it via email to the editor. The editor usually sends a proof, so double-check this for accuracy.
The time it takes for an obituary to be in the paper is usually a day or two.
Fine-Tuning The Details
Now that most of the planning is done, you’ll need to fine-tune everything. This includes:
- Arranging Transport To The Grave Site
- Choosing an Officiant
- Selecting Pallbearers
- Planning for Food and Beverages During the Service
Coordinate Transportation to the Grave Site
The funeral home you’re working with usually coordinates transportation of the body to the interment site. However, families need to decide how everyone else will arrive. Some families may pre-arrange transportation services, whereas others choose to ride in their own vehicles.
Choose an Officiant and Eulogy Reader
Funeral directors can lead funeral services, but you can hire your own officiant, if desired. Families can bring in a member of the clergy, a friend, family member, or another individual to officiate the service. For the eulogy, select a reader and ask around to see if anyone else plans on speaking.
Choosing an officiant, eulogy reader, and determining if others wish to speak at the funeral can take a few hours.
Close family members and friends typically serve as pallbearers during a funeral service. This includes siblings, adult children and grandchildren, close friends, and colleagues. Families should ask potential pallbearers prior to the service to ensure that everyone is on board.
Food and Beverages
During a funeral service, offering things such as water, coffee, and cold soft drinks along with finger foods can encourage socialization and help lighten the mood a bit. Some families may even consider catering. Of course, this isn’t required.
The preparation of foods prior to the funeral service or the ordering of catering can take several hours.
After The Funeral
Once the funeral ends, there may be a few loose ends to tie up. The primary example is obtaining the death certificate.
The funeral home or crematorium usually handles the death certificate early on. It’s a quick process — the director obtains any necessary information and receives a signature from the person who made the death pronouncement. The process is usually completed within ten days, but the death certificate may take up to six weeks to arrive if procured by mail.
All factors considered, planning a funeral from start to finish can take days to weeks. Families can expedite the process by working with a funeral home or crematorium that handles the majority of the process. One of the best ways to ensure quick funeral planning is to pre-plan your funeral as part of your estate planning.