It’s your funeral: Here’s how to plan

If only figuring out what to do with your body after you die was as simple as TV made it seem.

“I’m not going to be buried in a grave,” said character Frank Reynolds from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” “When I’m dead, just throw me in the trash.”

Unfortunately, Frank, that would almost surely incur legal action, likely a misdemeanor or felony charge for improperly disposing of human remains. But with the national median cost of a funeral with burial rising to $8,300 this year, according to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), it’s no wonder morbid jokes like that hit home.

But at least Frank made his wishes known. Just 10% of people have told a funeral home in writing what their funeral plans are, according to NFDA surveys, and an even smaller share have pre-paid for their arrangements.

So whether you are pre-planning your own funeral — as experts highly recommend by either talking with a funeral home or including it within your estate planning— or helping with a loved one’s arrangements, here are a few basics to start the conversation:


Even the cost of a service with cremation now averages $5,800, and that doesn’t include cemetery fees or a grave marker, which can add thousands more. Alternative options only available in certain states — like human composting — can tack on even more in transportation costs.

While it might sound callous to try to get the best deal for a funeral, that is increasingly driving many decisions in death care, especially for folks who didn’t plan ahead.

“As costs go up, a lot of people just can’t afford a traditional funeral,” said Jimmy Olson, owner of Olson Funeral Home & Cremation Service in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. “Clients also are more value-driven than tradition-driven. They want to get their money’s worth for whatever they’re choosing.”

The law requires funeral homes to post prices for their services, which makes shopping around easier. But keep in mind, the combination of options is far more than just the color of the urn or coffin and the type of service.

Talking bodies

The most common options for what to do with a dead body are embalming and burying it in a coffin or cremating it and burying, spreading or holding on to the ashes. More than 60% of Americans now choose cremation, and that number should reach 85% by 2045.

Alternatives to burial and cremation, especially eco-friendly options, are becoming more popular.

For donating your body to research after death, you should make those wishes clear with a signed anatomical bequest form before you die.

For donating tissue, organs and eyes to those who are still living, visit or to make sure you’re enrolled and communicate your wishes to your family.

A grave affair

If the deceased left plans for their funeral service, just follow those wishes. If not, survivors will have to decide what kind of gathering to have, if any, to honor the dead and console the living.

Options include a “full service” funeral that takes place at a church or funeral home, a visitation that can feature an open or closed casket, a graveside service, a wake, a celebration of life or other event. Costs vary, but typically: the simpler, the cheaper.

Overall, the trend is toward greater personalization to best reflect the life lost and help those who remain in their grieving process.

Life (not death) insurance

Many funeral homes can accept partial pre-payments or monthly payments toward funeral costs. Families can also start to “pay down” expected expenses when a loved one nears the end of their life.

Olson said paying in full in advance, even through several years, can lock in prices. Since 2021, the average cost of a funeral has increased between 6% and 8% depending on burial, cremation and other factors, according to the NFDA.

But don’t bank on life insurance.

“Life insurance can take six to eight weeks to pay out, and the person receiving payment might not be the one making funeral arrangements,” Olson said. “We simply tell families: We don’t take life insurance as payment.”

Another problem with the delay is the requirement to pre-pay for a grave site. At the cemetery, workers “won’t dig a hole until the grave site is paid for,” he said.