How to Plan a Memorial Service

You can’t protect your loved ones from the emotional pain of your passing, but you can give them the opportunity to celebrate your life, knowing your final wishes were carried out as you planned.

Just as estate planning and creating a will are responsible decisions, planning your end-of-life services makes emotional and financial sense. It gives you the power to choose an ending that perfectly tells the story of your life. And most importantly, it helps your family.

In fact, end-of-life planning is one of the most caring gifts you can give your loved ones. Creating your plan provides your family with a clear picture of what you want for your end-of-life services, including burial or cremation, funeral and cemetery services and memorialization options so that they are not left wondering what you would have wanted.

Funeral planning doesn’t have to be difficult. These tips should help.

4 steps to funeral planning:

Step 1: REFLECT on your end-of-life plan

While so many of us ask big questions about what happens to us when we die, we often forget to ask questions that will capture the way we lived and help our friends and family celebrate our life.

We sometimes think we’ve taken care of our final arrangements by indicating our preference of burial or cremation during family conversations. However, final arrangements can include much more than the decision of burial or cremation. Your end-of-life plan can include as many details of your final services as you would like to select.

To begin the planning process, take time to think about:

  • The type of funeral and cemetery services that you would want to celebrate or otherwise memorialize your life.
  • The tone and atmosphere of the services—are they somber? Traditional? Celebratory? Will they reflect your unique interests and personality?
  • What will the experience be like for the guests in attendance?

Step 2: RECORD your end-of-life plan

Reflecting on your wishes for your final arrangements can help you begin to create your end-of-life plan. While telling your loved ones your choices is a good start, actually recording your wishes is the best way to ensure they will be carried out.

Whether they are on paper or stored electronically, your written wishes will allow your loved ones to act on your behalf. How much you record is up to you. But keep in mind, the more you plan, the more you help your family.

Just as you keep your will and financial documents updated, you should keep your end-of-life plan current as well. This ensures that your current preferences are reflected.

Step 3: SHARE your end-of-life plan

The 3rd step to planning your final arrangements is sharing your wishes with your loved ones. You may feel you are burdening your family by discussing your death, but in reality you are lightening their load and performing a selfless act.

Where to keep your funeral plans

Keep your funeral plans safe but accessible. It’s a common mistake to store them in a safe deposit box. At the time of your death, a safe deposit box only in your name will not be accessible to others until the legal matters of your estate have been settled. This process may not be resolved until after your final arrangements are carried out.

Instead, there are several ways you can make your plans accessible. If you choose to keep your plans in a home filing cabinet with other important documents such as your will and advance directive, be sure to notify your family of that location. Another option is to send your end-of-life plans directly to the person or people responsible for handling your arrangements. If you have selected a funeral provider and made arrangements with them, the funeral provider also should keep your plans on file. You can ask the funeral provider to provide a copy of your plan to your loved ones.

Step 4: SUPPORT Your end-of-life plan with designated funds

Funding your funeral wishes by setting aside money to pay for your funeral and cemetery expenses also is an option—one you should examine closely with your financial adviser.

If you choose to do so, supporting your funeral and cemetery plans with designated funding provides 2 main benefits. First, funding your funeral and cemetery plans provides relief for your family. By relieving them of the need to gather money for your funeral or cemetery services at the time of your death, you may prevent creating additional stress for them at an already difficult time.

Secondly, funding your plans provides protection against inflation. Many funeral providers offer a price guarantee to individuals who fund their prearrangement. The price guarantee essentially locks in the funeral cost at today’s prices so that you loved ones will not have to pay more for your selected merchandise and services at the time of your death.

Contact your funeral provider to learn more about the funding options they offer.

Your funeral, your way

When planning your funeral, the disposition of the body is often the first thing that comes to mind. You have many choices in deciding how your body will be handled after your death. Do you wish to be buried? Cremated? Entombed in a mausoleum? Have your cremated remains scattered at sea?

Depending on your preference, you’ll want to make other important arrangements. Collectively, all of these decisions are part of your recorded end-of-life plan, designed to give you the funeral you want and to spare your loved ones from guesswork and additional stress.

