Common Funeral Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Planning a funeral, memorial, and/or interment service is never easy, but the task remains unavoidable nevertheless. This article offers three common funeral-planning mistakes you should avoid making, whether you're pre-arranging a service for yourself or a loved one or after a death occurs.

Graveside funeral
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Mistake 1: Not Exploring Funeral Providers

According to a survey released by automotive-resource Edmunds in 2014, people shopping for a new vehicle visited two car dealerships and conducted two test-drives, on average. In addition, 89% of survey respondents indicated that they "like to be fully prepared with as much research as possible" before walking into a dealership.

In contrast, the identical percentage of consumers with funeral planning experience (89%) indicated that they visited or phoned only one funeral home during the process, according to a survey released in May 2015 by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) that assessed funeral-consumer preferences and behaviors. According to NFDA's latest survey, the four primary reasons respondents selected a particular funeral home include previous experience at the firm; they already knew the funeral director; the location; and its reputation.

While it's hard to argue with previous positive service or a personal relationship, these two surveys suggest that consumers generally appear to place greater importance on researching their available options when buying a new car than they do on finding a similarly qualified provider to handle the death of a loved one. (To be fair, few people are forced to buy a new automobile within 2 to 7 days, as is often the case in selecting a funeral provider right after a loved one dies.)

Regardless, when possible, taking the time to compare funeral and/or interment providers in your area might save you money and/or help you locate "the best" funeral home, cemetery, crematory, or celebrant for you. The costs involved with end-of-life services can vary quite a bit depending on the provider for the same products/services, so don't assume that everyone in your area charges the same amount. More importantly, finding a provider that can help you plan a meaningful, personally satisfying service that reflects and honors the unique life of the deceased, while helping you and others mourn and/or celebrate his or her life, matters more in terms of the value you will receive.

Mistake 2: Not Asking Questions

The grief triggered by the death of someone we love can feel overwhelming at times. Thrust into a seemingly endless whirlwind of sadness and sorrow, the hours, days and weeks after the loss often pass in a blur as the bereaved find it difficult to concentrate on much else beyond their grief.

Unfortunately, many people must plan the funeral and/or interment services for a loved one while in this state of mind, which can involve making a myriad of choices and decisions. Understandably, grief can cloud your awareness/judgment at this time and might keep you from exploring all of the options available to you. Therefore, regardless of whether you're planning a funeral in advance, or after a death occurred, you should ask any/every question you have about your service and disposition choices to the best of your ability and before you sign anything.

A good provider, whether a funeral home, cemetery, crematory, or a celebrant, should willingly answer all of your questions and never make you feel rushed as you make your arrangements, or steer you toward a particular funeral or interment form that you don't want. Ideally, he or she will take the time to first understand the type of service(s) you desire and then willingly suggest the various product and service options available to help you arrange a meaningful, personalized service.

If not, then you should probably visit another potential provider if you're planning a service in advance for yourself or someone you love. If you're arranging a funeral and/or interment after the death of a loved one, it's perfectly normal and acceptable to ask someone you trust to attend the funeral arrangement conference with you if you think you're not up to it alone or want to hear another valued opinion before you commit to something.

Mistake 3: Support After the Funeral

There's an old expression—A funeral is not a day in a lifetime, it's a lifetime in a day—and anyone who has lost a close loved one, or attended a funeral or interment service to support and console someone who has, generally understands the meaning of this saying. Unfortunately, many people mistakenly think that the actual funeral or memorial service, and/or the burial or cremation, signals the "official" end of the period when it's acceptable to feel sad about the death of the deceased. (Closure is the unfortunate term often used in this case.)

The reality is that grief lasts and does not simply end immediately after the funeral or interment. Those closest to the person who died rarely experience "closure" as soon as the mechanics of caring for the remains and performing the desired rites, rituals, ceremonies, and traditions conclude. For many, the myriad of decisions he or she must make when arranging a funeral and/or final disposition on an at-need basis (i.e., after someone dies who didn't pre-arrange a funeral); the presence of many loving, supportive family members and friends for the service(s); and the structured nature of these tasks/events can delay/distract a griever from his or her grief response.

Just ask a widow or widower, for example, how difficult it was to return home for the first time after the funeral to the home he or she shared with a spouse or partner; try to imagine how a mother or father initially felt upon entering their child's empty, silent bedroom after laying a son or daughter to rest; or how significantly the feel of "the baby's room" changes following a miscarriage or stillbirth. Many people coping with the death of a loved one might experience the loss all over again and/or more profoundly after the funeral or interment.

The point here is that a "good funeral" is not merely a transaction that ends once you pay the bill. Ideally, your chosen funeral and/or interment provider should offer resources, information and other "aftercare" services that acknowledge the persistence of your grief in the weeks and months following the service(s), and even provide meaningful opportunities to help you cope with the death afterward. Many providers, for example, invite family members they have served to special events during upcoming holidays, such as Christmas, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, etc. because these times can prove particularly difficult for the grieving. Others offer in-house counseling or follow-up assistance or can help you find a grief support group in your area if you desire. Still, more curate a "lending library" of books and videos that you can borrow, if you wish, that might provide helpful insights.

Do Your Homework

As noted above, if the death of your loved one occurred suddenly, unexpectedly or without any proactive end-of-life planning beforehand, then exploring your funeral- and interment-provider options will prove difficult because of the immediacy of the circumstances. Therefore, you shouldn't second-guess the provider you contacted at the time of need. That said, even if a loved one has died, you should still inquire during the arrangement conference about the type of grief support available after the funeral, and ask any/every other question you might have about your options and the products, services, and costs involved in the service(s) you're arranging before you sign anything.

If you're preplanning your funeral/interment arrangements, whether for yourself or someone you love, then take advantage of the luxury of time by carefully exploring and comparing funeral/interment providers in your area to find the right "fit." In addition to Internet research and price comparisons for the particular products and services you desire, you might also visit a potential provider personally. Despite the wealth of information available online, nothing beats firsthand experience and the "sense" you'll get about the competence of a provider's personnel and their willingness to help you create a fitting, personalized funeral, memorial service, or interment ceremony.

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  1. Edmunds. Car Shopping Trends Report. May 21, 2014.

Additional Reading
  • "Car Shopping Trends Report," May 21, 2014.
  • "2015 Consumer Awareness and Preferences Study," May 2015. National Funeral Directors Association. Author's collection.