Choosing a funeral home is a highly personal decision, and it’s a process most aren’t familiar with. When making a significant financial decision, it’s wise to shop around for the best service provider or deal. The same is true for funeral homes, many of which have their own offerings and benefits.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Services Do Local Funeral Homes Typically Offer?
- What Should You Look for When Choosing a Funeral Home?
- What Are Red Flags to Watch Out for When Choosing a Local Funeral Home?
- Steps for Finding a Local Funeral Home
- What Are Some Questions You Should Ask a Local Funeral Home?
- Tips to Discuss Choosing a Funeral Home With Family
- What Are the Next Steps Once You Choose a Funeral Home?
Whether you’re planning for a loved one’s end-of-life arrangements or you’ve recently experienced a loss, it can be intimidating to choose a local funeral home. Not only is there a lot of mystery over how they work, but you might not even know what to look for.
We’ll share everything you need to know to choose the right funeral home for your family in this guide. From understanding different services to identifying red flags, make sure you keep this guide handy on your search. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all, but you do want to find a funeral home that makes this process as seamless as possible.
What Services Do Local Funeral Homes Typically Offer?
First, it’s normal not to be familiar with the many services funeral homes offer. Because most people don’t utilize the services of funeral homes very often, it’s only natural to have questions. Let’s start by clarifying what services local funeral homes typically offer:
- Funeral services: Of course, most funeral homes facilitate and provide resources for funeral and memorial services. This includes providing venue space, planning tools, and organizers.
- Paperwork: There is a lot of paperwork after death. Funeral homes file for death certificates, as well as legal paperwork for burials and cremations.
- Obituaries: Many funeral homes also partner with local newspapers to publish obituaries both in print and online.
- Reception: Funeral homes can also help plan a reception (or repast) after the funeral service, including catering.
- Transportation: After the death of a loved one, funeral homes coordinate the safe and secure transportation of the body to the funeral home and final destination. They also handle transportation for the family on the day of the service.
- Embalming or preparations: Many funeral homes also embalm bodies or prepare the body for viewing.
- Products: The funeral home also coordinates the purchase of products like caskets, urns, vaults, and so on.
- Crematory: While most funeral homes don’t have crematoriums on-site, they coordinate with local crematories nearby.
- Supervise planning: Funeral homes offer supervised visitations, memorials, funerals, and processions to take this burden away from grieving loved ones.
When you know what services are offered, you can guide your own search. Depending on your wishes and needs, you might need a funeral home that can accommodate specific services. While not every funeral home offers everything above, these are the questions to ask when working with one directly.
What Should You Look for When Choosing a Funeral Home?
There are many different things to look for when choosing a funeral home. Because you might not be familiar with local providers, this list is a good guide for what to keep in mind. While every family’s needs are different, pay close attention to:
- Budget: First, know your budget. Talk with your family about what you can afford to spend on the funeral, and make sure you find a funeral home within this budget.
- Arrangements: What type of arrangements are you planning? Whether you’re choosing a cremation, traditional burial, natural burial, or something else, make sure your funeral home can accommodate this request.
- Reviews: Aside from finding a local funeral home in your area, you should also consult local reviews. What have past families said about their experience?
- Service: Funeral directors can make or break a funeral home. You should always expect to be treated with kindness and compassion, especially after a loss. Make sure the staff is available and helpful.
- Facilities: Because you will visit the funeral home often (and you might even host a service there), ensure the facilities are clean, well-kept, and welcoming.
- Cultural: Many families choose to include cultural or religious elements within funerals or end-of-life plans. Is your funeral home open, accepting, and accommodating of these needs?
- Transparency: You don’t ever want surprises when handling your loved one’s final affairs. Ensure your funeral home of choice is upfront about the total cost.
At the end of the day, it comes down to your feelings as much as anything else. If you feel comfortable and at peace with a specific funeral home in your area, this is a good sign that you’re in the right hands. Always listen to your gut and follow your heart. This is an emotional decision, so don’t be afraid to treat it as such.
What Are Red Flags to Watch Out for When Choosing a Local Funeral Home?
