Planning a funeral can be an overwhelming and emotional process, especially when you’re already dealing with the loss of a loved one. 

At our funeral home and crematory in Raleigh, NC, we understand the challenges you face and are here to help make the journey as smooth as possible. Our goal is to provide you with the guidance and support you need to navigate funeral planning with ease.

In this blog, we’ll outline eight simple steps to help you create a meaningful and stress-free farewell for your loved one. Let’s walk you through each step, ensuring that you feel confident and comforted throughout the process.

1- First Things First

When a family member dies, the initial step is to contact a funeral home. If your parent had a preplan (planned and paid for funeral services in advance), ensure you activate that plan to cover costs.

The funeral director will guide you through the planning process and handle essentials for you, such as:

  • Processing the Death Certificate: The funeral director will obtain the death certificate from the vital statistics office. You’ll need multiple certified copies for various purposes, such as accessing financial accounts and notifying institutions. Death certificates are required for administering the estate, making insurance claims, and for every bank and investment account held by the deceased. It’s advisable to order a few extra copies to save time, as they may be needed even years later.
  • Coordinating with Medical Professionals: The funeral director will confirm the death with medical professionals and provide the necessary documentation.
  • Informing the Social Security Administration: The funeral director will notify the Social Security Administration to stop any benefits the deceased was receiving.

2- Choose the Disposition for Funeral Arrangements

Deciding on the method of disposition for your loved one’s funeral is a deeply personal choice that significantly shapes the funeral planning process.

Here, we will explore your options, helping you make an informed decision that aligns with your family’s wishes and values.

Fire Cremation

Fire cremation is one of the most common choices for final arrangements. This process involves reducing the body to ashes through intense heat. You can choose to keep the cremated remains in an urn, scatter them in a meaningful location, or even incorporate them into memorial objects like jewelry.

Many funeral homes offer cremation services, and this option often provides flexibility for planning a memorial service at a later date. Fire cremation is often more affordable than traditional burial, which can help save money on funeral costs.

Water Cremation (Aquamation)

Modern water cremation, also known as aquamation, is a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional cremation. This process uses water and an alkaline solution, resulting in a liquid that is safely returned to the ecosystem.

The remaining bone fragments are processed into a powder, similar to fire cremation ashes, which can be kept or scattered according to your wishes. As more people seek sustainable funeral options, water cremation is becoming increasingly popular.

Traditional Burial

Traditional burial involves interring the body in a cemetery plot. This option is often chosen for its familiarity and the opportunity for a graveside service. You’ll need to select a casket and a burial plot, and you may also want a grave marker or headstone to honor your loved one’s final resting place.

Traditional burial can be part of a larger funeral service, including a public viewing or open casket service, followed by a procession to the cemetery. This option can be more expensive due to the costs of the burial plot, casket, and ongoing cemetery maintenance fees.

Green Burial

Green burial emphasizes environmental sustainability and simplicity. It typically involves burying the body in a biodegradable casket or shroud without the use of embalming chemicals. This method allows the body to decompose naturally and return to the earth.

Green burials can take place in designated green burial sites or even on private property, provided local laws permit it. This option is ideal for those looking to minimize their environmental footprint and create a natural, peaceful final resting place for their loved one.

Making Your Decision

Choosing the right disposition method is a critical step in the funeral planning checklist. 

Consider your loved one’s wishes, your family’s preferences, and the financial implications of each option. Discussing these choices with a funeral director can provide valuable insights and help ensure that your final arrangements reflect your loved one’s life and values.

As you navigate this difficult process, remember that many families find comfort in pre-planning their own funerals. This allows them to make decisions in advance, reducing the burden on family members during a time of grief.

Funeral providers can offer guidance and support, helping you to honor your loved one’s memory in the most meaningful way possible.

3- Select the Venue for a Funeral or Memorial Service

Choosing the right venue for your loved one’s funeral or memorial service is a crucial part of the funeral planning process. The location sets the tone for the service and can provide comfort to grieving family members and friends.

Here, we’ll explore the various options to help you decide on the best setting for your farewell.