Your funeral should celebrate your life—the way you want to be remembered. You may prefer a more traditional funeral aligned with certain religious or ethnic customs. Or, a celebration focusing on the great memories made with family and friends may be your preference. Maybe it is a combination of both. You can have one service, or several, to honor your life.

Listed below are some of the most common elements of funeral or memorial services. Reviewing these options may help you begin to reflect on what you want—the 1st step in creating your end-of-life plan.

Funeral service

A formal or informal ceremony or ritual prior to burial, a funeral service often provides a sense of closure to family and friends. Although your faith or culture may dictate some elements of a funeral service, you may want to personalize other elements of the service. At a funeral service, a casket or urn is present, though you may choose to have the casket open or closed.

Visitation, wake or viewing

Held the night before or immediately prior to the funeral service, the visitation—also called a wake or a viewing—provides a way for friends and acquaintances to pay respects and offer condolences to your family. As with the funeral service, you may want to decide if you want an open or closed casket should one be present.

Memorial or tribute service

At a memorial or tribute service, a casket or urn is usually not present. Otherwise similar to a funeral or visitation, a memorial service gives family and friends a time to come together in your memory and celebrate your life.

Graveside service

As its name implies, a graveside service may be held at the gravesite just prior to burial of a casket or urn and usually consists of final remarks, prayers or memories. The service may occur after or in place of a funeral service.

Considerations for any service

Regardless of the service or services you choose to include in your recorded end-of-life plan, you can personalize them in almost any way imaginable. For example, consider the following questions:

  • Where should be funeral be held? At your place of worship? At the funeral home?
  • Who should officiate the service?
  • Will your service adhere to the traditions of your faith or culture?
  • Do you want a eulogy, and who should deliver it?
  • Would you like an open or closed casket?
  • What music should be played?
  • What readings would you like to have read?
  • Is there a special poem you’d like shared with the guests?
  • Are there any special photographs or other memorabilia you would like displayed?
  • Should the décor reflect a particular hobby or interest of yours, such as fishing, gardening or music?
  • Is there a particular emblem or engraving you want on your headstone?
  • Should there be refreshments served or a more elaborate party held after the service?

Donating your body to science

If your choice is to donate your body to science, there are still funeral and memorialization options available to you. Check with the institution receiving your body to determine any restrictions regarding embalming and the timing of their receipt of your body. You may be able to have a traditional funeral service prior to the donation of your body. If it is not possible for your body to be present, consider a memorial service to bring closure to your loved ones by allowing them the opportunity to celebrate your life and your memory.

The institution you’ve selected to receive your body should also be able to tell you if and how your remains can be delivered to your loved ones after their research is complete. Traditional burial and memorialization of casketed or cremated remains, or other disposition of cremated remains, may still be available to you.

If donating your body to science is your choice, it’s important to include that preference—and your funeral, memorial service or memorialization choices—in your end-of-life plan so your family can know and respect your wishes.

International transfer of your remains

You may wish for your final resting place to be in your homeland. Repatriation, or sending your body or cremated remains to another country, is a lengthy process. Permits, certificates and other documents are required and can take weeks to approve. Preplanning your funeral arrangements can help your family at the time of your death.

While each country has different policies, the documents that are generally required to transfer human remains include:

  • a burial transmit permit from the state in which the death occurred
  • a copy of the death certificate
  • a notarized statement from a licensed embalmer
  • a notarized statement from a doctor stating the person did not die of a communicable disease
  • a certificate of cremation also may be required, in the case of transferring cremated remains

Your end-of-life plan is the right place to record your wishes should you want your body or cremated remains transferred to your native country. Sharing this preference with your loved ones allows them to help carry out your final wishes.

Start the planning process today

No matter what your wishes are, recording them and sharing them with your loved ones can not only help ensure that your end-of-life services are as you would have wanted, but also help ease the burden on your family and friends. Using the 4 step process of reflect, record, share and support, it’s simple to begin your planning today.