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Planning Your Own Funeral & Memorial Service

Written by Anthony Martin | Last updated: March 6, 2019

planning your own funeral

Planning your own funeral is not something anyone gets excited about. In all honestly, who would?

But you know what? There is great value in doing so.

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty, how about a funeral joke to lighten the mood?

Here’s a good one…

I was a little taken aback when I got my receipt from the funeral parlor. On the bottom of the receipt after the bill, it read, “Thank you. Please come again.”

In all seriousness, if you are considering planning your own funeral ahead of time we sincerely commend you. It takes courage to do so, and you will find it’s very rewarding once it’s done.

To help you on your quest, you’ll find in this article why you should plan your own memorial, how to do it, and discover four different ways you can ensure your funeral is paid for.

Article Quick Navigation Links

  1. Why You Should Plan Ahead For Your Own Funeral
  2. How To Plan Your Funeral
  3. 4 Ways You Can Pay For Your Funeral
  4. Create A Will Or Living Trust

planning your own funeral

Why You Should Be Planning Your Own Funeral

The reason why you should plan your own funeral is quite simple.

If you don’t plan your own funeral, your family will have to while in their darkest hour.

Here’s the cold hard truth of it.

When you pass away, your family will be going through an incredibly dark time full of grief and sadness. They will miss you terribly.

Your loved ones having to make tough choices via planning your funeral only adds to the emotional stress they are enduring due to your passing.

Nobody likes to think of their own mortality, let alone plan for it. You should take the time to do it for your family, so they won’t have to while under the greatest emotional stress of their life.

Here’s some really good news.

Planning your own funeral is actually very easy! Not to mention, it won’t take as much time as you’d think to knock it out.planning your own funeral

All you are really doing is documenting exactly how you would like to be remembered.

The best part is, once you’ve done it, you never have to do it again!

Taking a little time planning this ahead of time will pay huge dividends in the future. You’ll save your family from a lot of grief, and they will know how much you cared because of what you’ve done.


You Have To Document Your Plans Or They Do No Good

You could literally just use a blank piece of paper and that would suffice.

No matter how you do it, you must document your final wishes, or all your preparation is worthless.

Not to mention, however you choose to transcribe your funeral plan, you need to store them in a place where they are easily accessible by your family.

planning your own funeral

The idea is upon your passing, your family will naturally locate your final wishes, so they can follow your instructions. This will alleviate them from having to make these tough choices while they are grieving.

There are lots of free funeral planning guides online such as this one or this one, if you prefer to have something that pre-outlines everything.

Ultimately, it does not matter exactly how you document your final wishes. All that matters is that you do it, so your family can put it to use.


How To Plan Your Funeral

Planning out your own funeral has a process that will actually be very familiar to you.planning your own funeral

No seriously, it will be.

Think of it this way.

Have you ever bought a vehicle? You likely have at some point in your life.

Think back to your last car buying experience. It probably went something like this…

  1. Calculated your budget
  2. Decided if you want a car, truck, van, etc.
  3. Identified which makes and models you were interested in
  4. Compared those models to see which one(s) you like most
  5. Selected a model
  6. Chose the color, interior & exterior options, etc.
  7. Bought the vehicle

The procedure to plan your own funeral will be just like that. The only real difference is A) You won’t take delivery of your product right now 😇 (at least we hope not), and B) you will be selecting options related to a funeral rather than a car.


Burial, Cremation, Or Donation

By far the biggest choice you will make is choosing to be buried, cremated, or donating your body to science.

Your budget may play a role in deciding which one of these you go with.

Remember, the cost of a funeral varies greatly among these three options. On average, a typical burial service will cost anywhere from $7,000-$10,000. At the same time, a cremation service will cost between $1,500-$5,000. Donating your body to science will usually cost nothing.

With the availability of affordable funeral life insurance plans to cover end-of-life costs, most people can adequately insure themselves for an amount necessary to cover whatever sort of memorial they prefer.


What To Do With The Remains If You Choose A Burial Or Cremation

If you choose to be buried, you then must select what you want done with the casket. If your wish is to be cremated, then you must choose where the urn or ashes are placed.

