At-Need Disposition Instructions

Download a Word document file that contains Call Sheets

We are sorry for your loss – we realize this is a difficult time for you.  You are probably exhausted, grieving and confused and now you will be expected to make some very necessary, possibly expensive choices and decisions.  Please don’t hesitate to ask for help.  There is most likely a family member or friend that would be willing to help you make the many decisions and arrangements that will be required.  Hopefully the deceased has left some instructions.  If not, you will be asked to try to put yourself in their place and make the best decisions possible based on your knowledge of the person.

Feel free to copy this page and paste it into a word processing file so that you can take time to read, comprehend and discuss its contents with a trusted family member or friend.  You can also download a copy of this document HERE so that you will have the Call Sheets.

Budget Considerations
If money is no object, we suggest you call the closest funeral home; perhaps a funeral director will even come to your home and help you with all the details.  The following information will help you to understand what decisions will be required of you so that you can make them in the comfort of your home – without the pressure of a funeral sales person.

If, however, finances are an issue, the following instructions will help you to make the necessary arrangements as inexpensively as possible.  Keep in mind that in most cases you will be expected to pay for everything in full when or before the services are rendered.

You will first want to find out if there are any pre-need funeral arrangements, life insurance policies, funeral trusts, payable on death funeral accounts or savings accounts earmarked for funeral expenses in the deceased’s name or if veteran’s benefits are available (see below).  You will then need to decide on a realistic budget.

Funeral homes are required by law (in most states) to quote prices over the phone, but if the task of calling is too much for you to handle right now, ask for help.  The following information will guide you through the many decisions that need to be made and help you to understand your rights and responsibilities prior to making the calls.  We suggest that you read through this entire document before calling a funeral home, whether money is an issue or not.  You can save a great deal of money by comparison shopping.  (Ask for help – there are probably people offering.)

Veterans Benefits
Veterans with an honorable discharge may be eligible for burial benefits, which includes a burial plot (no grave liner required), opening and closing of the grave, marker, flag, playing of taps and perpetual care of the gravesite.  The family is responsible for removal of the body from the place of demise and arranging for transportation of the body in a casket to the nearest National Cemetery that has space available.  Transportation by a funeral home can cost $2.50 per mile.  You can purchase a casket on line to be delivered, often overnight, for much less than from a funeral home – about $800.  (Remember, the funeral home is usually restricted by law from charging a handling fee if you purchase a casket from someone else.  Also remember that if you call a funeral home to remove the body from the place of demise and transport it to a National Cemetery, they can charge you a “non-declinable fee” which could be as much as $1,500.)  Embalming is NOT required (unless a viewing is requested) – refrigeration will preserve the body until burial just as well.   Be sure to ask the funeral home, or whoever handles the body, EXACTLY how much it will cost and what is included.

A cash burial benefit may also be available for burial of a veteran in a private cemetery, or perhaps even for cremation.  While spouses of veterans may be eligible for certain burial benefits in a National Cemetery, it is not always possible for next of kin to be guaranteed a burial plot next to the veteran.

You will need the deceased’s social security number or service number so their service and status can be verified.

Benefits change – check for current benefits and instructions, or call 1-800-827-1000.

Some local cemeteries offer a comparable veteran’s burial deal; however, they will undoubtedly try to “upsell” you and offer burial space for other loved ones – which is fine, if other family members desire to be buried next to the veteran, and are willing to pay the extra money.  You may also need the veteran’s discharge papers.  Just be VERY careful to read all the details and restrictions on such deals.

Federal Trade Commission Funeral Rules You Should Know
(Note:  Statements in parentheses are mine.)

  • Funeral homes must give out prices over the phone. (Prices vary greatly throughout the country – inquire carefully!)
  • All funeral establishments must provide on demand a General Price List (GPL), Casket Price List and Outer Container Price List. (They do not necessarily have to mail them to you.)
  • The GPL must disclose that embalming is not usually required by law.
  • Before making any contract, a funeral home must present an itemized statement of final choices to the consumer.
  • That statement must disclose any fees charged for “cash advance” items (i. e. printing, flowers, etc.).
  • No funeral home may charge you a body storage fee during usual funeral transactions – only after 4 or 5 days.
  • You have the right to choose an alternative (less expensive) cremation container (cardboard-type container) – a casket is not required.
  • You may purchase a casket anywhere you like, and the funeral provider may not charge an extra fee if you do (the best prices can be found on the Internet).
  • It is a violation of the Funeral Rules to claim that embalming or caskets will preserve a corpse.
  • Funeral homes may not lie about state laws (It’s easy to guess why that provision was put into the Rules!).
  • You do not have to purchase any goods or services you do not want, but you are required to pay the “Non-Declinable Fee” (see below).

