Planning a funeral: the first steps you need to take

When planning a funeral or tangi, there are many steps that you’ll need to take, but what are they, and what do you need to concern yourself with first?

While funerals provide one last opportunity for friends and family to say goodbye to a loved one, the process is an emotional and exhausting time. The first steps when planning a funeral can seem daunting and overwhelming at a time when you are grieving.

It's important to know that there's no right or wrong way to plan a funeral, and that most of the decisions will be deeply personal. However, there's a process most funerals follow, and knowing the steps you’ll need to take (and in what order) can take some of the pressure off what feels like a challenging situation.

How to arrange a funeral

Planning a funeral involves two functions. Firstly, what to do with the deceased’s physical remains, and secondly, how to honour the life and memory of the person who's passed away. Within these two functions stems a multitude of decisions that need to be made in order to arrange a funeral.

First calls

The funeral process actually begins with making the first calls after a person has passed away. This involves contacting the funeral home, so that the body can be moved away from the place of death and to the funeral home, awaiting further arrangements. This can be done after the deceased’s doctor has attended and completed the necessary certification. If the death is unexpected the police should be called first.

Write an obituary or funeral notice

It's the choice of loved ones whether to write an obituary, funeral notice, or both. Writing an obituary allows for a short bio of the deceased to be written while also informing people that the person has passed away.

The choice is personal and comes down to how many times people want to write about their loved one’s passing, and how much they want to spend on placing a notice in the newspaper.


Before making any plans, it's important to determine if the deceased had made any pre-arrangements in the form of a funeral plan.

A big decision that comes out of a funeral plan is knowing whether or not the deceased wished to be cremated or buried. This might not be mentioned in the funeral plan, but surviving family members may know what their loved one wanted.

Funeral services

You should then meet with a funeral director in the funeral home where the body is being held. The meeting will sort out arrangements in terms of how the body will be cared for and what type of ceremony will be held.

Choosing a cemetery

Sometimes people who have passed already have a plot purchased in a cemetery. However, if this is not the case, loved ones will need to meet with officials from their chosen cemetery to purchase interment property.  

Organising a coffin/casket/cremation

Relatives will need to visit the funeral home in order to decide what your loved one will either be buried or cremated in. You can choose between traditional coffins, simpler styles and more environmentally friendly ones.

Planning the ceremony

It’s now time to work out the order of service and how the church or memorial location will be decorated. This involves finding an officiant, choosing readings and who'll read them, appointing a eulogist and finalising musical choices for throughout the service. Here’s a step by step guide to writing and giving a eulogy.

When it comes to planning the ceremony, many choices need to be made. There are small scale choices like decorations, to large scale ones such as if the body will be present.

Estate and financial planning

Following the funeral, the deceased’s affairs must be put in order. These matters range from filing death benefit claims on any life or funeral insurance policies and changing the title of some assets. You can find out more about the costs you can expect to pay in the New Zealand Seniors Cost of Death Report.

After the funeral, the bills will start coming in. If a funeral director was hired, there will be a fee for them that consists of everything from transporting the deceased to arranging the service. 

Planning a funeral

When planning a funeral there are many details that need to be organised. From first calls to service arrangements, there is a lot to consider. The process can be overwhelming but taking a step by step approach ensures that all decisions are made accurately and appropriately.