12 min read

Planning A Funeral Checklist: A Comprehensive Guide

When a loved one passes away, planning a funeral can understandably get very stressful. This can make arranging funeral directors, mourners, a celebration of life ceremony and related services very overwhelming. Today, we provide guidance on where to begin and what you need to include in your funeral services plan. Offering guidance from our professional team so that you avoid hidden costs and added stress amid your grief.

Gravestones in a forrest clearing

How to Plan a Funeral – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1 – honour any funeral wishes of the deceased

If the deceased expressed wishes or a request for how they wanted their funeral to be conducted, they should be followed if possible. This could range from the provider of a funeral cemetery, a funeral director's request, or preferences of an unattended cremation or basic cremation. With little instructions families choose, whilst others leave specific requests- often if they want to refocus funeral services as the opportunity to celebrate their life.

Following the details of these wishes can respect your lost loved one. They may have been included in a Will, an estate plan, or end of life plan. They might even have paid for some funeral services in advance, via a funeral bond or funeral insurance to support you and the family in the cost of funeral expenses, and related services.

You want to check to see if the deceased has expressed any preferences in reference to:

  • The method of interment – if they want to be buried or cremated.

  • Type of service - e.g a graveside service, open casket or memorial service.

Step 2 – Choose a time, date, and location and funeral director

When it comes to a date and time for the funeral or memorial service, it is all up to you and your families preferences. While some may want to have the service as soon as possible within the week of death, others may want to have it a little later so friends and family interstate can make travel arrangements.

You can usually have a funeral 7 days a week, but cost may vary from weekend to working days. What families choose varies depending on the deceased or the family's cultural or faith beliefs, or any other considerations. Including:

  • Timing of other events – immediate/direct family members' birthdays, anniversaries, weddings.

  • How long the eulogies will be.

  • How far the attendees of the funeral would have to travel.

  • Timing of the order of service.

  • Timing of any other audio-visual presentation played in the funeral.

  • Preparing any other memory such as photographs or other personal items.

Funeral locations

Whilst funerals are commonly conducted at a church or crematorium chapel, there are other locations families choose to go with. It's important to pick a funeral venue or location that best reflects your loved one's values, getting the family involved to make these decisions and arrange all the details.

Working through the funeral process together can be a meaningful way to support each other whilst grieving. Importantly, organising the details of all funeral arrangements can also be less daunting when made in a team. And dividing up tasks means one person isn't left to contact, arrange and pay for every aspect of the funeral in the already difficult week after the death.

Step 3 – Method of Internment

You then need to decide the method of interment for the funeral. If the deceased did not pay for their funeral in advance or leave direct instructions about burial or cremation there are a few decisions that you need to make:

  • Will your loved one be buried or cremated?

  • If they are to be buried, will they be embalmed?

  • If they are to be cremated, will their ashes be buried, kept by the family, or scattered?

You also want to make decisions in relation to the funeral, such as:

  • The outfit your loved one will be wearing when they are buried – for example, if they had a favourite outfit.

  • The casket or coffin they will be buried in – if your family will decide or let the funeral home choose one for you.

Again, this represents an important time to get the family involved in the funeral process. This allows you to collectively decide how to respect and celebrate the life of your loved one, through the small details of their funeral service.

Whether you opt for a traditional funeral or more personal related services, a the funeral can be a key part of the grieving process.

For that reason, it's important to think through the funeral services options and open discussions with a professional team- they can help you arrange a funeral which addresses mourners' need to grieve a death, pay respects, and celebrate a life of a loved one. They can also ease the process for you, accounting for all the funeral services details so that you can focus on supporting your family, and yourself at this time.

Step 4 – Type of Service

If there were no funeral instructions left by the deceased you will need to decide what kind of service to hold.

You may choose to hold a traditional funeral which includes the following order of events:

  1. Viewing or Visitation – where the attendees can view the body and express their condolences

  2. Funeral ceremony – the formal service where it is completely up to the family how they want to conduct it.

  3. Burial at the cemetery gravesite – where attendees witness the burial of the casket.

You may also opt for a direct burial where the burial process does not involve a viewing/visitation or a funeral service. This unattended cremation option can reduce the cost of a traditional burial ceremony, or leave those funds for alternative services or practises to celebrate the life of your loved one.

Conducted by a professional team, this is an effective way to minimise funeral expenses or flashy funeral services, without compromising on honouring your loved one in a respectful way.

5 – Who you want at the Service

You also want to decide who you want to attend the funeral service.

Families choose differently, depending on their needs, culture and relationships with the wider community. With this in mind, you can decide whether you want the funeral service to be limited to family members or have a larger ceremony with friends, family and colleagues. Think about who had impacted the deceased the most in their lifetime, and who you'd like to get involved in reflection of this.

6 – Decide on master of ceremonies or celebrant

If you have chosen to have a funeral service, you want to consider who will lead it.

You can easily find a funeral celebrant online by:

If you don't want the added funeral cost of having a celebrant from a professional team, you can always ask a close friend or relative to lead the ceremony if they are comfortable with it. This can lower the cost of your funeral services.

7 – Order of the Service

How funerals are conducted all depends on an individual's:

  • Religion

  • Personal wishes

  • Family plans

Again, first see if there are any wishes the deceased had expressed about their funeral. If not, then you are able to decide how to best conduct the related services in a way that represents the deceased's life.

