What If I Don't Want a Funeral? Handling Final Wishes

Published December 4, 2020
Woman with urn spreading ashes

Traditional funeral services have been a standard procedure for Americans throughout the past two centuries. In recent times, Americans are choosing different paths to navigate the days following death. "What if I don't want a funeral?" is becoming a very real question for many families. Here are some thoughts to consider.

Why Wouldn't You Want a Funeral?

While there are no laws that require a funeral service, there are regulations regarding how the body of a dead person can be disposed. Using a funeral director is not a requirement, but is a convenience because of their experience and expertise. There are several legitimate reasons some express in not wanting a traditional funeral.

I Don't Want a Funeral Because It Costs too Much

The costs of almost everything associated with a funeral continue to rise. Many people do not want this type of financial burden to be placed upon their loved ones.

I Don't Want All of the Fuss

The pomp and circumstance of the funeral service is opposed to the personalities of some individuals. Their choice is for less formality in the service.

Death Is a Private Matter

In a similar manner, some people want such an intimate experience to be kept by only those closest in the family.

I Don't Want to Support Religious Traditions

Many of the traditions around a funeral service are filled with religious beliefs and wording. Some people do not want those beliefs associated with their life if they did not support the beliefs.

Make Your Wishes Clear

Desires for memorial services or other detailed plans do no good if no one is aware of your wishes. Though the conversations seem difficult, talking about it beforehand will alleviate stress later.

Communicate With Your Family

Talk with your family members about your thoughts and wishes about funerals and services. Explain why you have arrived at the conclusions you have made. They may not have thought about things from your perspective. Remember that a funeral service is just as much about helping the grieving individuals left behind as it is about respecting and honoring your life.

Recommend Funeral Alternatives

It is natural for family and friends who remain to want to memorialize, in some way, the death of a loved one. Discuss an acceptable memorial that can serve as a funeral alternative. In addition to the five general ways listed below, there are many other alternatives to funerals.

  • Scattering ashes. Services around scattering ashes following a cremation can be as brief as you desire. Think about the places where remains might be scattered and begin exploring these options.
  • Virtual funeral. Travel problems and delays prompt people to choose to use a virtual memorial gathering. Many funeral homes are help coordinate virtual services.
  • Memorial service and dinner. This type of service can also be as traditional as desired. While eulogies and readings can be a part of the service, the time of sharing the meal encourages informal conversations and the sharing of memories.
  • Home funeral. If the funeral home setting seems stilted and impersonal, a funeral held in a home can be much more intimate. This service requires more from the family, so discussion beforehand is vital.
  • Planting a tree. With more and more emphasis being placed on care for the environment, planting a tree becomes a perfect way to memorize a death. If the body has been cremated, the ashes can be used in the soil used for planting.
spreading ash to soil

Make Your Wishes Official

The decisions about holding a funeral service often coincides with other decisions about final wishes. Personal preferences about cremation or other alternatives to funerals should be discussed. Also discuss ways that friends and family will be notified, how an obituary should be worded, and other specific instructions. The more clear the explanations of your desires and the more people who know your wishes, the better the communication process will be.

Record Your Wishes in Your Will

Creating a written copy of your wishes for the funeral is important in assuring that your desires will be carried out. The easiest way to do this is to include them in the writing of your will. Keep the will in a location where family members can easily find it. Let at least one person know where the document is stored.

Develop a Funeral Plan With a Funeral Director

Pre-planning a funeral takes the worry and stress away from the family during their time of grief. Work with a funeral director to record your wishes for the funeral service and to secure your plans for the disposal of your body. Many of these things can be paid for in advance.

Communication Is the Key

Regardless of the decisions made, it is important to communicate desires and expectations within the family. Perhaps there is no more important occasion than the death of a family member and loved one. Expressing the personal desires are important to assist the family in processing grief.

What If I Don't Want a Funeral? Handling Final Wishes