Preparing for a funeral takes a lot of planning, and it’s also not something most people do very often. In fact, many people never expect to immediately need to plan an entire funeral at all, so it understandably can come as quite a surprise. If you’ve lost a loved one and find yourself taking charge of the funeral, you want to make sure you get your questions answered.
Planning a funeral for someone else takes time. You want to make informed and smart decisions, but where do you begin? With so many different things on your plate, it’s hard to do it all while also going through the grief of losing a loved one.
Because it can be difficult to remember everything you need to ask when you’re coping with a loss, we’ve compiled a list of the top questions to ask your funeral director.
These professionals are here to help you through each stage of the process. Whether you’re talking to them online, over the phone, or in person, don’t be afraid to ask any of these things below to make sure you know exactly what to expect.
Virtual funeral tip: If you're planning a virtual funeral for your loved one, you might have additional questions for the funeral director. For example, can you host a hybrid funeral from the funeral home, so that some guests can attend in person? If you use a service like GatheringUs, your funeral facilitator will also help answer those questions.
Why Prepare Questions for Your Funeral Director?
Why is it so important to prepare questions to ask the funeral director in the first place? There are a lot of myths and misconceptions around funeral planning, the process, and the importance of choosing a director you trust.
While there are specific rules and requirements funeral directors must follow in each state, you still want to make sure you’re making the right choice. From ensuring it’s a trusted business to finding someone who understands your specific needs, these questions help you make the most of these early stages.
In addition, there are a lot of different expenses that go along with the cost of a funeral. Paying the funeral director is likely one of the largest, so you’ll want to make sure you understand what you’ll need to pay for and what this fee covers.
Transparency is key not only in life but also in death, and that’s why you should pay close attention to these questions below. While they might not be the perfect fit in every situation, they’re an important starting point.
1. “How long have you been in business?”
As mentioned above, you want to choose a funeral home that’s trustworthy and reliable. Not all funeral homes are created equal. There are actually different types that a lot of people might not know about.
- Independent: Independent funeral homes are locally owned, usually by a family. They likely have been in business for generations.
- Chain: There are also national chain funeral homes. These operate a bit differently, though they can offer similar services.
- Natural: Lastly, some funeral homes specialize in what’s known as a natural or green burial.
When you ask how long the funeral home has been in business, you learn more about its role within the community and its past history. Is this a family business or a chain? Does the funeral home specialize in any specific type of service?
Tip: Look over our guide on picking the best funeral home for more tips.
2. “Is the funeral home or director a member of any organizations?”
There’s a wide world of funeral associations and organizations out there. Groups like the National Funeral Directors Association and the Academy of Professional Funeral Service Practice set professional standards.
It’s important to know if your funeral home and funeral director are accredited, especially if they belong to any of these groups. This is an extra vote of confidence that they’re educated, certified, and well trained.
3. “What does the funeral director do?”
There are a number of roles a funeral director can take. From helping prepare the body to assisting during and after the service, it’s essential that you’re familiar with what specifically the director will do for you.
Most funeral directors can handle any of the following:
- Transport the deceased body to the funeral home
- File proper paperwork for the death certificate
- Notify family and relatives
- Assist with providing certified copies of death certificates
- Work with insurance or government to file for benefits
- Prepare and submit an obituary
- Embalm deceased body (if necessary)
- Prepare the body for viewing (if necessary)
- Arrange purchase of a casket or burial plot
- Arrange transportation to/from the funeral/cemetery
- Provide grief assistance to bereaved
- Coordinate with clergy or celebrants
- Plan funeral service
While most funeral directors do a combination of the above, they’re unlikely to do it all. Be sure to ask your funeral director specifically what they can assist with and keep this in mind when planning the funeral.
4. “Is embalming required?”
Another question to ask is about embalming. If you’re planning on burying your loved one, many states require embalming in certain circumstances. This is usually if the death was caused by a contagious disease or if the body isn’t buried within a specific time frame.
It’s important to recognize that while embalming helps preserve the body, typically for a viewing, it will not stop the decomposition process. If you’re planning on cremation or direct burial, embalming is not necessary. This is a good question to ask your funeral director to learn more about what’s required in your state.
5. “What packages are offered?”
Many funeral directors offer what’s known as funeral packages. There is anything from a basic set to an all-inclusive plan. This should include a fee for all overhead and professional services, so it’s vital to know your full budget before you begin.
A package deal is a great way to save on costs, and it also gets you familiar with what is and isn’t offered. When speaking to your funeral director about packages, make sure you’re clear about what exactly you’re looking for. You don’t want to pay for things you don’t need.
6. “What services are handled in-house?”
A lot of people are surprised to learn that the funeral home doesn’t usually do it all. Many services are outsourced to other professionals. While some funeral homes do actually handle everything, this isn’t always common depending on your area.
Ask what services are outsourced to vendors. This could increase your overall cost, and you might choose to shop around for a better deal if this is the case.
7. “What are my payment options?”
Speaking of costs, also ask about your payment options. For example, with casket prices likely over $1,000 on their own, you’ll want to know exactly how much you need to pay and when it's due.
Many funeral directors will work with your insurance company or even help you find financial assistance if it’s available. They can work with life insurance policies to help cover expenses. They can also arrange for less expensive services to meet your budget.
Funeral homes are also required by law to have a clear price list available. You can request this in-person, on the phone, or online.
8. “How can I customize a funeral service?”
Many families look for ways to customize the funeral service as a way to honor their loved ones. All funerals have the ability to be personalized, but thinking of ideas is challenging. A funeral director likely has a lot of experience with customization, and they can be a great resource.
Most funeral homes can work with you to accommodate any customization requests. Whether you want to show a memorial video, transport family members, or add special decorations, see how your funeral director can work with you.
9. “What makes your services special?”
It’s important to hear in the funeral director’s own words what makes their particular services special. If you’re shopping around for providers, you might be confused at different price points and various other elements. What makes someone stand out?
For example, one funeral director might cite their own experience losing a loved one as the inspiration behind their work. They might highlight their funeral home’s gorgeous facilities or special attention to detail. These are the small touches that can matter during an emotional time.
10. “What are your personal funeral plans?”
Last but not least, ask about the funeral director’s own plans. As a funeral director, they’ve likely had a lot of time to consider what they’d want their own funeral to look like. Their answer not only reveals their values, but it also shows an insight into who they are.
While there’s no such thing as a right or wrong answer, this can be a great way to see if your ideas match their own. For example, a director who envisions a high-end, luxurious funeral might not be the best fit if you’re on a strict budget.
The Search for a Funeral Director
Searching for a funeral director isn’t always straightforward. You might have to talk to multiple people before you find the right match who understands your needs. Since this is a sensitive, emotional time, it pays to be as patient as you can considering the circumstances.
Once you’ve found the right director, it’s time to ask targeted planning questions. The better insight you have into what to expect, the easier this process becomes. You shouldn’t hesitate to ask your funeral director anything that comes to mind. That’s what they’re here for.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, you have more than just the details of the funeral 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.