After a death in the family, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. However, if you’re the next of kin or the agent of the deceased, you have responsibilities. The good news is that you can — and in some states you must — hire a funeral director who will take care of most of the arrangements. The bad news is that you have to choose a funeral director to hire. This is not a trivial decision because different directors provide different services. The following is a step-by-step guide to selecting a funeral home:

Step One | Notify the government.
If you’re on the scene when the deceased dies, you must inform the state. If the death takes place in a medical care facility, the doctor will take care of this. Otherwise, you will have to call a coroner or a medical examiner. You’ll also need to call local law enforcement if the death was due to unknown causes.

Step Two | Find out whether the deceased left last wishes.

Contact the deceased’s lawyer and any members of the family who might have known the last wishes. If you discover that the deceased appointed an agent, then that agent has precedence over the next of kin.

Step Three | Determine your budget.

It’s a good idea to work out the finances of a funeral before the logistics, as a financial snarl can upend other plans. Many people save for their funerals ahead of time using tax-favored means like life insurance or payable-on-death accounts. Military members are eligible for burial benefits, and any veteran may be buried in a national cemetery for free. Find out what arrangements, if any, the deceased made. If there are none, you’ll have to front the money, although you may be reimbursed once the estate is settled. What you’ll pay varies widely by state, but the average burial in the U.S. in 2019, cost $7,640. A bare-bones cremation is only about $350. However, most cremations include a memorial service and viewing with a casket rental, which costs a few thousand dollars.

Step Four | Get recommendations.

If the deceased was a member of a religious congregation, contact its leadership and find out who usually handles their funerals. in some religions, it is common for the faith leader to be a licensed funeral director. If there is no congregation, talk to any friends or family who have arranged funerals in the past.

Step Five | Make a decision.
Once you have a list of recommendations, call or visit them. The Federal Trade Commission requires funeral homes to give out pricing information in person or over the phone, and it should be clear what does and what does not fit within your budget. Each director will provide a different package of services. Some are independent directors — that is, not attached to a funeral home — who generally have lower overhead but less control over the cost of the venue. Others are attached to a combination funeral home and cemetery, and they will know exactly how much the entire burial process will cost. Be sure to compare apples to apples.

In the aftermath of a death, funeral arrangements are often the last thing you want to handle. But if you know the basics of funeral planning, there’s no need to be overwhelmed. You should be able to organize a funeral that your whole family and all the deceased’s friends will appreciate.