Throughout the 1900s, Americans opted for very similar end-of-life services: a traditional funeral followed by a burial.
But in modern times, more and more individuals and families are opting for alternative treatments after death. One example is the growing popularity of cremation in the United States. Where burial was once the clear winner between the two options, cremation is now the more popular choice. There are also more options for what you can do with cremains, from keeping them in a personalized urn to turning them into a cremation diamond.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What to Do If You Don’t Want a Funeral When You Die
- What to Do If a Loved One Opted Out of a Funeral
Another trend away from the traditional is the popular decision to avoid funeral homes and funeral services altogether. If you or a loved one has decided not to have a funeral, you have many other options.
Below, we’ll go over those options and what you can expect if you go the no-funeral route. (For a guide through the entire, complicated process of losing a loved one, check out our post-loss checklist.)
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.
What to Do If You Don’t Want a Funeral When You Die
You’re creating an end-of-life plan, and you come to the sections about the funeral service. Maybe it’s already clear to you that a traditional service isn’t the kind of memorial you want. Maybe you just want to consider some alternatives to decide for sure.
So what can you do if you don’t want a funeral when you die? It all depends on how you want your family and friends to memorialize your death.
Consider funeral alternatives
You might go with one of the popular funeral alternatives described below:
- Scattering ashes. If you choose cremation over burial, you can ask your family and friends to simply say a few words while they scatter your ashes. Be sure to think carefully about where you want them to place your remains.
- Virtual funeral. Travel constraints, illness (or pandemics), and other problems can lead to a delayed in-person funeral. Some people choose to hold a virtual funeral for those who can't attend. (We recommend GatheringUs's virtual funeral planning service to help you with logistics, tech, and day-of-funeral production.)
- Home funeral. If you picture a more intimate experience than that offered by a funeral home, you could request a home funeral. This type of service requires a lot more involvement by your family members, and they might not be comfortable with it, so it’s important to check with them first.
- Planting a tree. An alternative type of funeral service that’s grown in popularity recently is the tree-planting ceremony. If you love nature, having a tree planted in your honor could be the perfect way to memorialize your passing. If you choose to be cremated rather than buried, you could also ask for family members to add some of your ashes to a BioUrn or mix it with the dirt used to plant the tree.
- Memorial service and dinner. Maybe you don’t want a traditional funeral held in a funeral home, but you still want some of the same aspects of a funeral. If that’s the case, you can request that your family and friends hold a memorial service. It can be as similar to or different from a traditional funeral as you wish. Loved ones can give eulogies or not, and they can follow up the service by enjoying a meal together.
- Sea burial. If you’re a lover of open water, you can request that family and friends hold an at-sea service. They can charter a boat to watch a peaceful sunset, or they can paddle out themselves in a caravan of small boats. If you choose to have your body cremated, your loved ones can scatter your ashes across the water with a biodegradable urn after giving their eulogies.
There are many more alternatives to traditional funerals, in addition to the few listed above. With a little creativity, you can create an alternative to traditional funeral services that matches your personality and the life you’ve led.
Think about other end-of-life decisions
When you’re creating an end-of-life plan, picturing how you want your funeral to go is a good first step. But you’ll also want to make sure your family has the information they need regarding other end-of-life decisions.
Many of these decisions will either make it easier or harder for your family to carry out your funeral wishes.
Here are a few factors to consider:
- Burial vs. cremation. Whether you choose cremation or burial can have a big effect on your funeral service. For example, a funeral alternative could be as simple as scattering your ashes if you choose cremation. Similarly, if you choose burial, family and friends could gather and share words at the burial itself.
- Finances. Your financial well-being will also affect your funeral or memorial service. If you can, it’s a good idea to set aside funds for the service. Once you know what kind of funeral alternative you want to go with, research the cost and set that amount aside for your family to use.
- Notifications. It can also be helpful to imagine who you want to attend your memorial. You could even make a list of invitees and their contact information. This can help your family members notify the people who are important to you.
Make your wishes known
Finally, it’s no good making a detailed plan for a memorial service if no one knows about it.
Talk with your family members about what you want to happen after your death. It can be a difficult subject to broach, but it will relieve an enormous amount of stress in the end.
Create a written copy of your wishes, and keep it in a location where family members can easily find it. Let at least one person know where you’ve stored the written copy of your funeral wishes in your home.
Additionally, you can create a Cake profile that makes sharing your end-of-life wishes with family and friends easy. It’s still smart to talk with your loved ones in person about your wishes to make sure they’re on board.
What to Do If a Loved One Opted Out of a Funeral
If your loved one passed away, and you know they didn’t want a traditional funeral, you might not be sure what to do. Maybe they left some guidance about their end-of-life care and memorial service, or maybe they left nothing at all.
Below are some of the steps you can take if your loved one opted out of a funeral.
Look at the rest of their wishes
When someone passes away, you want to gather up any information you can about their final wishes. This could be in the form of official documents, like a will and final testament, or it might be a written letter they left behind.
The person’s wishes might include information about funeral alternatives, like ash scattering or tree planting. If it does not, there might be information about whether they wanted to be buried or cremated. As mentioned above, whether a person chooses cremation or burial makes a big difference when you’re planning an alternative memorial service.
Carefully review the person’s wishes; you can even create an organized checklist of all of those items. This will help ensure you’ve met their wishes later on when you’re creating a memorial service.
Notify friends and family
Next, you’ll want to notify your loved one’s family and friends about their passing. You can do this via phone, email, or mailed letter. Consider each person’s relationship to your loved one when you choose the method of notification.
For closer relationships, a phone call may be in order. For more distant acquaintances, you may be able to send an email or a letter in the mail.
If you know when and how you’re holding a memorial for your loved one, give that information to invitees, as well. Let them know when and where they should show up to honor your loved one.
Write an obituary or death announcement, if applicable
You can also notify the general public all at once by writing and posting an obituary or death announcement in the newspaper. It’s best to send this out after you’ve already informed close family members and friends about the passing.
In the obituary, you can include information about the alternative funeral, or not. For example, you might simply state, “Mary’s ashes will be scattered in Lake Park Forest.”
Honor the rest of their wishes
As mentioned above, other end-of-life wishes can have a great impact on the memorial service. For example, your loved one might have left behind a sum of money to cover their end-of-life expenses. Additionally, they might have had specific wishes about whether they wanted to be buried or cremated.
If your loved one didn’t include instructions on how they want you to conduct a memorial, you might find clues surrounding their preferences within these other wishes.
Is It OK to Not Have a Funeral?
More and more people are choosing to forgo the traditional funeral home service. Whether it’s to avoid the high cost of caskets and body preparation, to circumvent religious ideologies and traditions, or for other reasons, it’s completely reasonable to not want a funeral.
When you’re creating an end-of-life plan, think about how you want to be remembered. If you leave instructions for your memorial service, it’s best to keep things relatively simple and easy to accomplish. Most importantly, make sure your family members are on board, and that they have easy access to your end-of-life plans when they need them.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, 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.
- Gallo, Eliza. “What we think about death and funerals is changing.” USC News. 28 June 2018. news.usc.edu/143438/what-we-think-about-death-and-funerals-is-changing/