Making Funeral Arrangements After a Death in the Family

Jan 18, 2024 | 0 comments

When my husband Dave died in April 2023, we had already made our funeral arrangements the previous year. I’m so glad we had. When it came time to finalize the arrangements, it was so much easier to complete, with less stress, given Dave’s unexpected death.

Dave died on a Friday evening. His brother Steven and I went to French Funerals to finalize funeral arrangements on Monday afternoon. We needed to coordinate setting the date with the funeral home, the cemetery, and the synagogue. I wanted to hold the funeral on Wednesday.

Even with my comfort going into funeral homes, it felt different this time. I commented to Steven, “It must be so hard for families who have never set foot in a funeral home to come here to make all the arrangements after someone has died.”

Put Information on File

Dave and I had put our funeral arrangements and information on file ten years earlier. When we received a financial windfall in 2022, we decided to fund our arrangements. When you preplan with a funeral home, you don’t have to pre-pay. If the funeral home will agree to keep your information on file without funding the funeral arrangements, it makes it so much easier to complete when a death occurs. If they don’t keep the information in their system, at least you can have a copy to keep on file at home.

Gathering important information needed for a death certificate ahead of time helps reduce funeral planning stress. Those details include the deceased’s Social Security number, place of birth, parents’ names – including mother’s maiden name – and their places of birth. If the deceased is a veteran, you can get benefits by providing the military’s DD214 form, proof of an honorable discharge. These benefits, valued at thousands of dollars, include a burial plot or cremation niche for the veteran and their spouse in a military cemetery, military honors at the funeral or memorial service, and a marker.

Should You Pre-Pay?

Depending on what state you live in, if you want to fund your arrangements in advance, your investment is protected by an insurance policy that you own, or the funds are placed in a trust. When you prepay, many funeral homes will “lock in” current prices of the products and services that they control. Items such as taxes, flowers, motor escorts for funeral processions and obituaries are outside costs they don’t control. Should you move to another city or state, the value in the insurance policy can be transferred to another funeral home. However, the guarantee of locked in costs does not transfer to the new funeral home.

I drafted Dave’s obituary first as a post on The Family Plot Blog on my website, To lower costs, I trimmed out some of the details for the newspaper announcement. However, when I was shown the initial obituary layout created by the paper, the staff had removed most of the paragraph breaks. A solid column of text is hard to read. Dave would not have approved of the first draft layout. I paid a few dollars extra to include the original paragraph breaks.

Changing Up Traditions

In the Jewish tradition, men are buried with their prayer shawls over their burial garments, called tachrichim. I found Dave’s prayer shawl from his bar mitzvah in a dresser drawer and brought it with me to the arrangement meeting. In an un-traditional move, I asked the funeral director to make sure they put Matt the Traveling Bat in the casket with Dave. In life, he always carried a little toy bat with him, so it felt important to have one keep him company for burial.

wicker casket in nature

Biodegradable coffin from Passages International.

Jewish funeral traditions also call for a simple biodegradable casket, usually a plain pine box. When we preplanned our funerals in 2022, we both ordered a willow wicker basket casket. It came from Passages International, an Albuquerque-based company that provides eco-friendly funeral and cremation products to the funeral industry. I partnered with them over many years on promoting green burial. A wicker basket casket was appropriate for Dave, who did the laundry in our household. He also thought it looked more comfortable than a wooden box.

Funeral Arrangements & Costs

Our original contract for the funeral arrangements totaled $9,221.26 in 2022. This included:

  • “Arrangement & Professional Staff Services” ($2,295)
  • “Other Preparation of the Body” ($295)
  • “Refrigeration” ($495)
  • “Use of Facilities/Staff/Equipment.” In that category, there were charges for “Funeral/Memorial Service” (the gathering at the synagogue – $695)
  • “Graveside Service” ($495)
  • “Transfer of Deceased” ($325)
  • “Funeral Coach” ($375)
  • “Utility/Service Vehicle” ($195)
  • “Selected Merchandise” (Casket, Jewish Shroud and Memorial Package of program cards, thank you cards, obituary bookmarks, sign-in book – $1,415)
  • “Non-Guaranteed Cash Advance Items.” This section provided funds for the obituary ($470), 10 copies of the death certificate ($53), clergy honorarium ($500), police escort ($1,000) and estimated sales tax ($613.26).

While finalizing the arrangements, we reduced the total cost from what was paid the year before. The Utility/Service Vehicle is a flower van. Since Jewish funerals typically do not involve flowers, we didn’t need that vehicle. The funeral home also provided credit for the Other Preparations, since the Chevra Kaddisha did the washing and dressing of the body, and for the cost of doing a graveside funeral. Since we had the initial gathering at the synagogue, the funeral home included the graveside portion as part of their services. The amount set aside for motor escorts from the synagogue to the cemetery was twice what was needed. After the funeral, I got money back – a check for $1,271.96 out of the initial amount of $9,221.26.

While I am a member of the cemetery committee for Congregation Albert, a fellow committee member handled the cemetery arrangements for me, using my credit card with permission. For a sense of those costs, grave opening and closing, the liner that protects the casket, and the burial itself, the bill came to $2,677.50. This is in addition to the burial rights for the plot ($2,000) and the memorial marker which would come later ($1,550).

In total, this Jewish funeral and burial in 2023 came to $14,176.80. Additional costs such as food and drink for gatherings at home after the funeral likely brought the total to $15,000. It’s so important to know about these costs so you or your family can think about how to pay for all our inevitable deaths. Despite great advances in medical care, humans do still have a 100% mortality rate.

Gail Rubin, Certified Thanatologist and The Doyenne of Death®, is an award-winning pioneering death educator. She has written four books on end-of-life issues and is working on a fifth title, Journey to A Good Goodbye.

A Good Goodbye