topic | make funeral arrangements

Step 1: make first calls and arrangements

While extremely difficult, notifying others of the death is very important. For loved ones, this may be the start of the grieving and healing process. It is also becomes the first step in managing the affairs of your loved one.

These notifications may be extremely difficult to make. Take time to prepare. Find a quiet place to make calls. Consider whether you would like to have someone with you for support. Sharing this load with someone else can ease stress.  Plan what to say in advance. You can relax knowing that you have a plan for the conversation as details may be tough to share. It also ensures that everyone receives the same important information.

Activity 1
Gather Information

Your immediate actions will depend on the circumstances of death. It is possible that certain tasks will be your responsibility while others will be handled by staff or professionals. Two entirely different circumstances surrounding a death are detailed below:

      1. If death was expected

      2. Unexpected death

1. If death was expected, either in a hospital, care facility or at home with hospice (assumes under doctor's care):

  • Call the attending physician as soon as death occurs, so the death certificate may be issued. Involvement by police or a coroner is usually not necessary in this case.
  • In this situation the medical faclity will most likely suggest:
    • If an autopsy is necessary and how it will be performed.
    • Who will write the death certificate, and when will it be available.
    • Options for care of the deceased until a funeral service provider is selected.

2. If death was unexpected:

  • Call 911 if a physician is not in attendance.  Police will evaluate the circumstances of the death and handle the following items:
    • Confirm whether an investigation will be required.
    • If the body needs to be released to the coroner (also called a medical examiner in some states), determine what needs to be done to arrange transportation to the funeral home.
    • Notify you that the body has been released so the funeral may be scheduled.
    • Present options for care of the deceased until a funeral service provider is selected.
  • Remain in communication with the coroner's (medical examiner's) office to determine the status of the death certificate and release date of the body.
    • In some cases the body will be released with an interim death certificate so that the funeral and interment may occur.
    • The final death certificate will be issued when results of all tests have been completed and a final cause of death can be stated.

Activity 2
Notify Professionals

Gather personal information for the deceased. Personal Information may have already been completed. If not, use it as a guide.

Notify the primary care physician. The attending physician will be notified if the death occurs in a hospital or care facility. Call the primary care physician if the death occurs at home. Medical Contacts may contain the physician's name and contact information. Once a funeral home is selected, it is possible that they will handle this call for the family.

Notify the employer of the deceased.  Employment Records may provide you with the necessary information to complete this task. If it has not been completed, use it as a guide. Colleagues may want to attend the funeral. Pass along information regarding funeral arrangements if you have it. Otherwise let them know how they can follow-up to obtain these details later.

Contact a clergy member if appropriate. Helpful information may be found in Contacts-Professional.

Contact a funeral director in the city where ceremonies will be held.

  • Personal Information may contain necessary information for the funeral director. If not, use it as a guide to gather information.
  • Funeral Preferences1 and Funeral Preferences2 may provide you with the name and location of the service provider selected if plans were made in advance. Contact the selected funeral director to make arrangements for moving the body. Otherwise, contact a local funeral home to arrange for transportation of the body.
  • There may be pressure from a facility to move the body of the deceased. It cannot be moved without your consent. Take the time necessary to make a good decision in regards to selection of a funeral home. Additional information regarding the selection of services provided by funeral homes, will be found in Steps 2 and 3 of this Topic.

Best Practices

If the deceased passed away at a location that will require distant transportation (e.g. out of state), it is still recommended to have all arrangements performed by the funeral director who is going to handle the services as opposed to the funeral director at the distant location. This practice will save time and most likely reduce costs. It provides peace of mind knowing that the home town funeral home is taking care of the deceased, as well as making the billing process easier. Transportation options include a shipping service that is available through funeral directors only.

Activity 3
Notify Family and Friends

Take time to plan for the call.  These calls will be the most challenging to make. Emotions will be high, and people may react differently. Consider outlining what you will say in writing. This ensures that everyone receives the same information and helps you to relax.

Compile and prioritize a list of who to contact.  Notify family members and loved ones that were closest to the deceased first. Next, notify family and loved ones that live furthest away. They may need extra time to make preparations to travel. Keep in mind that the people called may also continue spreading the news. Who might you ask them to call? Contacts-Family and Contacts-Other may contain key names and phone numbers. If it has not been completed, use an address book and the help of family members to determine who should receive a phone call.

Anticipate questions and challenges that might be encountered on these calls. Doing so may ease the burden of sharing this difficult news. Consider enlisting the help of a few family members or close friends.

  • Decide where cards, flowers, or donations should be sent.
  • Determine what information regarding the death or funeral arrangements can be relayed in these initial calls (e.g. age of deceased, well being of surviving spouse etc).
  • Let people know how they can follow-up and obtain information regarding funeral arrangements.
  • Ask for help arranging care for dependent children or pets.

(if this Step is complete)
to Step 2

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