The Funeral Planning Timeline: What Happens (and When) after a Death Occurs
Although every death is different, most people can expect a fairly standard series of events to follow the passing of a loved one. There are decisions to be made, a funeral to be planned, and finances to arrange. Friends and relatives must be notified, and you’ll need an opportunity to say your final goodbyes.
If you have not planned a funeral before and are unsure what happens after the loss of a close relative, this timeline provides a brief overview of what you can expect.
1. Release the Remains: After death has occurred (and after any necessary intervention by a coroner or other medical professional), the remains are released to a funeral home or crematory. Most of the time, you will be asked which funeral home you prefer. In others, this arrangement will be made between the hospital/nursing home and the funeral home itself. This is merely a way to have your loved one’s body placed in a safe and respectful place while you begin to make plans about what comes next.
2. Select a Funeral Home: You can stick with the funeral home where your loved one was placed, or you can choose a different one. If you have not made advance funeral arrangements, this is the time when you should “shop around” to find the best funeral home for your family and budget. It is perfectly fine to call different funeral homes to discuss prices and options, but remember that you will pay a storage fee at the facility where your loved one is being kept.
3. Transport the Remains: If you decide on a different funeral home or crematory, this is when the body will be moved. This is almost always arranged and carried out between the funeral homes, as there are laws around how remains can be transported. As is the case with the storage fees, the costs for this will be your responsibility.
4. Choose a Disposition Date: In most cases, the soonest you can bury or cremate a loved one is two days after death occurs. The latest you can do this depends on where you live and how willing you are to pay for the long-term storage of your loved one. Embalming and/or refrigeration will extend your timeline, but most funerals take place within two weeks after death occurs. If you will be holding a viewing of the body, you typically have around four days before the funeral should be held.
5. Plan the Funeral: Once a date for the funeral has been chosen, you will begin the work of planning the details. How this looks will vary depending on your religion, culture, budget, the wishes of the deceased (if known), and whether you opted for burial or cremation, as well as seasonal factors and the funeral home itself.
Every timeline will look different for the same reason that every funeral is different—because it is unique to you and your family. The best way to avoid delays and problems is to do as much advance funeral planning as possible. By choosing a funeral home and/or paying for a funeral plan long before death occurs, you can avoid many of the hassles and additional costs.