Death and loss of life are taboo topics that most people find extremely difficult to think about and discuss. This makes pre-planning and planning for a funeral and burial challenging.  It is natural instinct to shy away from drawing up wills, purchasing cemetery plots, or conveying wishes for the final days. Following a pre-planning checklist and corresponding essential can help guide and navigate you through the decision making process.

By handling some of the details and pre-planning of a funeral and burial, it reduces some of the burden of important decisions off your family during a time of grief. It allows for decisions to be made ahead of time, without the pressure of time and grief. This article, “Essentials: Pre-planning a Funeral” corresponds with the checklist “Pre-planning a Funeral.”  Once completed, the checklist should be kept in a safety box or given to the spouse or closest relative.

Begin the section on general information by signing your name and dating the document. Although this is not considered a legal document, your signature authenticates the document as one that conveys your wishes.

The following general information should be handled and recorded on the checklist:

Organ Donation

The decision to donate certain organs or any needed organs or body parts is a very personal one. It should be made through a combination of an altruistic desire to help others in need and a reflection of one’s religious, moral and philosophical beliefs. The same belief system may cause the individual to decline such an offering. Clearly state your specific desires concerning organ donation in this portion of the checklist.

Living Will

A living will, sometimes known as an advanced health care directive, is a legal document in which a person outlines what actions should be taken for their health if they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves. Most often the directives revolve around extra-ordinary care to keep a patient alive when vital organs have shut down or are failing.

There are online websites, both free and paid services, which can assist in preparing the living will. An attorney can also draw a living will for an individual.

The desires for the living will should be discussed with close family members. The document should be stored in a safety box.

Religious Ceremony

A decision should be made regarding the inclusion of religious traditions and rituals into the funeral ceremony. Some religions are very specific in how the format of the funeral and burial must take place.

Make a notation of the religious affiliation of your preference. If you are unsure about the specific planning that is necessary for the religion, you may wish to speak with a religious leader to clarify the details. Be specific as to the specific house of worship that you desire to use for the ceremony. If you know the name of the religious leader that you would like to be involved in the ceremony, list his or her name here.

If no religious tone is desired, it is best to indicate this preference here on the checklist.

The desires for a religious ceremony should be discussed with close family members.

Military Ceremony

If you have served in a branch of the armed services, you may wish a portion of the ceremony to be conducted by the military. On the checklist, cite the branch of the armed forces in which you served. If there is a local post for the branch, note the post commander’s name, along with the address and phone number. If no local post is available, make contact through state organizations.

Death Certificate

Several pieces of information will be needed for the death certificate which may not be readily accessible to family members. Putting down the following items will assist the family during their time of immediate loss: your date of birth, place of birth, social security number, the usual occupation and kind of business that you have been involved in, military service (if any), highest level of education attained, father’s name (first, middle and last name) and mother’s name (first, middle, maiden and last name). You should also note your desire for a final resting place (cemetery, crematory, etc.).


A will is a legal document in which a person names one or more individuals to manage the estate after one’s death. It also provides for the specific distribution of wealth and property after death. There are online websites, both free and paid services, which can assist in preparing a will. An attorney can also draw a will for an individual.

The desires for the will should be discussed with close family members. The document should be stored in a safety box. On the checklist, specify where this document is kept.


Often an attorney is retained to handle many of the business and financial affairs for a family. The details of the will can be handled by the attorney. List the name of the attorney, the firm, and the address and phone number on the checklist. If a friend or family member is to be given power of attorney, indicate the person’s name here.

The following information and details surrounding notifications and service pre-planning should be prepared and listed here on the checklist.


Under the stress of the loss of a loved one, it may be difficult for your surviving family to remember all who need to be notified about the death. The spouse and/or ex-spouse(s) should be notified, along with children, surviving parents, in-laws, brothers and sisters, extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins), and specific close friends. If you are still employed at the time of death, you will want to list Human Resource contact individuals, your immediate supervisor, and other business associates. Organizations of a civic nature in the community, religious and charitable groups and educational institutions for which you volunteered time and energy should be listed here for notification as well.

During the time following the death, the immediate family may be burdened both with grief and details. You may wish to select someone else – an extended family member or close friend – to take care of the notifications.

Funeral Pre-Planning

In pre-planning details of the funeral and service, you can not only take the burden of decision off of your surviving family, you can ease some of the financial burden that will be on them as well.

One of the first decisions that you can make is to select a funeral home to use. The funeral home will be involved in transporting the body, making several appropriate notifications, preparing the body, hosting a time of visitation and/or funeral ceremony, and transportation of the body to its final resting place. In many communities, a chosen funeral home has been used by the family for other family members who have passed away. If you do not have a preference, funeral homes can be found online and through various directories. The expenses for the funeral can often be pre-paid, locking in today’s prices for the future event.

In this section, list the name and location of the funeral home, along with the name of the director. Indicate in this section of if you have pre-paid for the services. The funeral director can also help you select a casket.

Another decision that needs to be made regards the final resting place of the body. If your choice is for your body to be buried, list the name, address and phone number of the cemetery. You can pick out the plot for the burial and pay for it in advance. This can be very important if other family members have been buried in the same cemetery.

If the choice for the final resting place is cremation, list the name, address and phone number of the crematory. This is also a process that can be paid for in advance. You should also note if there is an individual or individuals to whom you would like to keep the remains.

Other items that should be noted:

You should select six individuals to be the pallbearers. These individuals will be involved in the transportation of the casket. The duties may be limited to assisting the casket as it is moved out of the funeral home or religious facility. It may be a quite strenuous task if stairs need to be climbed or if some other unique circumstance exists.

You may wish to select less than a handful of people to deliver eulogies. In this selection, give consideration to the ability that the individual has to speak in front of a crowd and the ability that the individual has in handing moments of deep emotional stress.

You may also designate individuals to be involved in the service by delivering prayers, poems, readings or music. List these individual on the checklist here, along with verses or readings and music that you would prefer used.

Finally the checklist concludes with a decision about the use of flowers. If you would rather that flowers be minimal and that donations be given to a specific charity. Please take this time to list your favorite charities that could be supported by well-wishers.



Partner Message


Leave a Legacy, Not a Mess

An Everplan is a secure, digital archive of everything your loved ones will need should something happen to you. Store and share wills, digital accounts, funeral wishes, and more in your personal Everplan.

Learn More