Next, it’s important to highlight some funeral home red flags. While most funeral homes are passionate about helping families through their worst moments, there are some things to be aware of. Unfortunately, funeral home scams do happen.
What do you need to watch out for when choosing a local funeral home? Keep an eye out for these red flags:
- Licensing: You must be a licensed funeral director to operate a funeral home legally. Any funeral home that delegates most planning and tasks to less trained staff is skirting the law.
- Questions: You should never feel like your questions can’t be answered or that the funeral home is rushing you through your decision.
- Cleanliness: If the facility is not kept clean and welcoming, this is a major red flag about professionalism and treatment of your loved one.
- Price: Funeral homes are required to provide upfront pricing and fees. If they can’t provide this (or if the price varies wildly), you should inquire elsewhere.
- Third-party costs: It’s common for funeral homes to use third-party providers (like florists, caterers, etc.), and these always should be listed in the total cost.
- Bad reviews: Bad reviews from previous clients are always a red flag.
- National chains: While there is nothing wrong with national funeral chains, you just want to know what you’re paying for. Some local funeral homes are purchased by larger corporations that keep the same name but charge more.
- Leading suggestions: Funeral homes are likely to provide recommendations, but if they’re constantly upselling products and pushing you to pay more, this is a bad sign.
- Illegal requirements: It is against the law for a funeral home to require you to use a casket the funeral home sells you. If you find a casket at Costco, Walmart, or elsewhere, a funeral home must honor your preference.
Most importantly, you should feel comfortable with your funeral home decision. If you get the wrong impression or feel like something’s not right, take your business elsewhere. This is a service that will be a major part of your life during a difficult time. You should feel 100% comfortable and like you’re in good, professional hands.
Steps for Finding a Local Funeral Home
The services of a professional funeral home can be a source of comfort when it matters the most. When searching for a local funeral home, you want to choose the right provider for your needs. Follow these steps below to make the right choice.
Step 1: Choose your budget
Before you begin your search, you need to set your budget. The average cost of a funeral is over $11,000, so it’s worth taking the time to determine just how much you can afford. Too many people don’t consider the cost before they visit the funeral home, and they feel pressured to pay more than they can afford.
Step 2: Understand your priorities
What matters most to you with this funeral? Do you want to have a large funeral or a more intimate celebration of life? How do you want your loved one’s body to be laid to rest?
The more you understand your priorities, the better equipped you’ll be to choose the best funeral home for your family. There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers when planning a funeral. Just make sure you know what you value and what you’re willing or can afford to pay.
Step 3: Compare prices
It’s tempting to search funeral homes nearby and choose the closest option. While there’s nothing wrong with doing this, it’s beneficial to price shop if you have the time. Funeral homes are legally required under the FTC to provide a clear list of costs.
Not only can you ask around for average costs, but you can shop for the best deal. If you’re willing to expand your search into adjacent areas, you might have even more cost-saving options.
Step 4: Visit funeral homes
Once you’ve narrowed your choices based on your personal wishes and budget, it’s time to book a consultation. If you’re unable to visit in person, make phone calls to get a feel for the different funeral service providers.
It’s best to focus on 2-3 choices that you feel are a good fit. If possible, make an appointment to visit. When there, bring questions to ask about process and costs. Take notes during your consultations so you can compare and make an informed decision. Don’t be afraid to ask for quotes based on your specific needs as well.
Step 5: Make your decision
Last but not least, make your decision. Now that you’ve visited (or called) specific funeral homes and you have quotes, you’re ready to make the right choice. Once you’re ready, call your chosen funeral home and begin making arrangements.
What Are Some Questions You Should Ask a Local Funeral Home?
Now that you know how to begin your search with confidence, it’s time to ask the right questions. Because most people aren’t intimately familiar with the funeral industry, it’s confusing to know what to ask. Here are some questions you might wish to ask local funeral homes during your search.
Is a licensed funeral director always present?
First, it’s essential to understand the funeral home’s licensing. While all funeral homes are required to be owned and operated by licensed funeral directors, that doesn’t mean you’re always working with one.