Although you can choose how to conduct a funeral service, this is the typical order of service for an Australian funeral:

  1. Prelude – the opening part of the funeral. The family may request specific songs to pay respects.

  2. Introduction – the celebrant or religious leader gives welcoming remarks.

  3. Opening readings – these typically include prayers, passages from other literature, or any special readings based on the family's request.

  4. Obituary – a close family member or friend can read the deceased's person's obituary.

  5. Eulogies – where guests share their final words about the deceased.

  6. Closing – where the celebrant or officiant reads the final prayers, plays a song, or gives reminders about the next part of the service.

  7. Graveside service – where close friends and family of the deceased gather to watch the body be lowered to the final resting place.

  8. Repast or wake– this is an informal reception after the funeral. This is where the family can receive support and condolences.

It is important to note, however, that the order of service varies. Australia has a diverse variety of religions and cultures, so the order of how services are carried out can vary in different ways.

8 - Other elements to include in the Funeral

While you do not need to include all of these, the following elements are most commonly included in a funeral service:

  • Booklet with the order of service

  • Photograph of the deceased person

  • Funeral flowers – which may be placed around the foyer, doorways and beside or on top of a coffin or casket.

  • Music to be played

  • Any personal effects or items that represented the person's life – e.g. a football to represent their passion for sports, paintbrush to represent their passion for art.

  • A guest book

  • Donation box

  • Catering for the attendees

These extra services can personalise a cremation or burial, and ensure your funeral plans best reflect your loved one.

9 – Things you'll need to pay for

You can make payments in the following ways:

  • In advance before the service

  • Immediately following the service

How you choose to pay for the cost of a funeral will be determined by the funeral home or provider of the funeral cemetery. You will need to pay for the following services and products:

  • Funeral director fees

  • Venue fees for the place you conducted the funeral in

  • Celebrant fees (if applicable)

  • Burial or cremation fees

  • Cost of cemetery plot, interment or scattering of ashes

  • Headstone marker (if doing a burial)

  • Permits for burial or cremation

  • Flowers

  • Catering for the service

  • Transport (for the casket and possibly for the family to arrive in)

  • Coffin/Casket

  • Death certificate

  • Other expenses such as a death notice.

You may have noticed from the list above that these all add up to a high cost, with today's prices only set to rise.

With this bill to pay in mind, it's important to remember that you don't need to hold an elaborate burial or funeral service to give your loved one a personal farewell and pay respects. All that matters is the thought you put into planning the funeral, and how you commemorate the life of a loved one.

Funeral Planning Checklist

  1. See if the deceased had expressed any wishes for how they want their funeral to be conducted

  2. Choose a time, date, and location

  3. Decide on method of interment

  4. Decide on type of service

  5. Create guest list for service

  6. Choose Emcee or Celebrant for Service

  7. Create order of service

  8. Arrange other items to include in the service – refer back to Step 8 for the specific items to use.

  9. Make the payments – refer back to Step 9 for what you need to pay for.

What's included in a funeral plan? Are there any alternatives?

A prepaid funeral plan may be something you want to consider to relieve some of the financial stress you may face while planning a funeral. It is pretty much a funeral that is planned and paid for in advance with your selected funeral director. Prepaid funeral plans lock in today's price and ensure family and friends aren't burdened with the stress of planning during their grieving period. It also reduces the risk that families choose services misaligned with your wishes.

The two alternatives to prepaid funerals are funeral insurance and funeral bonds. Below, we cover how each of these options could save you money, stress and time in the future.

Alternatives to prepaid funerals?

Funeral insurance

Funeral insurance requires ongoing payments which accrue over time in an account which is later used to pay for the funeral. Whilst it might save you some money in the future, there are downsides.

Specifically, if a payment is missed the money is forfeited. If more money is set aside than is needed to pay for the funeral, this money will be carried back to the insurance company, rather than the deceased's family.

Funeral Bonds

A funeral bond is similar to funeral insurance except any additional money accrued over the fund's lifetime is given back to the family if it is not used for the funeral service. Like a prepaid funeral plan, this provides cover to pay for the funeral, whilst not putting more money into the hands of insurers.

To Wrap Up

When it comes to planning a funeral, there's a lot to think about. Whether you opt for a cremation or burial, unattended cremation or large gathering- can impact how much you have to plan, or who you need to invite.

There's also several options to help pay for these related services. From prepaid funeral plan, which locks in today's prices, or funeral insurance, or a funeral bond. With rising prices and the cost of funerals uncertain, we recommend prepaid funeral plans as the best option to account for all details, whilst simultaneously saving money.

Do you need a funeral director?

If your loved one hasn't left you clear instructions on what to do and you're feeling overwhelmed you may want to consider hiring a funeral director to help you through the process. If you're searching for an affordable, transparent and flexible way to say goodbye to your loved ones you may like to contact Safewill Cremations and speak to one of our funeral arrangers.

How Safewill can help

Our professional team is available to support you at this time. We offer practical advice 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, to save you the hassle of navigating the cremation system alone.

Contact our team of experts1800 103 310 , or via livechat now.

Last updated 29th December 2021
Lauren blog pic
Lauren Barrientos
For Charities
FAQs Blog
The best way to contact our Customer Care team is via our
Call us at
1800 10 33 10
Safewill acknowledges all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Custodians of Country and recognises their continuing connection to land, sea, culture and community. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.
Safewill is an online service providing streamlined forms and information. Safewill is not a law firm or a substitute for a lawyer’s advice about complex estate planning issues.