How to Plan a Living Funeral (or Pre-Funeral) Before Death


Cake values integrity and transparency. We follow a strict editorial process to provide you with the best content possible. We also may earn commission from purchases made through affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. Learn more in our affiliate disclosure.

Funerals are notoriously not for the deceased. Rather, they’re a way for friends and family to say their final goodbyes to a loved one’s corpse. These are typically somber, sad affairs that take place after a loved one has died. In other words, most funerals are about what the surviving family wants. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

Another option is a living funeral. Also known as a pre-funeral, this kind of event happens before a person dies. It gives the individual more freedom to choose the type of celebration they want. Family and friends say their respects in person, and it’s a time to reflect on one’s life. In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to plan a living funeral.

Share your final wishes, just in case.

Create a free Cake end-of-life planning profile and instantly share your health, legal, funeral, and legacy decisions with a loved one.

Step 1: Decide If a Living Funeral is Right For You

Before you begin planning a living funeral, you need to understand if it’s right for you. These funerals started as a Japanese funeral tradition in the 1990s. Called seizensō, or “funeral-while-alive,” this is a type of memorial performed while the person is still living.

It follows similar practices of an after-death funeral, but the living person and their family can pay respects. Is a living funeral right for you or your loved one?

» MORE: Grief can be lonely. Create space for your community to share memories and tributes with a free online memorial from Cake.

Why have a living funeral?

There are several reasons to have a living funeral as opposed to a traditional funeral. First, it’s a break in tradition. As more and more people lose interest in religious ceremonies, people want the freedom to choose their own funeral practices.

This is particularly true for younger generations. Essentially, ritual and religion are becoming less necessary in today’s funeral celebration. 

Also, many people want control over their funerals. They want to be able to pay their respects to those they love, and they want to say goodbye on their own terms. This is a final chance to spend time with your loved ones. It’s a funeral gift for everyone. 

Who has living funerals?

While anyone can have a living funeral, they’re typical amongst those approaching death. They’re typically undertaken by the elderly or someone with a terminal illness.

Having the opportunity to plan one’s own funeral gives the person a sense of control. This is often a much-needed comfort as the end approaches. 

Step 2: Decide on Your Memorial Service

Because you’ll be planning a funeral for someone who is still living, you have a lot of options. The typical funeral costs anywhere from $3,000-$10,000, but you’ll have more freedom when it comes to the price.

Start your planning by deciding on the type of memorial service you’d like to have. 

Traditional vs. nontraditional

How traditional do you want the living funeral to be? The choice is yours. Host a conventional ceremony with funeral songs, evoking your favorite religious customs. On the contrary, host something fun and exciting. The traditions are entirely up to you.

No two living funerals will look alike. They take many forms, and they vary based on the guest of honor. Some resemble birthday bashes, while others are more somber. Either way, make sure it’s personal. 

» MORE: An online memorial is a perfect ending to honor and celebrate someone's life. Create one for free.

Who typically conducts a living funeral?

Having someone officiate keeps the pace of the pre-funeral moving. This isn’t a religious ceremony, so this doesn’t need to be a religious leader. It’s common to hire a celebrant to host the event. A celebrant is a non-denominational professional who leads funeral services. These officiants know how to focus on the individual guest of honor. 

In general, it’s a good idea to have someone lead all guests through their speeches and farewells. An officiate, whether you use a friend or professional, moves the entire celebration along.  

Step 3: Set the Right Date

One of the most challenging steps with a living funeral is deciding on the right date. This is tricky. If the guest of honor is approaching death, you need to time this carefully. Ideally, the guest of honor will be healthy enough to participate and enjoy the event.

However, you also don’t want to host the funeral too early and feel the need to host another one in five years. 

Ultimately, this is a bit of a balancing act. If you’re not sure about the life expectancy, err on the side of caution. Celebrating life has no limits, so don’t let worries about the date get in the way of your planning. When in doubt, talk to your loved one’s doctor about what to expect. 

Step 4: Choose Your Location

Again, this isn’t an actual funeral. That means you don’t have to host the living funeral celebration at a funeral home as you would a traditional funeral. The simplest option is to host the event in your own home or a family member’s home. However, you can celebrate anywhere you’d like. Think of places that matter to you or the guest of honor. 

