I need help planning a funeral. Where do I begin?
Knowledge is power when planning a funeral, especially if you want to spend your money wisely and make sure you’re getting exactly what your mother/grandfather/husband wanted for their funeral.
We suggest starting with the Funeral Consumers Alliance. They have an easy to use website and their goal is to ensure that consumers are fully prepared and protected when planning a funeral for themselves or their loved ones.
To understand more about the (sometimes) unscrupulous ways the funeral industry operates, enjoy this episode of Adam Ruins Everything– I make an appearance in the episode talking about natural burial options.
Remember, it doesn’t matter what great ideas you have for your funeral if you don’t get them in writing. Talk is Cheap. Burials Are Not: Why Only Telling People What You Want For Your Funeral is Not Enough. Here is a checklist we put together for our funeral home (Undertaking LA worksheet) with questions about your past funeral experiences to help you consider what you may want for your own funeral– and get it down on paper.
Finally, what if your family is a little, shall we say, tense? Estranged? Full on battle mode? Here are pieces on What to do When Families Disagree Over Funeral Arrangements and How to Avoid Family Conflict When There’s No Estate Plan.
Some states in the U.S. offer social assistance. You can find a list of what is available in your area here.
Ok, but what about funeral planning outside of the United States?
Good question, here are some planning resources for:
Who has the legal right and responsibility over my body when I die?
The answer is a bit different in each state/country. The general rule, however, is that your legal next of kin holds this right and responsibility (including decisions of disposition, interment and financial responsibility). This is true unless you have an Advance Directive, legally giving this right to someone you have designated prior to your death.
This right begins at the moment of death. Here is an in-depth fact sheet put together by the Good Funeral Guide on legal rights and responsibilities.
Why are Advanced Directives important?
To start, here’s a video I made for Ask a Mortician on the importance of Advance Directives.
Advanced Directives can be especially crucial for the LGBTQ+ communities. From Health Care Proxy:
It is especially critical for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to know that if you do not create a health care proxy naming your partner or a friend as your agent, the hospitals and courts will look to your closest biological family member to make health care decisions for you, and your partner or friend will have no legal right to make such decisions. Also note that a health care proxy becomes ineffective at your death and it is, therefore, critical that you also have a will.
Should I consider a prepaid funeral plan?
We don’t offer prepaid funeral plans at our funeral home because we don’t believe they are in the best interest of the family.
From Funeral Consumer’s Alliance:
The truth is that it is usually not wise to pay ahead. No matter how attractive the business makes it sound, there are serious drawbacks to pre-paying that the seller will not tell you about. The children and survivors of those who have prepaid often misunderstand the contracts, are unaware of them, or find themselves surprised that there are additional fees to be paid. In addition, many states have inadequate laws protecting funds in pre-need plans, and money invested there could be at risk.
More information of the drawbacks here: Prepaid Funeral Plans Could Be a R.I.P. Off.
How do I make sure my affairs are in order when I die?
Order member Chanel Reynolds has created a website and app to help you get everything done. The site includes checklists, built-in reminders if you need a little nudge, and plenty of resources.
What about my online and digital legacy?
As we live more and more of our lives online and in front of a computer, protecting your digital legacy will only become more important.
How can I get my parents/partner/child to talk about death with me?
It’s not that talking about death with your parents or other loved ones will be fun (although we think it can be!) as much as how difficult and awful everything will be if you don’t have the talk. Think about the people you leave behind.
If someone is reluctant to talk, share how a lack of planning and reluctance to talk about death can fracture families.
How should I plan for my end of life?
Besides having a solid Advanced Directive in place (see above) it’s important to have conversations about what you want your final days to look like. A “good death” never happens by chance, especially when you’re dealing with the modern medical system.
A good place to start is The Seven Principles of Person-Centered Care – note that you’ll have to scroll down the page to find this useful guide.
If you or someone you love is entering hospice, read What You Need to Know About Hospice Care. And look into The Coalition for Compassionate Care which promotes high-quality, compassionate care for everyone who is seriously ill or nearing the end of life.
Of course, not everyone has equal access to quality end of life care. Here are specific resources for those.
Unable to afford End of Life care: (What do people do when they do not have health insurance and cannot afford end-of-life care?)
The LGBTQ+ communities: Know-Your-Rights Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders in California
If you are a caregiver supporting a loved one at the end of life, Our Turn 2 Care is a wonderful resource. Created by a caregiver, Our Turn 2 Care was designed to provide accessible and culturally competent information to young adults, carving out additional spaces for marginalized groups, including people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.
If you find yourself in a position where you need to make treatment and care decisions on someone else’s behalf, head over to Compassion in Dying. This organization is U.K. based, but has universal information and guidance.
What if I am dealing with the death of an infant or child?
This can be one of the most difficult deaths because of the shameful silence around it. Parents are often made to feel like their grief cannot be open and valid. It’s important to seek communities, even online, to know you are far from alone.
For people of color, Black mothers particularly, have an incredibly high risk of maternal and infant mortality rates. Learn how to be an advocate for yourself or others, using this toolkit put together by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance.
If your baby has died at a hospital, here are the actions you will have to take right away: What to do if you baby has died.
Remember you have the right to bring your stillborn or deceased infant home with you, more information and resources at whenyourbabydies.com.
If you would like your child photographed for remembrance, look into Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.
What do I need to know about Death With Dignity?
More and more countries and states are legalizing life-ending drugs for terminal patients with a small time left to live. This returns power to very sick people to end their suffering, and takes the stigma of “suicide” (which is not what this is) out of the equation.
In 1994 Oregon became the first state to legalize assisted dying. A beautiful introduction to this law can be found in the documentary How to Die In Oregon.
Learn more about receiving medical aid in dying here: Medical Aid in Dying: A Hallmark of Patient-Centered Care
The best resource for the United States is Compassion and Choices.
How can I donate my body to science?
Start with this Ask a Mortician primer on Scientific Body Donation.
It’s important to know that even if you donate your body to a medical school or private donation company, they can reject it for any reason at time of death. Too large! Too old! Too unique a cause of death! Make sure you have a back up plan as well.
Or perhaps you’d like to decompose in nature, maybe donating to a Body Farm is for you. I talk about that in this video: Open Eye Wakes & Body Farms. This used to be just an option for Americans, but now they’ve opened facilities in Australia and Europe as well.
How can I donate my organs?
We strongly encourage you to consider donating your organs. Information on Organ Donation and Transplantation in the U.S. – sign up to be a donor, details on the donation process, and much more at organdoner.gov.
If you’ve heard some things that give you pause, read the Myths About Deceased Donation.
If you’re worried you can’t donate and also have a home funeral or keep the body at home, you have options! Read about them in Organ Donation and Home Funerals.
What happens to people with no family/next of kin and the homeless?
One of the most powerful and fascinating documentaries I’ve ever seen is exactly on this topic. A Certain Kind of Death lays bare a mysterious process that goes on all around us – what happens to people who die with no next of kin.
What happens when someone dies suddenly or mysteriously? Here’s a behind the scenes episode of This is Life With Lisa Ling as she shadows employees at the LA County Coroner: America’s Busiest Coroner.
What happens to unclaimed remains?
Each state has different laws and methods in place if no one steps up to bury or cremate a body. Here is some general information to start.