Funeral Planning

Although people tend to avoid thinking about funerals until faced with the death of a loved one, it is just a natural part of planning for the future. Waiting until death, a time of stress and grief, often makes it a difficult time to finalize necessary arrangements. Planning ahead can help.

Cemetery plots are purchased directly from the cemetery. Sometimes the funeral services business can assist in purchasing a cemetery plot. In most cemeteries, you can buy space (a cemetery plot, mausoleum crypt or columbarium niche) in advance. The consumer owns the plot once it is paid for. Be sure to confirm the location of your plot with the cemetery operator to ensure the location you have chosen matches what your paperwork says. In some cemeteries, other goods and services can be purchased in advance such as opening and closing the grave or vaults. Under the Cemeteries Act, it is prohibited for a provider of a prearranged cemetery goods or services to contact you by telephone or door to door unless you have specifically requested a presentation.

There are a variety of ways to prearrange your funeral:

  • Prearrange your funeral with the help of a funeral home. You may enter into a guaranteed pre-need contract funded by trust or funded by an insurance product. These contracts provide for the purchase of specific goods and services.
  • An insurance policy can be purchased from a licensed agent, which will be a lump sum of money to go towards funeral costs. These policies do not provide for the purchase of specific goods and services.
  • Set out your wishes in a letter of instruction for your next of kin or executor to follow after your death. You may also set aside money at a financial institution to play for the funeral.
  • It should be noted that at the time of death, a prearrangement may be altered by the next of kin or executor. Be sure to tell your next of kin or executor about your wishes.

Under the Funeral Services Act funeral homes that accept payment for a prearranged funeral must be specifically licensed. All details must be provided in a written contact. Your contract will tell you where the trust account is located, or which insurance company holds the policy.

When looking for a prearrangement plan, shop around if possible as prices for funeral goods and services can vary greatly. It is prohibited under the legislation for funeral service businesses to contact you over the telephone or door to door to offer to sell prearranged funerals unless you specifically request a presentation.

You may want to make plans and arrange for payment for your own funeral, without paying money in advance to a funeral home. If so, please consider the following steps:

  • Once you know what you want, set aside the necessary funds in a bank, trust account or through an insurance policy.
  • If you have specific wishes about what is to be done with your body, write them out and discuss with family members and your executor.
  • If there is an objection to your plan and you feel strongly about your wishes, prepare specific instruction and have them written in your Will.
  • If you family agrees to your plans, simply write out your preference in a letter or instruction. Describe the type of service you want, and whether you would prefer burial or cremation.
  • Prepare a Will and financial record and advise where you keep it in your letter of instruction.

When making funeral arrangements, here are some of the things you will need to consider:

  • What kind of farewell will be appropriate?
  • Will the deceased be buried or cremated?
  • Will the deceased be embalmed?
  • What type of casket is desired?
  • Who can make funeral arrangements?

Funeral services may be simple or lavish, private or public. They may be held in a church, funeral chapel, or other facility with the deceased present, followed by burial or cremation or entombment. There are two general categories of services:

  • Traditional Funeral Service – A traditional funeral involves a service in a church, funeral chapel, or other facility with the deceased present, followed by burial or cremation or entombment. Funeral directors are legally required to provide a written contract which must contain a detailed list of funeral goods and services provided and the cost of each. There may be additional charges for cremation, cemetery fees, flowers, monuments, obituary costs, honorariums etc.
  • Memorial Service – A memorial service is most often held within a few days or weeks of the death. Memorial services, like funeral services, can be large or small, and can be held in a church, funeral home chapel, or other facility. A memorial service is held when the body is not present. For example, the deceased may have been buried immediately after death, cremated or donated for medical research prior to any service.

Burial is a traditional choice for Albertans, but cremation is becoming much more popular. Deciding between burial and cremation will depend on many factors, including the wishes of the deceased, personal values and religious beliefs.

In Alberta, burials must be made in registered cemeteries. The land set aside for cemeteries is protected in perpetuity which ensures the land would never be used for a different purpose. It would be contrary to the legislation (illegal) to bury human remains anywhere other than a registered cemetery. Burial on private land or crown land that has not been set aside for a cemetery is strictly prohibited.

Cremation is the process of incineration of a human body in a crematory. The cremation process is considered to be the final disposition. After cremation, all that usually remains of the body is 2 to 3 kilograms of mechanically reduced bone ash.

