What Does a Funeral Director Do? Role and Duties

Published October 28, 2020
Funeral director in a casket showroom

Anyone interested in the funeral industry might wonder, "What does a funeral director do?" Funeral directors plan and coordinate the requirements for a funeral, and their skills often place them in a role of communicating with people during a difficult time of life, managing or owning their own business, and performing some unique skills. Here are some of their opportunities and challenges.

What Does a Funeral Director Do: Sensitive Communication

Funeral directors have many responsibilities in coordinating the events of a funeral. The funeral director must be a superb communicator of sensitive information during times of intense stress and grief. Of course, a primary responsibility oversees the preparation of the body of the deceased for its final resting place, along with the transportation of the remains for burial, all abiding by laws and regulations. In addition funeral directors prepare obituary notices and distribute them to print and social media. They can arrange for clergy and pallbearers, schedule the arrangements at the cemetery, prepare and decorate the sites for all of the services, and work with florists and caterers. Many of their tasks include:

  • Counseling with families of the deceased to arrange details of the funeral, including obituary wording, casket selection, and plans for the services
  • Supervising the work of embalmers, funeral attendants, cosmetologists, and other staff
  • Overseeing all service operations to make sure they comply with policies and laws
  • Selling funeral products and prearranged funeral services
  • Plannign and implementing services at the funeral home to meet community needs and increase funeral home revenues
  • Planning and implementing marketing strategies for the funeral home operations
  • Scheduling funerals, burials and cremations
  • Maintaining records and documents of services and inventories for the state
  • Training and developing staff in technical skills and communication abilities
Woman shaking hands in funeral parlor

Operating a Small Business

Most funeral homes are actually small, family-run businesses. Funeral directors are often owner-operators of the business and either manage employees or are employees themselves with managerial responsibilities.


Meeting the needs of a family preparing for a funeral involves both goods and services. Final interment of a body, whether in a casket through burial or in an urn through cremation, involves a variety of products with many styles and costs. The funeral director must be sensitive in presenting options and choices during a stressful time in the lives of the grieving family. Prearranged funerals, another option involving sales, are becoming increasingly popular, taking difficult decisions away from families during the intense time of grief.


The entire process of preparing for and conducting a funeral is a service to the family and the community. As with any business, customer care and satisfaction with the products and services delivered is an important part of maintaining and growing the business. Because of the sensitive nature of the funeral, emotions also run high for those involved. Compassion, care, and counsel for the grieving has become a vital part of the business. Each year, funeral directors are helping individuals cope with and manage the changes in their lives because of the death of a loved one by providing support groups and aftercare services.


Funeral directors handle the paperwork involved in finalizing a person's death. Papers must be submitted to the proper state authorities so that a death certificate can be issued and distributed. In addition, the funeral director may help family members fill out paperwork, apply for veteran's burial benefits, and notify Social Security administrators of the death. Funeral directors may be asked to help apply for the transfer of pensions and settle insurance policies or annuities.

Unique Tasks and Services Provided by Funeral Directors

In addition to spending time with grieving families and operating a small business, there are unique tasks the funeral director is called upon to perform or manage. Here are three important skills the funeral director performs.


Most funeral directors are licensed embalmers. Embalming is a sanitary process of preserving the body and preparing it for interment. If more than 24 hours will pass between death and interment, most states require that the remains be refrigerated or embalmed. The embalming process washes the body with special soaps and replaces the blood with embalming fluids to preserve the tissues. Cosmetic reshaping, reconstructing and make-up will be used to provide a natural appearance of the body. The body then will be dressed and placed in a casket. Most funeral directors maintain records of the embalming procedures and itemized lists of clothing and jewelry used with the body.

Respecting Customs and Traditions

The site and content of the funeral service depends entirely on the wishes of the family. Religions and even denominations and sects of a religion have their own traditions and standards that the funeral director must take into account. Even non-religious ceremonies have traditions which must be upheld. The funeral director should be aware of the different customs and traditions of faiths, ethnic groups, and civic organizations.


Cremation continues to gain in popularity. Its costs are usually lower, and there is a great deal of convenience in the process. When the body is cremated, funeral services can be held anywhere and at a time when it is convenient for all family and friends to attend. A funeral service held for a cremation is not much different than one for a traditional burial.

Body being moved for cremation

Finding Satisfaction in Helping Families

The work of a funeral director can be both physically and emotionally challenging, and the circumstances of the work are sometimes stressful. People in this profession ultimately find satisfaction and reward in helping families navigate the stresses of one of the most difficult aspects of life, losing a loved one. What does a funeral director do? The funeral director cares for people.

What Does a Funeral Director Do? Role and Duties