Believe it or not, there are quite a few options. There are pros and cons to each, so decide which one you think best suites you.

planning your own funeral

In Ground For A Burial

This is the stereotypical burial so to speak. The casket is placed inside a burial vault that is roughly six feet underground.

In Ground Lawn Crypt For A Burial

A lawn crypt is a pre-made tomb that is typically comprised of concrete and steel whereby multiple caskets can be stacked upon one another.

Lawn crypts are sometimes referred to as in ground mausoleums because they are essentially a completely enclosed shell that preserves the casket(s) far better than a burial vault will.

Above Ground Lawn Crypt For A Burial

This is identical to an in-ground lawn crypt, except that it’s above ground. It provides the proper water drainage to ensure the enclosed casket is preserved.

In A Private Mausoleum Above Ground For A Burial Or Cremation

A mausoleum is an above ground structure that is built specifically to hold the remains of single family. Private mausoleums are quite costly, but if you desire exclusivity and privacy for your whole family a private mausoleum is the way to get it done.

In A Community Mausoleum Above Ground For A Burial Or Cremation

Many cemeteries have mausoleums built that are public. This means anyone can elect to have their remains placed there. Usually those who elect this feature just don’t want their remains placed underground.

The most important thing to understand about a community mausoleum is that it’s public, so other people unrelated to you will also be stored alongside you.

Natural Burial

In this situation there are no embalming fluids, caskets, or burial vaults used. Instead, the remains are placed directly into the ground allowing the body to naturally decompose.

Sometimes with a natural burial, they will utilize some sort of biodegradable casket or shroud just as long as they don’t impede the decomposition of the remains.

Green Burial

This is almost identical to a natural burial with one key difference. For it to be a green burial, the cemetery where the remains will be buried must not use pesticides, and there must be no other bodies buried in the cemetery when embalming fluids or caskets were used.

Spreading Ashes For Cremation

For those who wish to be cremated, one of the most popular options is to have their ashes spread in a location of great significance.

Spreading ashes is certainly an option, but be sure to mind local and state laws. Every state is different, so don’t assume anything. Basically, some states and local ordinances allow it, and some don’t. In addition, those that do allow it often have restrictions regarding where you can spread the ashes, so be sure to double check before pursing this option.

Memorial Reef For Cremation

A memorial reef is a unique option whereby the ashes of the body can be infused with concrete and shaped into a statue of something (could be any shape you like) and placed on the ocean floor.

You will need to work with a business that provides these kinds of services. It’s not something you would want your family to do on their own.


Viewing Or No Viewing

Do you want your loved ones to have one final chance to visit your body? Some people do, and some people don’t. The choice is certainly yours, but it’s definitely something you must decide upon.

planning your own funeral

Viewings can take place at a funeral home, church, synagogue, or any other location of your preference (assuming the owner of the building agrees to it).

One thing to keep in mind is that if you prefer to donate your body to science and you want a viewing, you will be required to pay for the cost of the viewing.


Now Choose The Details To Round Out Your Plans

At this point, you’ve chosen between a burial, cremation, or donation. You’ve selected what to do with the remains, and you’ve decided whether or not to have a viewing.planning your own funeral

All you have to do now is finalize the details such as location, flowers, music, etc.

Look the list below and decide which ones (if any) apply to you. Then document your preferences along with all the other stuff.

  • Memorial service location
  • Where the remains will be placed
  • Type of casket or urn
  • Flowers
  • Music
  • Attendees
  • Name(s) of those who you wish to make your arrangements
  • Open or closed casket for a service
  • Clothes, glasses, & jewelry to be worn for a viewing and/or final resting
  • Any military preferences for veterans
  • Marker/headstone preferences
  • Pallbearer suggestions
  • Obituary preferences (key points you want addressed in your obituary)
  • Post funeral reception preferences


4 Ways You Can Ensure Your Funeral Is Paid For

At this point, you’ve fully planned out your entire funeral which means your family won’t have to make these tough decisions while grieving your loss.

Now all you’ve got to do is put together a plan to ensure the expenses of your funeral don’t fall on your family.

Here’s the deal.

The greatest burden you can pass on to your loved ones is to saddle them with your unpaid funeral costs.

The truth is most families don’t have the cash needed to pay for the funeral outright. As a result, loved ones will resort to taking on debt in order to ensure you receive a respectable memorial service. Very often the debt they agree to takes years to pay off.

