Avoid These 15 Mistakes When Planning Your Next Personalized Funeral Service

Planning a personalized funeral isn’t always the easiest play in the book. 

One of those reasons is because personalization means totally different things to both families and funeral directors alike.

What makes one family’s heart sing, could be completely off base for a different one. 

So how do you offer services that truly resonate, while avoiding the pitfalls? Save yourself a little time and learn about the “what not to do’s” of funeral personalization.

We’ve collected these 15 mistakes to avoid when planning your next personalized funeral service, in the hopes that they will help you guide families towards the funeral services they really want.


#1 Taking complete control of the process

“I feel that personalization is key, and that the family should be in the driver’s seat. Its a funeral director’s job to help direct the family in the right direction for that particular family. If a director never mentions personalization then that family is probably never going to know the many options they have to personalize their loved ones service.”

—  Jamie Dalfero

It’s easy to get lost in the “I know what families need” mentality, when the truth is that every family is going to have different needs. Sometimes the best approach is to be the narrator in the “choose your own adventure” funeral service book.  Show them the options and make appropriate suggestions, prompting them to choose what feels right for the kind of service they want. It’s a give and take, balance is the key here!


#2 Pushing services on families 

The slimy sales focused funeral director is certainly one of the biggest and most cringe worthy tropes in the funeral profession. Definitely one that you do NOT want to reinforce by offering services to families in a way that feels pushy. 

Instead of simply presenting options to families like a sales pitch, turn it into a story and a conversation where the options organically come forward. This way you’ll center on the family’s desires while giving them inspiration, sometimes they don’t even know what is a possibility! 


#3 Talking too much

It’s important to truly listen to what families want and not make it about you. There is always an urge to fill those awkward silences, but make sure the conversation is flowing and bouncing back and forth between you and the client family. If they need a little help opening up, ask questions rather than presenting the answers you think they want. Keep it genuine and leave space for families to process and offer their words.

Read more: What It Means To Be a Good Listener In The Funeral Profession


#4  Overdoing it with the celebration

It can be tempting to take personalization to the next level and want to make everything a party, but not everyone is looking for that kind of service. We love this quote by Linda Newnum below which explains this best:

“We can adapt to provide families with funerals they find value in by offering more choices. Personalization is the key. If the family feels that they are in the driver’s seat, they tend to be satisfied. Let the family set the tone, traditional or non-traditional. 

If they want a beer in dad’s hand, while AC/DC is playing, then give it to them. If they want dad’s Harley jacket draped over his Harley Davidson motorcycle sitting in the corner of the room, then do it. Or, if a family wants the traditional hymns played by an organist, with tissues on every other chair, then that is what they get. Pull pictures together for a DVD to be played on the screen in the corner of the room. 

However, the family chooses to grieve the loss or celebrate the life, that is how it must be done. We, as funeral directors, need to be as flexible and adaptable as possible. If they don’t attend church and have no desire for us to call a Pastor for them, then help them with finding a Celebrant instead.”


#5 Making assumptions about what families want

One of the biggest assumptions we see funeral directors make is assuming a family who chooses cremation doesn’t want to do anything personalized. There are tons of ways to offer personalization to any service, no matter how simple and cost effective. From memorial picture slide shows to playing the deceased’ favorite music, small touches that are low cost can make a big difference to helping services feel tailored and one of a kind. Families notice when you take time and care to meet them where they are at, emotionally and price wise.


#6  Not asking enough questions

This one is simple enough – the more questions you ask, the better you can serve your families! This goes hand in hand with not assuming what they want. Asking questions and letting the family tell you what they want will help steer you away from making assumptions, and they may even surprise you! It may seem like Granny wants a traditional service, but it turns out she was a punk rocker – you never know!

Read More: 10 Questions to Ask Families That Turn An Average Funeral Service Into A Unique Celebration


#7  Forgetting your value

It can be easy to get disheartened by the many families who don’t want anything personalized, but keep your head up! You still shine as a thoughtful funeral professional, even if the family is looking for no service options at all. 


