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How to choose a funeral director

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Our six-step guide to choosing the right funeral home to care for you and your family

Whether you are planning ahead or find yourself in the position of needing to quickly make arrangements upon a loved one’s passing, one of the first decisions you will need to make when planning a funeral is which funeral director to choose. Since this important decision has many flow-on effects in terms of your finances, your sense of wellbeing during a difficult time and ultimately your final memories of your loved one, we’ve put together this guide to walk you through the process, while also giving you some ideas for what to consider when choosing a funeral director.

Step 1: Agree upon a funeral budget

Many of the decisions your family will face as you prepare to farewell your loved one will be very much based on your emotions. That’s why we recommend that you and your family discuss and set financial limits upfront.

Most funeral homes will require payment before or immediately following the funeral so they can pay suppliers etc on your behalf. Your first financial decision is often to sort out which family members are best placed to make those payments. This is, of course, on the understanding that they will be able to seek reimbursement from the estate later (the bank will allow them to release these funds from the deceased’s bank accounts upon presentation of a funeral invoice).

When selecting a funeral director, many people (unfortunately) just accept the price they are quoted, not realising that they may have other options. Sadly, this often results in families finding themselves struggling to pay the bill at an already difficult and emotional time.

Knowing exactly how much your family can afford to invest in a funeral service not only prevents this kind of financial hardship, it also helps you choose the right funeral home for your family; if a funeral company offers to help you find ways to fulfil your family’s wishes, while also staying within your budget, that’s a really good sign. The team at Bethel will always manage to find creative ways to pull costs in line with your budget.

Bonus tip: Before you approach a funeral home, be sure to ask around the family and check all documentation and written instructions left by the departed. If they have prepaid arrangements with a particular funeral company or have purchased a burial plot etc, then you’ll want to be able to factor these into your plans. We’ve heard stories where families simply didn’t know that a funeral was already paid for, only to discover this much later in the process – something to avoid if you can!

To give you an idea of pricing for a basic funeral, see our blog on how much a funeral is likely to cost.

Step 2: Make a list of what is important to your family

Once you’ve got your financials in order, it is a good idea to consult with close family about the style of funeral service you would like to arrange. This will be often be a combination of any wishes your loved one has expressed verbally or in a formal written document, as well as cultural, religious or family traditions that will bring comfort to those who gather to pay their respects.

When listing your family’s must-haves for your funeral service, you may wish to consider factors such as:

  • Location – you may wish to consider choosing a funeral director that is either conveniently located or one who is happy to travel to your home during the planning stages. Fortunately, many will be willing to come and meet you to make arrangements.
  • Access and facilities – if you need to accommodate a large number of guests or make provision for those with mobility issues or special dietary requirements, be sure to list these amongst your priorities. It is important that everyone can participate in your loved one’s life celebration with ease and comfort.
  • Your values and traditions – if your family has particular needs associated with your religious or cultural background, using a funeral director who is willing and able to accommodate these wishes makes the best sense. If, for example, you would like to involve your family in dressing the deceased

For more ideas on what to factor into your list, see our blog on how to plan a funeral.

Step 3: Research your options and compare pricing

Once you have your list of priorities in hand, you can start looking at what options are available. Since most funeral homes have a website, you should be able to find out key information about:

  • The services offered – not all funeral homes offer a full range of funeral services. If, for example, you would like to hold your memorial in an onsite chapel, include a remembrance video in your memorial or live stream the service for those who cannot attend, then you will need to find a funeral director who can accommodate these requirements.
  • Assurance of expertise – things like accreditations and certifications can offer an additional level of assurance that your loved one will be treated with the utmost respect, dignity and care. For example, members of the Australian Funeral Directors Association (AFDA – have to demonstrate compliance with strict guidelines around ethical obligations, maintenance of equipment and vehicles and commit to ongoing professional development.
  • How the funeral company invests their profits – Bethel is unique in the sense that we are a not-for-profit funeral home. We find purpose in supporting various local and global community programs, offering the opportunity to create a legacy for your loved one that lives on. Other funeral homes may be family-run, while others direct their profits to shareholders. If this is something that is important to you and your family, it may be worth narrowing your options on this basis.
  • Social proof from friends or satisfied customers – word of mouth, reviews and testimonials can offer a lot of insight into what a funeral home is prepared to offer the families they care for. Look for comments like ‘they went above and beyond’ or specific examples where a funeral director has made special arrangements that are truly touching and memorable. There’s nothing like a recommendation to help you feel like you are making the right choice.

 Step 4: Create your shortlist

You may end up with several options that appear to satisfy your family’s needs. At this point, try to narrow down the list to two or three that seem to offer the right balance of services, reputation and pricing options. As much as you can read up on the features a funeral company offers, there is only so much you can find out through research – which takes us to the next step…

Step 5: Visit in person

At this point, you will already have gathered a lot of information about each funeral home on your list. Having a tour of the facilities allows you an opportunity to get a feel for less tangible things like your personal connection with the funeral directors themselves; do they put you at ease? Do they explain things clearly and fully?  Are they friendly and professional? Do they actively listen to your questions and happily address your concerns?

Some other things to look out for and ask about include:

  • Flexibility around customising/personalising your funeral arrangements – some funeral companies are more accommodating than others when it comes to fulfilling family requests. We’ve been known to allow people to dress their loved one themselves, or even bring much-loved pets along to a private viewing. It’s often these very personal touches that make your final farewell more meaningful, so you’ll want to know that every effort will be made to honour your family’s wishes.
  • Treatment of the deceased – you should have absolute transparency around how your loved one will be treated and cared for by your funeral director. Don’t be afraid to ask detailed questions around how they will be prepared for the funeral (will they be washed, clothed etc). You should also be reassured about the qualifications of specialist service providers (eg embalmers, mortuary care staff etc). Note that some funeral homes offering very low-priced funeral packages may not have proper mortuary facilities, so can’t necessarily make guarantees around dignified and careful treatment of the deceased.

Step 6: Make your decision with confidence

By this step, your decision should be relatively easy to make. You have gathered all the information and reassurance you need to satisfy yourself that your loved one’s funeral will reflect and honour their legacy and that you will be treated with compassion and empathy. If all else fails, go with your instincts – there are worse ways to find a funeral director than by choosing the one that makes you and your family feel cared for, safe and secure.

Bonus Step 7: (if pre-planning) Make your plans official

Increasing numbers of people are choosing to make their own pre-planned funeral arrangements ahead of time. Most feel that this will reduce both financial pressures and thought load for their family upon their passing. This is a smart and thoughtful choice that will likely be appreciated as your family sets out on their journey towards healing. If you have decided to choose this option, be sure to officially document your plans and make them known to the relevant family members. This will ensure that your wishes are carried out and all arrangements can proceed as planned.

If you are looking for a funeral company that offers genuine care, hope and compassion, call Bethel Funerals. Simply contact our Victoria office on ph (03) 9873 8866  or our Queensland office on ph (07) 3219 9333. You can also send a message via our convenient contact form – we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.