The Federal Trade Commission passed the Funeral Rules in 1982 and they went into effect in 1984; various revisions have taken place throughout the years.  Each state may adopt and/or adhere to these rules – most do both.

“Non-Declinable Fee”
Funeral homes have the right to charge a “non-declinable fee” – the amount of which they may determine, and which is often as much as $1500 (or even higher in some cities); you must pay this fee, regardless of the funeral “products” you choose.  It is supposed to be designated on the GPL as  “Basic Services of Staff”, which is defined as the time and effort necessary to plan the funeral, obtain permits and collect the obituary and death certificate information.  Be sure, before agreeing to anything, that you understand all the charges on the itemized statement of final choices.   Ask specifically if the non-declinable or Basic Services of Staff fee is included in any package deal you are offered.

Cemeteries are not governed by the Funeral Rules, however, many do adhere to them.

Your First Decision:  Burial, Cremation or Donation?

Least expensive, less effort – costs $500 to $2,000.

Costs $1,500 to $10,000.  The average funeral and burial in the US today runs about $8,000.

Body Donation
Can be inexpensive if  there are no charges for transportation (about $2.50 per mile), preliminary embalming (about $350), and/or the “non-declinable fee” (varies greatly) isn’t charged, although it usually is.

Organ Donation
If organ donation is to be considered, it needs to happen almost immediately after death.  After the body is declared brain dead, it’s put on a respirator until the organs are removed, in order to keep everything as fresh as possible.  You can bequeath some or all of your organs and tissues for transplantation.  Almost anyone of any age can be a tissue donor.  Suitability criteria varies depending on the tissue.  The family or next of kin (Healthcare Surrogate, spouse, adult child, parent, grandparent, adult sibling, guardian or other responsible person) will be asked to consent for donation and specific medical criteria will need to be met.  The donor family is never paid for any donation, as it would be a violation of federal and state laws.

Organ donation should not interfere with or delay the funeral arrangements; however, it is important to let your funeral home of choice know of your desire to donate.  The body can be carefully reconstructed and a viewing may be held, if desired.

Most religions support and consider donation as an act of charity.  It is a way to affirm the generosity and goodness of the deceased.

Body Donation
You can donate an intact corpse to a medical school, specifying (if you wish) that it be used in anatomy classes or for scientific research, if they are accepting donations.  (The body cannot be donated if certain serious or communicable diseases are present at death, or if death was caused by crushing injuries.  Nor, generally, can the body be donated if an autopsy has been performed.)  Organ donation may also disqualify the donation.  Be sure to ask.  Usually, the deceased must have attained the age of eighteen before dying.  The next of kin may donate the body without any pre-death approval of the deceased.  A special embalming process is required.   The body is retained for a period ranging from six months to two years.  After that time, if previously arranged, the body or cremains will be returned to the loved ones for final disposition.  You may be required to pay for the cremation at that time or most probably, the burial expenses.

Every state and school has different laws and procedures concerning body donation.  Call the medical school closest to where the death occurred and ask them what their procedure is on “body donation”.  Some will require that a funeral home be involved to transport the body, file the death certificate and other permits and do the preliminary embalming. Call the “Funeral Homes” in your local “yellow pages” and ask them their price and procedure for handling a body donation.  As previously mentioned, donation can be inexpensive if you are not required to pay transportation expenses (which could be as much as $2.50 per mile), expenses for preliminary embalming at a local funeral home (perhaps $350), and that “non-declinable fee” (which varies greatly).  From what I was able to learn, it appears that such charges are the rule rather than the exception.

In Florida you can call 1-800-628-2594 to discuss details and current availability.

Body donation resources by state:

Choices/Expenses for Cremation or Burial

Moving the Body
It is against the law to transport a body without a permit!  Call 911 or your hospice worker before doing anything.  A physician must determine the cause of death and sign the death certificate, in some cases before a body can be transported anywhere.  If the deceased is under hospice care, they will take care of all that business.  Talk to them about it before the death, if possible.

If for some reason you desire to transport your dear departed by yourself, be aware that there are a lot of possible legal and procedural complications and that such a desire is not “usual”.  Call your county coroner’s office for instructions.