#8  Keeping your options limited to what’s been done before

Don’t be afraid to think wild and crazy and come up with completely new ideas! Just because it hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Who would have ever thought having drive thru viewings or putting on a theatrical production as a funeral service would be something a funeral home could do? With some creativity and an open mind, the sky’s the limit. 


#9 Emphasizing religion

Religion is no longer the number one aspect of a funeral for many people. Ask families what kind of tone they would like to their funeral before assuming religion will be the centerpiece. Over the past 6 years,  the number of people seeking religious funeral services has dropped by 10%. That means these days only 38% of people will want a religious component to their services, and the numbers are still declining. However, just because people are no longer as religious it doesn’t mean they want a service devoid of any spirituality. Learn more about the beauty of services that are spiritual, but not religious here.


#10 Not checking in regularly

Ask your families about how they’re feeling with everything through every step of the planning service. Ask them to tell you what sensations they feel in their body. What thoughts are coming up? Give them a moment to get honest with you, and let you know how you can support them best. This is such an important question that often gets overlooked. Don’t miss this one!

Read More: How To Be A Better Communicator with Your Families [Slide Deck]


#11 Forgetting that funeral planning can be easeful, and even… fun!

Getting together and remembering the loved one through planning can bring up all emotions, and some of those can be good! This process could even be fun, especially for families who choose to have a celebration of life. There is a lot of joy and laughter that goes into honoring a beloved spirit, don’t forget to make space for fun!

Joe Pray observes this in his guest post, The Art of Imagineering a Unique Funeral Service:

“For us, collaborating with families like [anonymous name] has helped them face the loss with hope. Hope as they realized that others would see the facets of their loved one’s life and carry a bit of her spirit with them after the funeral.”


#12 Leaving your imagination behind

Joe Pray hits us with another hard-not-to-mention truth below: 

“Use your imagination and don’t be afraid to tell families about the ideas you may come up with. If presented respectfully, even the over-the-top suggestions will be well received. There are times we propose a creative idea and the family says, ‘good idea, but no thank you.’ Those families are affirming that they would like a more traditional service. More often the response is ‘Really, we can do that?’”

-Joe Pray via The Art of Imagineering a Unique Funeral Service


#13 Don’t just be another commodity

Some client families will say “We don’t have time or funds to do the extra things.” No problem for some, but beware if you find yourself getting stuck with this excuse with the majority of families.. If you don’t take the time to differentiate your services and make them more meaningful for families in a way that isn’t salesy (as mentioned above), you are in the downward spiral of a failing business. 

When the public sees you as a simple commodity, they will go to the least expensive option for a mediocre service. That translates to much less income for your firm, or worse yet, no income for your firm because they called XYZ Discount Firm down the street, and have a Do-It-Yourself gathering at home, if they do anything at all.


#14 Not investing in personalization props

We recommend investing in minimal props and elements that could work for most creative personalized services you plan. In many cases, the family will gladly pay the cost of the creative things that you suggest for the service. In some cases, the cost may be paid by the funeral home. Many props you develop for a creative service can be re-used for other services. The benefit will be well worth the expense in the eyes of the family and their guests.


#15 Not being open to family’s ideas

Inspiration is a two way street! If we want families to be open to our wild and crazy ideas we need to be open to theirs as well, within reason of course. Personalization is something that needs to come from the hearts of the families at the end of the day, after all they are the experts when it comes to their loved one. Ask questions and be truly open to what their response might be. Two heads are better than one and families may even give you inspiration for many services to come! 

Are you feeling more informed and empowered to put on epic personalized services? We certainly hope so! Now that you know the common pitfalls you can go out with confidence and dazzle your client families with your unique ideas!

Want to feel supported as you step into the realm of offering unique services? Grab a 30-day free trial of our Life Tributes All-In-One Personalization Software by clicking here.

What other mistakes have you made when it comes to planning your personalized services? Tell us in the comments below!

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  1. John M

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write this guide! All of the tips are spot on and I think will save people a lot of time and stress from not having to plan as much. Great tips!

  2. Krystal Penrose

    Thanks John! Glad you got something from them 🙂