If you do nothing else, please make sure you financially prepare for your funeral to ensure your family doesn’t have to take on debt to do it for you.

Having said all of that, you have four basic options to pay for your final expenses.

planning your own funeral

1) Life Insurance

Life insurance to pay for burial expenses is a very popular option mainly because it affords immediate protection.

There are even life policies available that were designed specifically to cover end of life costs. They are often referred to as “burial insurance for seniors” or “final expense life insurance”.

They are small policies meant to provide just enough coverage to pay for final expenses. These policies are particularly helpful for folks over 80 who likely cannot qualify for a traditional life insurance policy. The cost of burial policies is generally affordable since the face amounts are low.

2) Save Money

This option should only be considered by those who are financially disciplined. In essence, you are electing to set aside a set amount each and every month until you have enough needed to cover all your final expenses.

The obvious drawback to this option is the fact that if you pass away before you’ve saved enough, your family will have to come up with the difference.

3) Pre-Need Contract

A pre-need policy is contract between you and a specific funeral home. Basically, you completely design your funeral service with them, and they tell you how much it will cost.

The policy is backed by a form of life insurance, but it’s a different kind of life policy compared to the one you obtain on an individual basis. The main difference between a pre-need life policy and an individually purchased life policy is that one day you will stop making payments on the pre-need policy.

Funeral homes that sell pre-need policies will try to get you pay off the balance of your funeral over the course of 3-5 years. Because of this, the monthly payments on a pre-need policy can be costly. They frequently end up being $100-$500 per month depending on the total cost and how long you give yourself to pay it off.

4) Funds From The Deceased’s Estate

Although not recommended, you could rely on your family liquidating your house, investments, or other valuable property as means to pay for your final expenses.

There’s no question that this is an option.

However, it should honestly be off the table for the most part.

Here’s why we say that.

It takes a lot of time for your family to be able to liquidate your estate. For one, the probate process can easily take months. That alone will condemn your family with having to temporarily generate funds to pay for your funeral.

Even after the probate process is complete, they would still need to sell off whatever valuables you own which takes even more time.

Again, this is an option, but because of the time involved, it should be a last resort.


Put Together A Will Or Living Trust

A will or living trust will address the legal matters associated with your death which is why it’s important you not leave this step out.

Now, whether you go should go with a will or living trust is purely a personal preference that will likely be determined by the complexity of your estate. This article gives a good outline about the pros and cons of each one.

planning your own funeral

The best thing to do is to consult with a wills and trust attorney, and let them help you decide which is best for you.

However, if you are the independent type and want to set up a will on your own that’s perfectly okay. Truthfully, a lot of people do with much success.

There are many online resources available to help you setup a will. If followed properly, it can be relatively simple and accurate.

If you do elect to setup a will without the assistance of an attorney, at least use a guide to ensure you do it properly.

On the other hand, a living trust is far more complex, and should be done with the assistance of a professional. From implementation to structure, they are very different and subject to different laws which is why professional legal help is suggested.

You might be wondering… Why do I need a will or trust anyways?

The reason is simple.

You want a will or trust to shore up the legal matters associated with death.

Just like all the other elements of your funeral, if you don’t prepare for the legal ones, you condemn your family with having to deal with them.


Choice Mutual is an independent agency licensed in all 50 states including DC. We work with over 20 highly rated final expense life insurance companies, so that we can compare offers from all of them to find you the best deal.

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I never would’ve thought about the people that I would want to carry my casket when I pass away. My wife and I are trying to plan our funerals so our kids don’t have to deal with the stress of planning our funerals while they are grieving. Hopefully, some of my kids will be older and able to carry my casket!

August 3, 2018 at 6:31 am
    Choice Mutual

    Hey Mark,

    Your family will appreciate the planning you guys are doing now. Good for you for caring enough to do so. Many people let fear prevent them from doing so. For that, we commend you both 🙂

    August 3, 2018 at 10:50 am
Duncan Lance

These are some great tips, especially considering the fact that pre-planning your funeral is becoming more and more popular. I particularly like that the article goes over different ways that you can pay for your funeral in advance. That way you can leave your loved ones to grieve in peace without them having to worry about how they’ll afford the funeral.