  • Embalming is not required by law and does not significantly delay the decaying process.
  • Refrigeration by itself slows the process sufficiently to accomplish disposal.
  • Embalming may be required if the body is to be transported by air, bus or train.
  • Embalming is usually required by the funeral home if viewing is requested.
  • Embalming usually costs about $350.  There is often no charge for refrigeration.


  • A viewing will significantly increase funeral costs.
  • Viewing of the body, by family and/or others, may take place before and/or at the funeral or memorial service, if desired.
  • Remember, funeral homes have the right to require embalming if viewing is requested.
  • Additional viewing fees are usually charged to rent the funeral home space.
  • If cremation is planned, a casket can usually be rented for a viewing.
  • Some funeral homes will allow the next of kin to see the body informally without embalming or a charge.  Be sure to ask about any charges.


  • Differs from viewing in that the body is not usually present.  It is basically an opportunity for friends to show support for the family before the funeral.
  • Additional fees are charged if held in a funeral home.
  • If visitation is desired, you can hold it at a free venue to save money.

Funeral/Memorial Service

  • A funeral home is not the only option as to location for a funeral – just one of the most expensive.
  • Funerals can be and often are held in free venues such as community rooms, parks, at the beach, at home, churches (donations are usually expected), or graveside (probably a charge) – just about any place the loved ones find meaningful.
  • Having the body present at the funeral (“open or closed casket”) will increase the cost considerably.
  • Possible alternatives to the traditional funeral service include inviting attendees to share their favorite stories about the deceased, to recite examples of the impact the departed had on their lives, or simply to speak a word or two that they feel most accurately describes the deceased.  A slide show, Power Point presentation, or display of pictures of the life of the deceased can also be shown.

Celebrant or Funeral Officiant

This can be a minister, priest, friend or family member – whomever you wish.  An honorarium or donation (usually $100) is traditionally paid to a minister or officiant, unless it is a family member or personal friend.  Using some of the possible funeral alternatives above can reduce the responsibilities of the officiant, thus possibly making it easier to get a family member or friend to accept the responsibility.

Obituary submission/writing

Most funeral homes will (possibly for a fee, but usually included in a package price) put together an obituary and submit it for publication in the local newspaper.  Some newspapers also will, for a fee, write an obituary.  Some crematories also include this service in a direct cremation.

You must of course supply all the necessary information.  (See Obituary Information below)

You can also write and submit the obituary yourself.  Be sure you have valid identification and proof of the death in question when you take it to the newspaper!

Death Certificate

  • An attending physician signs the death certificate, which is usually filed in the county or district where the death occurred, where the body was found, or in which it was removed from a public conveyance or vehicle.
  • The death certificate must be filed before a burial permit can be issued.  The funeral home or crematory will usually perform this service, or you can do it yourself.
  • You will need certified copies of the death certificate for some financial institutions, insurance companies and real estate.  Get several of these to meet any possible needs; they are easier to obtain when originally filing than later on.
  • There are usually two types of death certificates offered – a long and short version.  The long version contains the cause of death.  You probably don’t need as many long versions.  Many institutions will accept a photo copy.
  • There is a minimal charge for certified copies (about $7 each).

Memorials (hand-outs at the funeral/celebration)

Funeral homes offer a variety of memorial cards, guest books, etc. for sale.  You can also purchase similar items at some stationery stores.

You can, if you wish, create your own memorial, using a meaningful poem, piece of prose or letter, along with a picture of the deceased.

Cremation Choice

So-called “direct cremation” is the least expensive and complicated option.   The body is cremated in a “temporary/alternative container” (particle board) and the “cremains” are placed in a container provided by the family (or whoever).   A memorial celebration can be held in a public park or other free venue, and the ashes can be scattered, buried somewhere other than in a cemetery, or simply retained by loved ones.  In some communities, the whole thing can be accomplished for as little as $500.

If the final disposition is to take place at a distance from where the death occurred, obviously, cremation would be the least expensive choice.


Cremation Authorization, signed and notarized by either the next of kin or an Authorized Representative, must be obtained by the crematory before the cremation can take place.  Some states allow a person, prior to death, to designate another person, not necessarily a relative, called an Authorized Representative, to be sure their final wishes are met.

