What Documentation is Needed for Planning a Funeral?

Nathan Miller – March 19, 2018


Let’s assume that your spouse has died. You know all of their personal and biographical information, right? Of course, you do. Now let’s assume that you have a crazy uncle living off the grid in the middle of the woods. He was out one day hunting for his lunch, when all of a sudden, he gets bit in the ankle by a rattlesnake. Because he is so far away from civilization, by the time he finds help, it is too late. He dies. And guess what?! You are his next-of-kin and the lucky one to arrange his funeral. Now, do you know all of his personal and biographical information? Probably not. Let’s talk a little about what information and documentation you may need to arrange a loved one’s funeral and finalize all the paperwork.

When you meet with the funeral home, there are so many questions being asked that your head is spinning. There are a few things you can bring with you to the arrangement conference to help answer all the questions.

Probably one of the most significant items is the Social Security card. If you know where your deceased loved one kept his/her card, make sure you get it and bring it with you. The funeral home might already have the deceased’s social security number, but it never hurts to reassure it by the card. Also, the death certificate has to have the decedent’s legal name, which is how the name reads on the card. You can put whatever name you choose to put on the obituary, but the death certificate has to match the social security card.

Other information items that will be needed for the death certificate are:

  • The deceased’s birthdate and birthplace (city and state or foreign country).
  • The deceased’s parents’ names prior to first marriage.
  • If the deceased was a married man and his wife is still living, the wife’s maiden name.
  • The deceased’s education status (i.e. 8th grade or less, high school graduate or GED, doctorate, etc.).
  • The deceased’s usual occupation (the nature of work done during most of his/her working life).
  • The deceased’s race. Race can be one sort or an amalgamation (i.e. Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Native Hawaiian, Samoan, White, etc.).

If you are uncertain about some of these items, both the birth certificate and the marriage certificate are beneficial documents to bring. One thing to remember about the death certificate is that there will be an informant printed on it. The informant is someone who will be approving the information on the Death Certificate Worksheet, so that the Death Certificate itself will have the correct information. Usually, the next of kin is the individual signing.

Ok, let’s assume that the deceased was a veteran. You are going to want to make sure we can have military funeral honors at the service. In order for that to be a certainty, bring his/her military discharge papers. There is one form, in particular that would be perfect for all branches of the military; it is called the DD Form 214. If you are unable to locate that form, look for the DD Form 553, Discharge Certificates, VA Service Verification, or any other discharge paperwork you can locate. As long as we have the necessary paperwork, we will be able to get the military to perform their funeral honors for the service. Most of the time, the military will play TAPS and fold and present the flag to the indicated next of kin. If the veteran is retired after 20+ years, an officer, or killed in action, he or she may be entitled to additional honors (firing squad, pallbearers, etc.).

If your loved one was astute enough to take care of his/her prearrangements with the funeral home and/or the cemetery, it would be a good idea to bring in your copies of the manuscripts. The funeral home/cemetery should also have their copies of the paperwork. Sometimes, there are notes made on the families’ copies that may not have been made on the others. Also, most “paperwork” is done digitally now, so some annotations that were made on the papers may not have made it to the digital copy. Also, if the decedent has a Last Will and Testament with specific funeral instructions, you may want to bring that.

Lastly, let’s talk about the payment method. You will want to make sure that you know how the expenses will be funded. If there is a life insurance policy that will be used for payment, make sure you bring that policy with you. It can often take 48 – 72 hours to verify an insurance policy. That can halt your funeral plans if you do not have the policy in order.

Knowing where all these documents are located is tremendously important. Tim Cox, Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes Downtown Location Supervisor and Funeral Director, said: “One of the problems a family will face is the location of documents.” He stated that some families place these important papers in safety deposit boxes. The problem with that is sometimes that box cannot be opened until the probate court appoints the personal representative. This process could take several days, if not weeks. These documents need to be kept where the family can procure them.

Now, knowing the location of the paperwork is not enough. You will also need to make sure that all the documents are up to date. Tim Cox expressed that another problem we see at the funeral home is whenever the beneficiary listed on the life insurance policy has not been updated, and the beneficiary is deceased. This can add even more paperwork and slow down the entire arrangement process. Also, make sure that the personal representative listed in the will is up to date.

Whenever a loved one dies, it is not just an emotional matter for those left behind, but a legal matter as well. Unfortunately, there is a lot of paperwork that requires timely completion. The funeral director you meet with will be able to get you started in the right “direction” (thus the name “director”). If you are not certain which papers are significant enough to bring to the funeral home, bring it all. Molly Bishop, an At-Need Administrative Assistant with Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes, said it best: “It’s always better to have too much information, than not enough.”

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