August 7, 2018 at 11:53 am
    Choice Mutual

    Thanks Duncan! You’re absolutely right; pre-planning can provide a ton of relief from a grieving family.

    We’re glad you enjoyed the article 🙂

    August 7, 2018 at 1:00 pm
Joy Butler

My uncle has been diagnosed with cancer. Unfortunately, the doctor already told his family that it’s incurable and he could only live for up to 6 months or even less. It’s my uncle who requested that his funeral is planned while he’s still alive. He told them that it would be better if he’ll know what will happen when he’s gone and there’s nothing to be afraid of.

August 12, 2018 at 10:34 pm
    Choice Mutual

    Hi Joy,

    We’re truly sorry to hear about your uncle’s diagnosis. We’ll pray for him and your family. We totally agree with you that pre planning makes a lot of sense for both him and the rest of the family. It will save everyone a lot of anguish.

    Wishing you guys all the best in this difficult time.

    August 13, 2018 at 5:53 am
Camille Devaux

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about her interest in getting a funeral planning. She was thinking about doing this to have it out of the way in the future. It may help her to know that a will or a living trust is up to her.

August 22, 2018 at 3:42 pm
    Choice Mutual

    Hey Camille,

    Pre-planning is always a good thing. Glad you found the article helpful in someway. Choosing between a will or trust can be difficult. That’s why its best to consult an attorney for those matters.

    Hope she figures out what is best for her situation!

    August 22, 2018 at 6:46 pm

Thanks for explaining how you need a contract with your chosen funeral home so you can set up your service. When doing this, it could help to research s that offer pre-arranged funerals in the area you want to be buried in. Choosing one in the right area would be important to ensure you can be buried in the cemetery of your choice.

August 31, 2018 at 6:13 pm
    Choice Mutual

    Hey Tiffany,

    Glad we could help. You’re absolutely right too that someone should research local funeral home to see what kind of pre arrangement options are available and what they might cost.

    At the end of the day, the more planning someone does now will result in less planning when their family has to do in a time of great mourning.

    September 4, 2018 at 6:00 am
Kit Hannigan

Thanks for pointing out how planning for my funeral can add more emotional stress for my family. This time, it really is quite literally my own funeral so I would think I’ll get to call the shots. I’ll be sure to plan ahead for my funeral service when the right time comes so that I won’t put my loved ones through unnecessary emotional torture. Thanks!

September 7, 2018 at 6:51 pm
    Choice Mutual

    You bet. Glad we could help!

    September 8, 2018 at 9:13 am
Sue Sandy

When you own property in Arizona and have specific ideas of who you want to be responsible for that property if you cannot be, you need an estate plan. Wills are generally simple ways to plan and they also cost less than trusts, which also can be somewhat more complex.

September 13, 2018 at 8:55 pm
    Choice Mutual

    Good points Sue and very true. Thanks for sharing!

    September 14, 2018 at 12:49 pm
Sarah Smith

I hadn’t realized that there are so many options to be considered for funeral services. Personally, I would like to be buried in a private mausoleum, because of the privacy and exclusivity that you mentioned come with it. Maybe I should look into a funeral pre-planning service to help me iron out the rest of the details I would like to have incorporated.

September 18, 2018 at 2:56 pm
    Choice Mutual

    Hi Sarah,

    Any preplanning you do will certainly be beneficial. One thing is for sure; your family will very much appreciate it!

    September 18, 2018 at 5:34 pm
Amy Winters

Thanks for suggesting that we document our preferences for music, flowers, attendees, and other details. I recently had a stroke, so I’ve been thinking a lot about end-of-life planning. I want my funeral to be as stress-free as possible for my kids, so I’ll definitely take your advice and write down my preferences.

October 3, 2018 at 6:53 am
    Choice Mutual

    Hi Amy,

    Glad we could help 🙂

    Your family will greatly appreciate your pre-planning.

    October 3, 2018 at 10:23 am
Funeral Planning

Thanks for the great information. Yes, I totally agree, funeral planning is the great way to give emotional and financial support to your loved ones. Funeral insurance covers the cost of funeral and burial or cremation.

