Step-by-step funeral checklist

A funeral can be a big and often stressful event to organise. In terms of scale it’s second only to a wedding – yet though you may have a year or more to plan a wedding, a funeral needs to happen within just a few weeks. What’s more, it comes at a time when you are still in the first stages of bereavement and not in the best state of mind to plan anything.

The good news is that funeral directors know better than anyone how difficult this time can be, and are highly experienced at offering the level of support you need. You should also be able to count on more support from family and friends, so don’t be shy about drafting them in to help where they can.

When planning a funeral, it also helps to use a simple ‘to-do list’ of tasks that must be completed by the day (or on the day itself). Here is one you can use and adapt to your own needs.

Funeral checklist

When a loved one dies and you are next of kin, you have certain responsibilities. Before making any funeral arrangements, please refer to our guide on what to do when someone dies, so you haven’t missed anything important.

1. Find a funeral director

Don’t rush your choice. It can be hard to know what to look for if you’ve never used a funeral director before. Even if you have used one in the past, be sure to compare services and prices locally, as these can vary a great deal.

Once you’ve found one who fits your requirements, they will move your loved one’s body to the funeral home.

2. Design the ceremony

Decide what kind of funeral service you want – your funeral director will have several different packages available, and may also offer bespoke arrangements so you can pick and choose.

Keep careful track of the cost, bearing in mind anything not included in the package (e.g. flowers, invitations, catering). Check to see if extras are provided, and whether these are better value from the funeral director or elsewhere.

There is much to decide at this stage, from the type of funeral (burial or cremation) to the choice of coffin, type of memorial, venue, music, order of service etc. Some details (e.g. what readings to have at the ceremony) you can decide nearer the time.

3. Book the date and notify guests

Once you’ve designed the funeral service, your funeral director can fix the date for you. Now is the time to inform everyone you wish to invite – don’t wait until the invitations are ready.

4. Decide where the wake will be held

If you’re planning to hold the wake at home, you don’t have to think about it too much at this stage. However, if you want to hold it at a venue, then you should book this as soon as you know the date of the funeral.

5. Choose pallbearers

If you want certain family members to be pallbearers (the people who carry the coffin), now is the time to ask them. Most coffins require six pallbearers – they can be men or women, but should all ideally be of a similar height and sturdy enough to carry the weight between them. If you think someone deserves to be a pallbearer but is not physically able, then he or she can be an ‘honorary pallbearer’, proceeding behind or ahead of the coffin.

6. Decide the order of service and who will speak

Your funeral director will tell you what opportunities there are for people to speak and for music to be played. Approach the family members or friends you’d like to contribute, so you can design the order of service booklets. If you are going to deliver your own eulogy, liaise with other speakers so that each person's contribution is unique.

7. Create the invitations and order of service booklets

Using the same provider for your invitations and booklets may save both costs and time, and also means you can keep the same style. Choose your favourite photo of your loved one to use in both.

Get the invitations printed first and send them out – make sure you have everyone’s current address, especially if you haven’t seen them in a while.

You should know by now who will contribute as a reader or performer at the ceremony. If you don’t yet know what they will read / sing / play, just put it down as ‘Reading’ or ‘Music’. Keep a few copies of the order of service to one side – these can be for readers / performers, spares, or simply mementos.

8. Arrange the flowers and tributes

Some funeral directors provide flowers through their service, or may recommend a florist that they use. Even so it is worth shopping around to be sure you find one you’re happy with. You may also want to provide tokens of remembrance to give to guests.

9. Contact caterers (if you’re holding the wake at home)

Even if you’re not hiring a venue, you may find it difficult to provide food for all the guests who come. In this case you may want to hire a catering company, so do so at least a week in advance. An alternative is to ask friends and family members to bring food for the wake. You could even post a food wish-list on a social media group for friends and family to divide up between them – to avoid getting 20 platters of tuna sandwiches.

10. Finalise the details

As the funeral date draws near, contact the funeral director to ensure that every part of the ceremony is mapped out. Then contact everyone involved in the funeral, from the pallbearers to the readers / performers, so that everyone knows what they are doing and when. People contributing during the service will appreciate getting a copy of the order of service in advance.

11. Appoint your right-hand person

This is a particularly useful tip. Remember to have someone close by whom you can lean on when you have to. Weddings have bridesmaids, the best man and many others whose job it is to provide support, but funerals don’t have any traditional role like that. So appoint one – a right-hand man or woman who has a little more distance from the death, whom you can depend on to sort things out on the day if you find yourself unable to. This is your time to grieve – you don’t always want to feel that you must be the host as well.

Draw up a final to-do list for the day itself, and make these tasks the responsibility of your right-hand person.

12. On the day of the funeral

By now everything should have been planned in detail, so your mind should be free to focus on the memory of your loved one. The day of the funeral is inevitably very emotional and can bring the initial shock of grief rushing back, so be ready for that (and ensure your right-hand person is too).

Give yourself plenty of breaks before and after the service, and don’t feel that you always have to socialise with the guests. And if you do find yourself laughing and joking with friends and family at the wake, remember that that’s normal too. Having everyone gathered together in one place can be one of the best reminders of what a special person your loved one was.