Funeral Home

Funeral homes are a popular choice for many families due to their convenience and comprehensive services. They offer a dedicated space for both the funeral service and any post-service gatherings. Many local funeral homes provide various amenities, such as chapels, reception areas, and viewing rooms.

Working with a funeral director at a funeral home can simplify the planning process. They can handle all the logistical details, from seating arrangements to audiovisual equipment. This option allows for a personalized and controlled environment, whether you prefer cremation beforehand or an open or closed casket.


A chapel provides a serene and spiritual setting for a funeral or memorial service. Chapels can be found within funeral homes, at cemeteries, or as standalone buildings. They often have a more intimate and reflective atmosphere, making them ideal for traditional funeral services.

If your loved one was religious, a chapel associated with their faith community can offer additional comfort and support. Chapels are well-equipped for services, with seating, sound systems, and space for a casket or urn.


Holding the service at a church can be a meaningful choice, especially if your loved one was an active member of a religious congregation. Churches offer a familiar and sacred environment for many families. They also provide the opportunity for a traditional religious service, which can include prayers, hymns, and readings.

Churches often have the capacity to accommodate large gatherings, making it easier to invite friends and family. Coordination with church staff and the funeral director can ensure the service aligns with religious customs and personal preferences.


A cemetery can host a graveside service, which is typically more straightforward and brief. 

This option involves conducting the funeral service directly at the burial site. Graveside services are often chosen for their simplicity and for their immediate proximity to the final resting place.

They can be deeply personal and moving, with the opportunity for a more intimate gathering. Many cemeteries have dedicated areas for such services and can provide seating and other amenities as needed.

Other Locations

You may also consider unique locations that held special significance for your loved one. Parks, beaches, private properties, or community centers can all serve as beautiful and memorable venues. 

Holding a service in a non-traditional location requires more planning and coordination but can offer a highly personalized tribute. Be sure to check local regulations and obtain any necessary permits. 

Working closely with your funeral provider can help manage these details and ensure a smooth process.

Making Your Decision

When selecting the venue, consider the deceased’s wishes, the expected number of attendees, and the type of service you want to have.

 Each option has its benefits, and your choice should reflect what feels most appropriate and comforting for your family and friends. Discussing these options with your funeral director can provide valuable insights and help you make an informed decision that honors your loved one’s memory.

Incorporating personal details and preferences into the venue selection can make the service more meaningful and provide solace during the grieving process. Remember, the right setting can create a comforting atmosphere for remembering and celebrating the life of your loved one.

4- Plan the Viewing or Wake for the Funeral Service

Deciding whether to have a viewing or wake is an important part of the funeral service planning process. These events offer an opportunity for family members and friends to gather, pay their respects, and support each other.

Let’s explore what you need to consider when planning a viewing or wake.

Understanding Viewings and Wakes

A viewing, also known as a visitation, allows mourners to see the deceased in an open casket setting. This can provide a sense of closure and an opportunity for final goodbyes.

A wake, traditionally held in the home of the deceased or a close family member, is a gathering where people can offer condolences, share stories, and provide support.

When deciding whether to have a viewing or wake, consider your family’s preferences, cultural practices, and the wishes of the deceased. Many funerals incorporate one or both of these events as part of the funeral service.

Logistics of a Viewing

Viewings are typically held at a funeral home, where the funeral director can assist with the necessary arrangements. 

Here’s what you need to plan:

  • Schedule and Duration: Determine the date and time for the viewing. It can be held a day or two before the funeral service or on the same day. The duration can vary, but most viewings last a few hours.
  • Setting: Decide if you want an open or closed casket. An open casket allows mourners to see the deceased, which can be comforting for some, while others may prefer a closed casket for personal or religious reasons.
  • Personal Touches: Add personal details such as photographs, memorabilia, or favorite music to create a meaningful atmosphere. These elements can help celebrate the deceased’s life and provide comfort to those attending.
  • Notifications: Inform friends and family about the viewing through local newspapers, social media, or personal invitations. Be sure to include the time, location, and any special instructions.

