Review the deceased's wishes

Organize a Funeral

If the deceased had specific instructions for their end-of-life plan, then they may have requested a type of final disposition.

This information may be found in their last will and testament, a funeral trust, or a funeral insurance policy.

However, if no instructions were left, the surviving family will need to choose the deceased’s final resting place. State law identifies who is able to do this, but most often it follows in this order:

  1. Surviving spouse
  2. Surviving adult children
  3. Surviving parents
  4. Surviving adult siblings

Lightbulb_Icon.svgImportant If the deceased was a religious person, or the funeral is to be guided by any religious traditions or customs, then certain types of disposition may be prohibited.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More Read more about religious customs and their impact on final disposition in the "Assess traditions and customs" section of the Guide.

Helpful Tips


Choosing the final disposition for a deceased person can be challenging.

It may have been specifically requested by the deceased, can be governed by religious affiliation, or can be chosen based on environmental reasons, or simply on price.

Regardless of how the deceased chose, or surviving family chooses, the decision will impact the types of:

  • Funeral industry professionals who need to be hired
  • Products and services that need to be purchased
  • Events that may need to be organized

For example:

  • Disposition will affect who is hired and what is purchased – funeral home, cemetery, crematorium, or something else entirely
  • Disposition may also affect the types services and events organized – an open casket viewing will not be available if the deceased is cremated
  • Religious affiliation may impact the type of funeral home and cemetery chosen – some businesses cater to specific faiths with specific rituals
  • Religious affiliation may also impact post-funeral services and events – a Catholic wake, a Jewish shiva, etc.

Guides_Icon.svgMore Information For more information about purchasing funeral products, see the "Choose funeral products" section of the Guide.


A funeral trust is an arrangement with a funeral services provider for a prepaid plan that locks in prices at the time of the agreement.

They are usually created with the help of a cemetery or funeral home and might also be referred to as a “pooled income fund.”

The purpose of this trust is to allow the transfer of assets after a death to help cover burial and funeral costs.

These expenses include, but are not limited to:

  • Burial or cremation
  • A casket or urn
  • A burial plot, headstone, and cemetery fees
  • Viewing, visitation, and funeral service fees
  • Transportation
  • Obituary and death certificate fees
  • Stationery and flowers

Personal Considerations


Did the deceased have a Will?


Review the document for further instructions.

Some wills contain specific requests for burial, cremation, or the like, but sometimes this information is left in a separate letter, and may or may not be stored with the will.

Look in areas where the deceased kept important documents, and specifically search for the word “disposition” in the title.

Guides_Icon.svgMore Information For more information about a deceased's last will and testament, see the "Settle the Estate" section of the Guide.


Someone in the surviving family will need to make the decision on behalf of the deceased.

This can be a challenging decision to make. It may be governed by religious affiliation, or chosen simply based on price.

No matter the determining factor, state law will determine who is eligible to make this decision.

Most often it is prioritized in this order:

  • Surviving spouse
  • Surviving adult children
  • Surviving parents
  • Surviving adult siblings

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant If there is no family or next of kin, there will most likely be state mechanisms in place that will determine if the body will be cremated or will be buried in a state plot.

Guides_Icon.svgMore Information For more information about managing an estate without a will, see the "Settle the Estate" section of the Guide.


If the deceased had a will:

Review the document for further instructions.

Some wills contain specific requests for burial, cremation, or the like, but sometimes this information is left in a separate letter, and may or may not be stored with the will.

Look in areas where the deceased kept important documents, and specifically search for the word “disposition” in the title.

Guides_Icon.svgMore Information For more information about a deceased's last will and testament, see the "Settle the Estate" section of the Guide.

If the deceased did not have a will:

Someone in the surviving family will need to make the decision on behalf of the deceased.

This can be a challenging decision to make. It may be governed by religious affiliation, or chosen simply based on price.

No matter the determining factor, state law will determine who is eligible to make this decision.

Most often it is prioritized in this order:

  • Surviving spouse
  • Surviving adult children
  • Surviving parents
  • Surviving adult siblings

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant If there is no family or next of kin, there will most likely be state mechanisms in place that will determine if the body will be cremated or will be buried in a state plot.

Guides_Icon.svgMore Information For more information about managing an estate without a will, see the "Settle the Estate" section of the Guide.


Did the deceased have a funeral trust?


Locate the document to review any specific wishes expressed by the deceased.

Although the primary benefit of using a funeral trust is to lock in price with a funeral services provider for a prepaid plan, it will most likely include information about the deceased's final disposition requests.

Funeral trust documentation will most likely be kept in the same place as the deceased's will, but if not, look in areas where they kept important documents, and specifically search for the word “funeral trust” in the title.

Guides_Icon.svgMore Information Read more about funeral trusts in the "Check for funeral funds" section of the Guide.


The deceased may have left final disposition requests in other documents.

Look in areas where they kept important documents, and specifically search for the word “disposition” in the title.

Additionally, there may be other funeral benefits or burial funds in place to help the surviving family pay for the funeral.

Guides_Icon.svgMore Information Read more about how to pay for a funeral in the "Check for funeral funds" section of the Guide.


If the deceased had a funeral trust:

Locate the document to review any specific wishes expressed by the deceased.

Although the primary benefit of using a funeral trust is to lock in price with a funeral services provider for a prepaid plan, it will most likely include information about the deceased's final disposition requests.

Funeral trust documentation will most likely be kept in the same place as the deceased's will, but if not, look in areas where they kept important documents, and specifically search for the word “funeral trust” in the title.

Guides_Icon.svgMore Information Read more about funeral trusts in the "Check for funeral funds" section of the Guide.

If the deceased did not have a funeral trust:

The deceased may have left final disposition requests in other documents.

Look in areas where they kept important documents, and specifically search for the word “disposition” in the title.

Additionally, there may be other funeral benefits or burial funds in place to help the surviving family pay for the funeral.

Guides_Icon.svgMore Information Read more about how to pay for a funeral in the "Check for funeral funds" section of the Guide.


Organize a Funeral