October 5, 2018 at 3:45 am
    Choice Mutual

    We couldn’t agree more 🙂

    October 5, 2018 at 6:40 am
Gerty Gift

I never heard about people doing natural burials before this! My grandma was telling me that she was looking at planning her funeral and showed me a few of her ideas. I think that this would be something my grandma would consider because it would follow her mindset of “dust to dust”.

October 15, 2018 at 6:45 am
    Choice Mutual

    Natural burials certainly aren’t super popular but they do happen.

    October 15, 2018 at 9:16 am

I didn’t realize there were so many factors and details that go into planning a funeral or memorial service. You definitely should plan your own funeral to make it easier on your family. They won’t have to make all those decisions themselves. I like just a classic in-ground burial where a casket is placed in the ground, like you said.

October 17, 2018 at 10:30 am
Taylor Anderson

My grandma is getting really old and frail, and I think she may be passing away soon. Because of this, I think it may be best to plan for her funeral. It really helped when you said that one should take into account how much the different funeral options costs and which one best fits their budget. These tips could really help me should my grandmother pass away, so thank you for sharing them.

November 5, 2018 at 10:31 am
    Choice Mutual

    Hi Taylor,

    First, sorry to hear about your grandmother. You have our condolences, and you’ll all be in our prayers.

    Glad you found the article helpful. Planning ahead is a great idea. It’s one you’ll all be glad you did.

    November 5, 2018 at 1:31 pm

I’m only 41 but have no children, so it’s very important to me to have everything I want documented. It actually doesn’t make me sad at all to think about my own funeral because whenever it’s my time to depart my earthly body I know I will have lived a good life! And I don’t want anyone else burdened with making my funeral arrangements. Especially because I don’t want people looking at me in a casket! Thank you for this information. It’s very helpful!

November 22, 2018 at 5:06 am
    Choice Mutual

    Glad you found this information helpful Jocelyn. You’re preplanning will payoff in the long run.

    Take care!

    November 22, 2018 at 12:11 pm
Ellie Davis

Thank you for pointing out that when you plan your own funeral it can take stress off of your loved ones. My mother would love to plan her own funeral. I’ll have to look into finding the best funeral home to help her do this for us.

December 10, 2018 at 3:33 pm
    Choice Mutual

    Hi Ellie,

    Glad we could help. We hope you’re successful in convincing your mom to plan ahead. Good luck!

    December 10, 2018 at 4:26 pm
Sutton Turner

I like how you said that you need to document your plans for your funeral. I was thinking of starting to plan my own funeral now. Thanks for the tips on planning your own funeral.

December 14, 2018 at 7:12 am
    Choice Mutual

    No problem. We’re glad we could help!

    December 16, 2018 at 1:45 pm
Ridley Fitzgerald

It’s good to know more about planning my own funeral. I want to get this done so that my family doesn’t have to worry about it later. Like you said, they won’t have to face any tough choices if I figure it all out now! Thanks for the great tips here.

December 20, 2018 at 12:27 pm
    Choice Mutual

    Good job Ridley. Your family will appreciate it!

    December 20, 2018 at 1:32 pm
Michael Lee

I have been thinking about planning my funeral for little now. Before this article, I didn’t know that I could donate my body to science for a free. This is an option to reduce the cost of the funeral packages.

January 24, 2019 at 7:49 am
    Choice Mutual

    Glad you found the article helpful!

    January 24, 2019 at 7:55 am
Sam Li

I appreciate what you said about your budget playing a role in deciding whether to be buried or cremated. I would say that working with a reputable funeral home is the best way to relieve stress during a sensitive time of life. If I were to plan a funeral any time soon, I would make sure to contact a funeral home that could give me the help I need.

February 1, 2019 at 1:30 pm
    Choice Mutual

    You are very correct that you should work with a reputable funeral home. Great advice!

    February 1, 2019 at 5:24 pm
Susan Sandys

Your last will and testament or revocable living trust is the place where you should write down what you want to happen to your property after you die

February 15, 2019 at 1:11 am
    Choice Mutual

    You are correct. Thanks Susan!

    February 15, 2019 at 9:14 am

I like your tip about using embalming fluids. That would make sense if you want to preserve the body. I’ll have to consider your tips so that I can have a super fun funeral.