Here are some popular options:

  • Local park
  • Banquet hall
  • Church
  • Theater
  • Community center
  • A favorite restaurant
  • A favorite bar
  • Sports centers
  • Amusement parks

Wherever you choose should be somewhere with significance. Since this isn’t a funeral, there isn’t any taboo about where you can and cannot host the event. As the guest of honor, that means thinking of where you’d like to host your pre-funeral for yourself and your family. 

Step 5: Send Invitations

Now that you know funeral’s location, it’s time to send invitations. You want to give attendees ars much notice as possible. It’s also a smart idea to explain the concept of a living funeral since it might be an unfamiliar event to many people. 

With your invitations, ask your guests to bring extras. Ask them to bring personal stories, family photos, mementos, flowers, or other extras to help celebrate. Since this is a “funeral,” after all, you might even have guests try their hand at writing a eulogy.

» MORE: Online obituary that is 100% free. Honor a loved one beyond a newspaper.

Step 6: Prepare Lots of Food

Food is a form of comfort in itself. Most funerals consider food to be optional, but it’s still common to include some sort of food at the post-funeral repast. For a living funeral, food is a way to comfort guests and bring them into the celebration. 

Because this is all about the guest of honor, stock up on favorite foods. Many people hire a caterer, but you can also have the family prepare their own food for the event. It’s also not uncommon for guests to bring a dish or two for the celebration.

Even if you don’t have a full meal, prepare for the living funeral with snacks and treats for guests. Think of this as “breaking bread” together as a family. 

Step 7: Celebrate!

When the day comes around, it’s time to celebrate! Be mindful of this impactful moment. How often do people get to say their final goodbyes to those they love? A pre-funeral is a wonderful event for everyone to come together. 

Treat this living funeral as the rare gift it is. Live in the moment and keep the feelings of sorrow and grief aside for now. There is always time for that later. The real joy in living is learning how not to fear death.

Living Funeral Party Ideas

For inspiration, explore these living funeral party ideas below. Remember, there is no “right” way to host a living funeral. As long as you’re doing something meaningful with those you love, you’re doing everything right.

  • Tell a story: Use the party as a chance to tell the story of the loved one’s life. Share favorite photos, accomplishments, and other memorabilia from his or her life. 
  • Raging party: Go all out with a raging party. With the best spirits, food, and friends, there’s nothing else you need. 
  • Virtual funeral:  Illness (or pandemics), travel budgets, and other concerns can lead to loved ones missing the funeral. Some people choose to hold a virtual funeral to live stream the event for those who can't attend. Tip: We recommend GatheringUs's virtual funeral planning service to help you with logistics, tech, and day-of-funeral production.
  • Travel: Your living funeral celebration doesn’t have to be at home. Take one final trip together to bring everyone together. 
  • Going away party: To evoke some humor, host a “going away” party for your loved one. Wish them farewell one last time. 
  • Celebration in the park: Explore the beauty of nature one last time with a party in a local park. The cycle of nature is a beautiful backdrop for any pre-funeral. 
  • Potluck feast: Food truly comforts the soul and brings everyone together. Enjoy a potluck feast with your friends and family to say farewell to the guest of honor. 
  • Photo session: Include photo opportunities or a formal photo session within your pre-funeral. These might be your last chance to snap precious memories. 
  • Guestbook: Have guests sign a guestbook leaving personalized messages to the guest of honor. These cherished words live on after the celebration. 
  • Charity fundraiser: Use the living funeral as an opportunity to raise money for a cause that’s important to the special guest. These funds might even go towards fighting against a terminal illness. 
  • Plant flowers: Encourage guests to plant flowers or to take their own flower seeds home with them. These are great guest gifts, and they also symbolize the ongoing birth of new life. 
  • Birthday party: Celebrate a loved one’s final “birthday” with all your favorite birthday traditions. From lighting candles to hiring a band, this is the perfect goodbye present for the entire family. 

Celebrate Life on Your Own Terms

While celebrations of life are already familiar to most, a new trend is emerging. Today, people are choosing not to wait until death to say their goodbyes. What use are kind, heartfelt words when the person has already passed on? Instead, celebrate life with the living by hosting a pre-funeral. 

A pre-funeral offers both the guest of honor and loved ones the chance for real closure. A final celebration brings peace to everyone in this time of need. Funerals are notoriously for the living. A living funeral is for everyone. They help the person approaching death feel more connected to those they love. This is a selfless gift for the entire family. What legacy will you leave?


  1. Bryant, Clifton D. The Handbook of Death and Dying. Vol. 1, Sage Publications, 2003.

Icons sourced from FlatIcon.