Planning a Wake

A wake can be held at a funeral home, a family member’s home, or another meaningful location. Here’s what you need to consider:

  • Venue: Choose a location that can comfortably accommodate your guests. This could be a home, a community center, or even a favorite outdoor spot.
  • Refreshments: Decide if you want to serve food and drinks. This can range from light refreshments to a full meal. Providing food can encourage guests to stay longer and share memories.
  • Activities: Plan activities that honor the deceased, such as sharing stories, reading poems, or playing their favorite songs. These moments can provide solace and help with the grieving process.
  • Invitations: Similar to a viewing, notify friends and family about the wake. Clearly communicate the time, location, and any specific requests, such as bringing a dish or a favorite memory to share.

Coordination with the Funeral Provider

Working closely with your funeral director is crucial when planning a viewing or wake. They can guide you through the logistics, help with necessary arrangements, and ensure that everything runs smoothly.

The National Funeral Directors Association suggests discussing all options with your funeral provider to create a personalized and meaningful event.

Final Considerations

Deciding to have a viewing or wake is a personal choice that should reflect the wishes of the deceased and the needs of your family. 

These gatherings can provide comfort and support during a difficult time, helping you and your loved ones to honor the deceased’s memory in a meaningful way.

By thoughtfully planning these events, you create an environment where family and friends can come together, share their grief, and celebrate the life of the one who has passed.

5- Personalize the Funeral Services

Personalizing a funeral service can create a meaningful and memorable tribute to your loved one. Incorporating their personality, preferences, and special moments can provide comfort to family and friends. Let’s explore how you can personalize various aspects of the service.

Choose Music

Music plays a powerful role in setting the tone and evoking emotions during the service. Consider the following when selecting music:

  • Favorite Songs: Include songs that held special significance to your loved one. These could be their favorite tunes, songs that remind you of them, or music that reflects their personality and tastes.
  • Live or Recorded Music: Decide whether you prefer live performances or recorded tracks. Live music can add a personal touch, while recorded music allows for precise song selection.
  • Different Moments: Use music at various points throughout the service, such as during the entrance, moments of reflection, or the closing. Each piece can convey a different sentiment.

Select Readings

Readings can add depth and meaning to the service. Here are a few options to consider:

  • Religious Texts: If your loved one was religious, include passages from their faith’s sacred texts. This can provide comfort and spiritual support to attendees.
  • Poems and Quotes: Choose poems, quotes, or excerpts from literature that resonate with your loved one’s life and beliefs. These can be read by family members or close friends.
  • Personal Writings: If your loved one had written anything significant, such as letters, diaries, or messages, incorporating these can be deeply touching.

Special Tributes and Ceremonies

Special tributes can honor your loved one in unique and personal ways:

  • Eulogies: Invite family members or close friends to share eulogies that highlight special memories and characteristics of the deceased.
  • Ceremonial Acts: Include symbolic acts such as lighting candles, releasing balloons or doves, or planting a tree in their memory.
  • Visual Tributes: Create a photo slideshow or video montage that captures significant moments of your loved one’s life. This can be played during the service or at a reception afterward.

6- Arrange Logistics

Coordinating logistics is essential to ensure the smooth running of the service. Here’s what you need to plan:

Customized Transportation

Organizing transportation is crucial for both the deceased and attendees:

  • Hearse and Limousines: Arrange for a hearse to transport the casket and consider hiring limousines for close family members. The funeral director can help coordinate these services.
  • Shuttles or Buses: For larger funerals, providing shuttles or buses for guests can be helpful, especially if the venue is far from the burial site or reception area. Funeral directors can also help with these logistics.


Flowers add beauty and symbolize respect and love:

  • Selecting Arrangements: Choose flower arrangements that reflect your loved one’s preferences. Traditional options include wreaths, sprays, and bouquets.
  • Local Florists: Work with local florists to ensure timely delivery and setup. The funeral director can recommend trusted vendors.
  • Personal Touches: Consider adding personal elements to the arrangements, such as ribbons with messages or incorporating favorite flowers.

Other Arrangements

There are a few other important details to manage:

  • Venue Setup: Ensure the venue is arranged according to your specifications. This includes seating, decoration, and any audiovisual equipment needed.
  • Programs and Keepsakes: Create programs that outline the service order and include photos and personal messages. You might also provide keepsakes like memorial cards or small tokens of remembrance.
  • Reception Planning: If you’re hosting a reception afterward, plan the menu, location, and any activities. This can be a time for sharing memories and providing mutual support.