March 12, 2019 at 5:49 pm
    Choice Mutual

    Hey Bob,

    Glad you found the article helpful.

    Take care!

    March 13, 2019 at 5:36 am
Hazel Owens

That’s good to know that you design your funeral service with a funeral home and they will tell you the cost before you need one, which is called a pre-need policy. This is helpful since my husband and I want to start paying for our funerals now since we know they are expensive and we don’t want to leave that on our kids. We’ll have to find a funeral home that we can communicate with well so we can get what we want for our services and then we can start making payments.

April 11, 2019 at 10:24 am
    Choice Mutual

    Glad you found the article helpful! Planning ahead now will payoff big time in the long run. Good job.

    April 12, 2019 at 1:47 pm
Sariah Meagle

You made a good point when you said that my family will have to plan my funeral if I don’t do it right now. Maybe I will get a cremation service since I can go green with it. I think it would be best to choose the details of my plans as soon as I can so I’ll contact a funeral home to see what my options are.

April 14, 2019 at 11:58 pm
    Choice Mutual

    Glad you are doing some pre-planning. Your family will greatly appreciate it!

    April 15, 2019 at 6:40 am
Yoshiko Flora

I find it great when you said that a person should create a document containing their last wishes and store them in a place that is easily accessible by one’s family. With that in mind, my suggestion is to hire a local lawyer to help with the process. Doing this will help a person make informed decisions from who will inherit their vacation home to how his wealth will be distributed evenly throughout the family.

April 19, 2019 at 8:45 pm
    Choice Mutual

    Great suggestion. Getting a lawyer to help you will certainly help ensure things get done properly.

    April 22, 2019 at 7:20 am

That’s good to know that you can use a community mausoleum to place your remains if you don’t want them underground. My grandma wants to be cremated when she passes, so I’m helping her figure out where to keep her remains. We’ll have to look for a mausoleum since she would like to have her urn kept above ground if possible.

May 7, 2019 at 6:45 pm
Gillian Babcock

My sister wants to be prepared in the future and to plan her funeral early on. It was mentioned here that when we pass away, our family will be filled with grief and best to have everything planned in advance. Moreover, it’s recommended to consult a trusted funeral home when in need of cremation services.

May 14, 2019 at 10:00 pm
    Anthony Martin

    Totally agree about using a trusted funeral home. That’s a great tip!

    May 15, 2019 at 5:03 pm
Ashley Johnson

I thought that it was interesting that you explained that one benefit of hiring professional funeral services in preparation for your passing will relieve stress from the family members when it does occur. I would imagine that when a family member passes away, the family is filled with heartache and stress. Hiring professional funeral services beforehand and having a plan in place before someone dies will bring comfort and peace to the family. That way, even though this is still a hard time, at least they won’t be stressed about throwing plans together last minute.

May 28, 2019 at 8:37 am
    Anthony Martin

    Glad you found the article Ashley. Thanks for the comment!

    May 28, 2019 at 10:19 am
Camille Devaux

I have a good friend of mine looking to get funeral service arrangements. A loved one of his is in need of the help. It might be wise for him to know that he should ask her about her burial preference like the common in-ground burial.

June 7, 2019 at 2:59 pm
    Anthony Martin

    Pre planning is always a good thing!

    June 7, 2019 at 4:11 pm
Hazel Owens

The price of how much burial services costs was something I never considered until today. I was thinking of going the cremation route. I would be terrified of worms eating my remains. It is a relief to read about the price range of cremations since that adapts better to my budget.i will be looking for a cremation service that I can afford.

June 12, 2019 at 6:50 am
    Anthony Martin

    Hi Hazel,

    Cremation is definitely a far less expensive option. Glad the article helped you!

    June 12, 2019 at 2:08 pm
Penelope Smith

This is some really good information about cremation. It is good to know that it would be smart to calculate your budget really well when planning a funeral. It seems like a good thing to consider cremation if your budget is tight. After all, it is a lot cheaper option.

June 17, 2019 at 7:56 pm
    Anthony Martin

    Thanks Penelope. You’re 100% right. If you’re tight on cash, considering cremation is an excellent way to reduce your final expenses since it’s so much cheaper than a burial.

    Glad you found the information helpful in some way!

    June 18, 2019 at 5:55 am
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