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Funeral Planning Timeline: How Long Do I Have to Plan Services?

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One of the most common questions our caring staff hears is, “How quickly do I have to make funeral arrangements?”

We understand how overwhelming it can be trying to find a date to hold funeral services for your lost loved one all while dealing with the grief of a recent loss—especially when you aren’t familiar with the funeral planning timeline.

On average, funeral arrangements are held within a week after an individual passes away. The time it takes to plan a funeral depends on several factors:

  1. The complexity of the final services.
  2. Whether preplanned arrangements were documented.
  3. Where and how an individual passed away (e.g. out of state or due to complicated circumstances). 

Every family's situation is unique, but most often wonder how long they have before services need to be held. Continue reading for answers to seven of the top questions we hear as it relates to the timeline for planning a funeral.

1. How long does it take to plan a funeral?

Planning a funeral for a loved one generally takes less than three hours. However, your funeral home of choice can help you make final arrangements dependent on your desired timeline.

Whether you’d like to have the funeral service immediately in the days following your loved one’s passing or if you’d prefer waiting a few weeks, the caring staff at the funeral home will work with you and your family to accommodate your needs.

 As you plan funeral arrangements, it’s important to keep in mind that most service items (e.g. casket, burial vault, cremation urn, etc.) can be purchased directly through the funeral home. The planning process typically expedites with items readily available for families to see on-site.

According to the Funeral Rule, you have the right to purchase items like caskets or urns from a separate provider. If you choose to take this route, you’ll want to factor in the timeline it takes for these items to arrive at the funeral home to ensure they will be there for the planned services.  

>>>Related Resource: What to Do After a Death: 3 Steps to Take

2. Do we have more time if we choose cremation over burial?

Before a burial takes place, it’s common for families to hold a funeral, gathering, visitation or memorial. Cremation is not a substitute for these services. However, these services may occur before or after the cremation takes place, and may or may not have the body or cremated remains present.

Some families prefer to hold funeral services prior to a cremation so that their loved one is physically present. Many funeral homes offer a casket rental service or it may be included in your package. Make sure to talk this over with your funeral director for specifics.

If you choose to plan services after your loved one is cremated (often referred to as a memorial service), it’s up to you when arrangements take place—it can be as soon as a week after the loss, as long as six months or even a year after your loved one passes.

Planning a memorial after a cremation gives you more flexibility to find a date when all family members and friends can attend. This can be beneficial when close loved ones live out of state.

3. Can embalming prolong the time you have to plan funeral arrangements?

While not required by all funeral homes, some families choose to have the body embalmed. Embalming is the preservation and disinfection of a deceased body, which includes, but is not limited to, sanitary washing, dressing, casketing and more.

Embalming lengthens the time between death and final disposition, giving the family of the deceased enough time to arrange services with a funeral home or crematory. With embalming, you generally have up to two weeks to plan funeral arrangements.

Keep in mind if your family chooses to have a public viewing or gathering with the body present prior to the burial or cremation, a funeral home or crematory may require embalming.

>>>Related Resource: 7 Questions About Embalming, Answered

4. What if my loved one was out of state when they passed?

The timeline of final arrangements greatly depends on where the death occurred. If your loved one passed away while out of state, a funeral home can serve as your advisor, coordinating legal details with other professionals.

Depending on the time it takes to coordinate details, this may delay services while the body is transported to the designated funeral home. If you ever get into a situation where you need to ship your loved one’s remains to another state, you’ll be pleased to know it is a fairly quick process as transportation providers prioritize this service.

>>>Related Resource: 7 Tips for Flying with Cremated Remains

5. What if my loved one had a complicated death?

In cases where the cause of death is unknown, an autopsy may need to be performed. When this occurs, it’s necessary to call the County Medical Examiner before issuing a death certificate. 

An autopsy is a surgical procedure that consists of a thorough examination of a body. While autopsies only take two to four hours to perform, it can take up to six to eight weeks for families to receive results.

In the event an autopsy is carried out, the selected funeral home does not have to wait for the results to move forward with burial or cremation.

>>>Related Resource: My Loved One Passed Away. Who Do I Call?

6. What if we have friends and family members who need to travel for funeral services?

When planning a funeral for a loved one, you’ll want to take into consideration friends and family members who will have to travel to attend the service.

If you’d like for them to have the opportunity to say their final goodbyes, you’ll need to delay services by a few days to allow them extra time to get there.

7. If my loved one preplanned their funeral, how long can we wait to hold services?

Your loved one may have prearranged their final wishes before passing, which means all decisions have been made and all there is left to do is pick a date for the services.

This is the same process as it would be for funeral arrangements that weren’t preplanned, except you gain the hours or days back that it would have taken to plan services since everything is already laid out.

>>> Related Resource: My Loved One Prearranged a Funeral. Now What?

Preplan to Save Your Family Time, Money and Worry

Knowing there are many decisions to make after the death of a loved one, you too can lift the burden from your family by preplanning. If you’re interested in preplanning final arrangements, but aren’t sure yet, take our online final wishes assessment to begin thinking about what legacy you’d like to leave behind.

Take our online final wishes assesment

Meghan Burmeister
Meghan Burmeister
Skillfully and compassionately manages our Avon and Avon Lake locations. Meghan and her husband, Bill, enjoy vacations with their son Otto, while also supporting community, church and school events. Graciously serving Busch families since 1998.

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