Summing Up

Personalizing the funeral service and carefully arranging logistics can transform a typical funeral service into a heartfelt tribute that honors your loved one’s memory.

By incorporating meaningful music, readings, and tributes and organizing transportation, flowers, and other details, you create a service that truly reflects the deceased’s life and legacy.

This thoughtful planning can provide comfort and closure to all who attend.

7- Communicate with Family and Friends

Part of funeral planning is informing everyone of the service details and any specific requests or instructions. At this point, you may also want to post an announcement on Facebook or other social media about your loved one’s death.

Write an Obituary

You can also get started writing the obituary and give this to the funeral home. The funeral director can post the obituary on their website and also send to national sites. They can also send it to newspapers so that friends and family know what has happened.

If you need help with what to write, see our Obituary Template Guide or our other blogs about writing an obituary that honors your loved one.

8- Handle Legalities

Handling the legalities after a loved one’s passing can seem overwhelming, but understanding the steps and requirements can help you navigate the process smoothly.

Here in North Carolina, estate planning and probate procedures ensure that all necessary legal documents are prepared and filed correctly.

 Let’s break down what you need to do.

Obtain the Death Certificate

The first legal document you’ll need is the death certificate. You can let your funeral director know how many copies you need from the local vital records office. 

You might want to order extra copies to avoid delays later on.

You’ll need multiple certified copies to close bank accounts, claim life insurance, transfer property, and more. Each institution you deal with will typically require an original certified copy.

Notify Relevant Parties

It’s important to notify various organizations and individuals about the death:

  • Social Security Administration: Ask your funeral home if they contact the SSA to stop any benefits the deceased was receiving and inquire about survivor benefits if applicable. Top-level funeral homes handle this sort of thing for you.
  • Creditors and Banks: Notify creditors and financial institutions to close or transfer accounts. This can help prevent identity theft.
  • Employers and Insurance Companies: Inform the deceased’s employer and life insurance companies to begin the process of claiming any benefits.

Locate the Will and Estate Planning Documents

Finding the will and other estate planning documents is crucial:

  • Reading the Will: The will outlines the deceased’s wishes regarding the distribution of their assets and the appointment of an executor. If a will isn’t found, the estate will be handled according to North Carolina’s intestacy laws.
  • Trusts and Other Documents: Check for any living trusts, deeds, or beneficiary designations that might affect who manages and distributes assets.

File for Probate

Probate is the legal process of administering the deceased’s estate:

  • Initiate Probate: The executor named in the will files a petition for probate in the county where the deceased lived. This gives them legal authority to act on behalf of the estate. If there is no will, the court will appoint an administrator
  • Duties of the Executor: The executor or administrator (personal representative) will inventory the estate’s assets, pay off debts, and distribute the remaining assets to beneficiaries as per the will’s instructions. This process includes filing necessary documents with the court and keeping detailed records.

If all assets are in trust, the trustee will privately handle bequests without the need for a probate court.

The trustee or personal representative must use estate assets to pay any outstanding debts. This includes final medical bills, credit card debts, and funeral costs. 

They will also file the deceased’s final income tax return and any estate taxes due. North Carolina does not have a state estate tax, but federal estate taxes may apply depending on the estate’s value. 

They will then distribute the assets according to the instructions in the will or trust documents. If there is no will, North Carolina’s intestacy laws will determine the distribution.

Handling the legalities after a loved one’s death can be complex, but understanding the steps involved can make the process more manageable. Working closely with an estate administration and probate attorney can provide guidance and help navigate any legal challenges that arise.

We Can Help

At Renaissance Funeral Home and Crematory, we understand that handling the funeral planning after a loved one’s passing can be overwhelming. Our dedicated team is here to support you every step of the way. We can assist with obtaining death certificates, notifying Social Security, and guiding you through making arrangements.

Our experienced funeral directors will walk you through making decisions about

We’ll walk you through making decisions about cremation, green or traditional burial, or water cremation. We are committed to making this difficult time as smooth as possible, providing compassionate and comprehensive assistance tailored to your needs.

Let us help you honor your loved one and navigate the complexities of planning a funeral with care and expertise.