State laws vary, however, usually “next of kin” is defined as:  If the deceased is over 18, their spouse, if they have one; next ALL their children over 18; then parents; then ALL living siblings.   If the whereabouts of any of these “next of kin” is unknown, the cremation CANNOT take place until all signed and notarized Cremation Authorization Statements have been received.  A storage fee can be charged until these documents are received.

Cremation Authorization Statements can be signed before the need in some states.  The funeral home or crematory can provide these statements or you can simply create your own.  HERE is a sample statement.

The deceased having paid for their cremation before the need does not negate the need for a Cremation Authorization Statement.

Some religions do not condone cremation and problems may arise in obtaining the required authorization.  This can often be resolved by discussing the financial differences in the options – Cremation $500-$2,000 or Burial approximately $8,000.

Look up “Cremation Services” in the Yellow Pages of your area’s telephone book(s).  You will also find cremation services listed under the “Funeral Home” category. (“Crematories” usually only deal directly with funeral homes, so that category probably won’t be helpful to you.)  Ask each one how much they charge for a Direct Cremation, which usually includes:

  • Removal of the body
  • Filing the death certificate and other permits
  • Submitting the obituary
  • A temporary/alternative (cardboard) container for cremation
  • The cremation
  • Placing the cremains in some sort of container or box
  • You pick up cremains  (mailed for an additional fee)

Be sure to ask exactly what is and is not included, and whether they charge a “basic services fee” in addition to the price for the services rendered.  There may be an additional charge for services rendered over the weekend.


You can purchase an urn on the Internet, from a crematory or local funeral home, or make one yourself!  Any sort of container that you find meaningful and proper is fine unless you plan to bury the urn in a cemetery or place it in a columbarium.  In that case, check with the cemetery to find out their requirements.

Disposal of Ashes

Ashes can be spread or buried just about anywhere, including at sea.  Sea burial will, of course, cost more if you have to hire a boat.  There are often laws that licensed Captains must follow that restrict the distance from shore that ashes can be spread.  (Practically speaking, cremains offer no health risk.)

While the cremains may be buried in a cemetery or placed in a columbarium niche, there is a charge for the space and for opening and closing it, as well as for a marker and, often, for “perpetual care” (maintenance).  You can, of course, keep the ashes yourself, or distribute them to various loved ones in specially created jewelry available on the Internet and elsewhere.

Burial Choice

Ground burial is the most expensive option and entails the following expenses:

  • Casket
  • Gravesite or mausoleum space
  • Document recording fees (“doc stamps”)
  • Grave liner/vault
  • Fee for installing the liner/vault
  • Grave marker
  • Fees for setting the grave marker
  • Opening and closing of the grave (extra on weekends)
  • Usually perpetual care (maintenance)
  • Plus the funeral home expenses

The average cost is between $8,000 and $10,000.

Funeral Home

Call all of the Funeral Homes in the Yellow Pages section of your area’s phone book(s).  Independent, family-owned funeral homes will almost always offer the best price.  Be aware, however, that many previously family-owned establishments have been purchased by large corporations, which change very little about the establishment’s public appearance, other than raising prices.  Some funeral homes also own cemeteries, which while convenient, is not necessarily the least expensive way to go.  You will be amazed how much prices vary.

For the least expensive burial option, ask the funeral director about the cost of an immediate burial.   They will probably give you a package price, which will usually include (be sure to ask):

  • Removal of the body
  • Filing of the death certificate and other permits
  • Submitting the obituary
  • Refrigeration until burial
  • Transportation to the cemetery

The casket will probably be extra and prices vary greatly, so be sure to ask the cost of their least expensive one.  Although cheaper caskets are available (see Caskets below), due to time constraints and other circumstances, it may be worth it to you to buy what they have to offer. Again, be sure to find out exactly what services are included in any package deal.  (Remember, they are usually required by law to give you itemized prices over the phone.)  It’s also possible to negotiate with them; for example, if a particular funeral home is closer to your home, but a little more expensive than another, call them back and ask them if they would be willing to match the price quoted by the one farther away.  Some funeral homes charge extra for weekend funerals – be sure to ask if it is an issue for you.

Note that not all funeral homes have their own cemeteries.  A funeral home “package” deal probably does not include a cemetery plot and all the related requirements (see Cemetery below) unless they tell you it does.

First of all, find out if your cemetery of choice has any restrictions concerning the type of caskets they permit. If you are purchasing the casket through a funeral home, this is usually not a concern; but if you acquire one independently, it’s important to find out.