It’s not uncommon for staff or salespeople to work directly with clients, but this could mean you’re not getting the best service possible. You should always make sure there is a licensed funeral director available to help.
Can I tour your facility?
The facility is one of the best ways to tell how well a funeral home operates. Asking to tour the facility should always be welcome. Most providers are happy to show you the reception space, product displays, and other public spaces. If not, this could signify that the facility is not well maintained or up to standard.
How long have you been in business?
If you want to learn more about a business, ask how long it’s been operating. Is this a locally owned funeral home that’s been a part of the community for years, or is it a newly purchased national chain? While both can offer excellent service, you will want to know what you’re paying for.
Do you belong to any organizations?
Most funeral homes are a part of national or local organizations or associations. The most common are the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) and the Academy of Professional Funeral Service Practice. These organizations uphold strong professional standards, so they’re a sign of trustworthiness.
Are funeral packages available?
Most funeral homes use packages to offer inclusive pricing. Ask about what packages are available, from basic plans to all-inclusive options. This is the best way to understand whether a funeral home is within your budget.
When in doubt, ask to see their price list. This is always available under FTC law. You might also wish to get a custom quote based on your needs.
Tips to Discuss Choosing a Funeral Home With Family
Choosing a funeral home is a personal choice, and it’s a process you’ll likely share with your entire family. Discussing end-of-life plans is never easy, and you might discover some loved ones aren’t comfortable throughout this process. These tips can ease the burden so you can have a productive discussion.
Decide on a location
When you’re inviting a lot of family members to a funeral, keep in mind the location. Is this somewhere people can travel to reasonably? Making sure it’s close to home or family can ease a lot of the tension around this decision.
Religious and cultural sensitivity
Everyone has their own ideas and traditions when it comes to religious or cultural elements to include at a funeral or burial. Talk to your family about what everyone values and what they’d like included. This also guides your search for the right funeral home.
Nobody should have to carry the entire burden of planning a funeral alone, especially when dealing with grief. Delegate tasks amongst other family members, making sure everyone is in this together. When you share the planning, everyone will feel like they’re an integral part of this momentous occasion.
Lastly, always remember to treat yourself with kindness and give yourself some grace. Grief is a powerful emotion and can last months or even years following a loss. It’s okay if you don’t know what steps to take next or what decision to make. Trust yourself and lean on supportive friends and family.
What Are the Next Steps Once You Choose a Funeral Home?
Once you choose your funeral home, there is still work to be done. Luckily, they are there to guide you through each step of the process.
Step 1: Make arrangements
To begin, you will need to make arrangements with the funeral home. They will take care of the paperwork, licensing, and other complicated things. Now is your chance to honor your loved one’s final wishes and carry out their arrangements.
Step 2: Invite guests to the funeral
Your funeral home will help you plan the funeral, and you can invite guests to be present at the service. Your funeral home can help you create invitations, or you can make them yourself.
Step 3: Hold the funeral service
A great funeral home will arrange all elements of the funeral, letting you focus on being present. All you have to do is arrive early, greet guests, and be part of the final goodbye. From there, you might attend a graveside service or reception.
Step 4: Follow-up
Lastly, follow-up with the funeral home after the service to finalize everything. They will help you receive your loved one’s ashes if they were cremated, or make arrangements with the cemetery in the case of burial. They will also inform you when it’s time to pick up copies of your loved one’s death certificate.
Make the Right Funeral Home Decision
Funeral homes come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re designed to meet different needs and budgets. It’s helpful to have an idea of what you’re searching for before you begin. Follow this guide, and you’re sure to be in good hands.
Have you given thought to your own final arrangements and wishes? Create a secure, free end-of-life plan today. From there, share your plans and wishes with your trusted loved ones so they’ll know precisely what steps to take when the time comes.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, you have more than just the funeral home to think about. Handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.
- “Choosing a Funeral Provider.” Federal Trade Commission: Consumer Information. Consumer.FTC.gov.
- “How Much Does a Funeral Cost?” Lincoln Heritage Funeral Advantage. LHLIC.com.