The least expensive place to buy a casket is on the Internet.  Many sites offer them for as little as $800, and even less for particleboard containers.  The price usually includes overnight shipping to most major cities, but it’s a good idea to make sure of that.  (Always be on the lookout for “hidden” charges!  And remember, funeral homes are NOT permitted to charge you a handling fee if you supply your own casket.)  Caskets purchased from a funeral home may cost from two and a half to thirteen times the wholesale price.

If you have the carpentry skills and the tools to do so, you can make a casket yourself for even less money.  They can be built of particleboard, metal or wood.  No material delays the natural decaying process – not even the “sealer caskets” that are often promoted to do so.

Caskets can usually be rented for a viewing if cremation is to take place later.  Remember, if a viewing is requested, embalming will probably be required, which will add at least $350 to the overall cost.

Caskets as low as $249:
Cardboard caskets:
Make your own:

Some funeral homes also own cemeteries.  These combination establishments are the easiest for the consumer, but they can be expensive.  Again, you can “let your fingers do the walking”; call the Cemeteries listed in the Yellow Pages of your local phone book.  Ask if they will do an immediate burial (sometimes referred to as a “direct burial”), and of course ascertain what is included (see list above and Cemetery Call Sheet).  Be sure to ask if they have any restrictions about caskets and markers.

Most cities have a cemetery that may be less expensive than privately owned establishments; however, they might not offer all the other services and products required.  Call the City Clerk’s office to obtain information or referral to the proper local authority.  Also, many churches have cemeteries for their congregations, but of course, it’s usually necessary that the deceased be a member of that church.  This may not always be the case, however; depending on where you live, it might be worth checking out.

There may be a “cemetery broker” in your community who handles the resale of cemetery property or you may be able to find gravesites for sale in the classified ads in your local newspaper or at

Grave Vault/Liner or Crypt
Most cemeteries in the U. S. (except National Cemeteries) require a grave liner or vault (a “box for the box”), or crypt (liner built for two) in order to reduce the likelihood of the ground caving in when the casket deteriorates (such an eventuality makes cemetery maintenance a lot more difficult). Liners cost $300 and up, and are usually purchased from the cemetery or the funeral home.

Crypts are more expensive initially, but could save you money if there will be another loved one to bury on top at a later date.  You will probably also save on the grave site expense as the caskets will be stacked one on top of the other with a divider between.

There is often an extra charge to place the vault or crypt.  Be sure to ask.  Ask for their least expensive option – no one sees it and it does nothing but help them with their maintenance.

Grave marker
Grave markers can be purchased from the cemetery, funeral home or directly from the monument maker.  Most cemeteries have rules about what type of marker can be placed (flat, upright, raised or angled).  Be sure to check with the cemetery before purchasing one from someone else.  They are fashioned from a variety of possible materials (various types of stone, metal, etc.) and start at about $350.  A hefty fee is often charged to set the marker whether you purchase it from the cemetery or elsewhere.

Call Sheets
These Call Sheets are a convenient way of recording the information you acquire when you make your phone calls.  Remember, there is no reason to be uncomfortable about asking for prices – funeral establishments are required by law in most states to give them to you on the phone.  Compare prices, and don’t hesitate to haggle!  If you are given a package price, check off what is included on the Call Sheets.  Be sure to ask if there are any additional charges.

Final Decisions/Choices

 Body Donation (yes/no)

 Organ Donation (yes/no)

 Cremation (yes/no)

 Authorization signed

Return ashes to (name):

Pick up ashes

Mail ashes (address):

Final ashes disposal:


Casket description (color, material, budget):

Embalming  (Yes or No)


Graveside service

Grave marker inscription:

Pallbearers (at least 4):

Hearse to Cemetery

Funeral car(s) for family (how many people):


Family only     Public





Memorial/Funeral location and address:

Memorial/Funeral Date ____________________________  Time:

Officiant 1st choice:

2nd choice:

Flowers  Type/color:

Charity in lieu of flowers:

Music Preference:

Memorial handouts

Purchase (who, where):

   Create own (who):

Guest book (who):

Other funeral/memorial requests

Obituary Information

Name of deceased:

Date of birth:

Age at time of death:

Place of death:



Military record (if applicable):

Any special accomplishments:

Surviving spouse:

Spouse’s city of residence:

Surviving children & city of residence:

Number of grandchildren:

Number of great grandchildren:


Download a Free copy of this page that includes Call Sheet forms.

Transition Planning
Links & Resources