Embalming involves substituting a chemical fluid from bodily fluids to preserve the deceased temporarily. This is usually done for cosmetic and sanitary purposes when the deceased is to be viewed in an open casket. Embalming also allows a time interval between time of death and time of disposition. Embalming is required if a deceased is transported by common carrier unless the body is placed in a sealed metal container. Consider the benefits of embalming and the wishes of the deceased and next of kin.

The price of the casket must be considered when you consider the total cost of a funeral. Prices range from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars depending on whether you chose a plywood, cloth covered, hardwood or metal casket. Ask to be shown a range of choices.

The family may choose to scatter the cremated remains in a special place, or the deceased may have left specific instructions for this. However, because the act of scattering is irreversible, it is recommended that this decision be discussed and thought out in advance. An option might be to scatter some cremated remains and have some placed in a registered cemetery so there will be a permanent record of the death. Permission must be obtained from the landowner prior to the scattering of cremated remains on any property. Scattering cremated remains in flowing waters of a National Park is strictly prohibited.

Funeral services businesses can assist families who will be applying for funding for the funeral. There will be eligibility requirements to be met which are determined through the application process.

Human Services Funeral Benefits – This program is in place to ensure deceased persons are given a proper burial or cremation where the estate or responsible survivors are unable to pay for funeral expenses. Applications for funeral benefits are submitted by the funeral home to the Alberta Supports Contact Centre.

Last Post Fund – The Veterans Affairs Canada Funeral and Burial Program ensures that Veterans receive dignified funeral and burial services. Veterans must meet both military service and financial criteria. It is best to contact the Last Post Fund to discuss your specific situation. They can be contact by 1-800-465-7113 (toll free) or by email: The website is

Public Trustee - The Public Trustee is appointed by the Alberta Government under the Public Trustee Act to protect the financial interests of vulnerable Albertans. They act on behalf of people with mental disabilities, administer the estates of deceased of people with mental disabilities and protected the property interests of minors. For more information visit their website at or call toll free 310-0000 then dial 780-427-2744 for the Edmonton office or 403-297-6541 for the Calgary office.

Memorial societies are voluntary, non-profit organizations dedicated to helping people arrange simple, dignified and inexpensive funerals in advance. There is a membership registration fee. Most memorial societies have a legal contract or an agreement with one or more local funeral homes to provide services for members. If you move, your membership files can be transferred to the new local memorial society.

Medical science makes valuable use of donated tissues and organs for research, teaching and transplants. The entire body may be donated under the Human Tissue Gift Act. The process is quite easy, and a financial contribution may be requested for donating a body to science. You should also be aware that not all bodies are accepted. Be sure to tell your next of kin about your wishes. It is advisable to carry a signed donor card in your wallet and/or fill the donor form on the back of your Alberta personal Health card. If you are willing to donate an entire body for medical research and education, please contact:

University of Alberta
Division of Anatomy
501 Medical Sciences Building, Edmonton, AB T6G 2H7
(780) 492-2203

University of Calgary
Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy
3330 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, AB T2N 4N1
(403) 220-6950

Please contact Human Organ Procurement and Exchange (HOPE) in Edmonton or Calgary. Representatives are available to give information to the family at the time of death:

HOPE c/o
Aberhart Centre
11402 University Avenue, Edmonton, AB T6G 2J3

HOPE c/o
Foothills Medical Centre
1403-29 Street NW, Calgary, AB T2N 2T9
1-403-944-8700 (24 hours)

A Funeral Directors Statement of Death is accepted for most purposes in dealing with the estate or deceased. If a Government of Alberta Death Certificate is required it may be obtained through an Alberta Registries private agent in the province. To make the application directly through one of their offices either call or visit the website listed below: Edmonton area: (780) 427-7013 Alberta Toll Free: 310-0000 then dial 427-7013 Website:

There are many details to consider following a death of a loved one. Here are a few handy references for you, whether you are pre-planning a funeral or want to make a checklist.

  • Assisting the family – Arrange for people to answer the door or phone, arrange childcare, cancel mail or newspaper if deceased lived alone.
  • Gather Vital Statistics information required by funeral homes – Full name, address, telephone number, social insurance number, Alberta Health Care number, birthplace and birthdate, marital status, fathers and mothers full names and birthplaces, drivers license, whether contributions were made to Canada Pension to ensure forms are completed for the death benefit.
  • Arranging the funeral – Decide on time, place and location of service, make a list of family and friends to notify, prepare obituary, pall bearers, and or urn bearer, consider not leaving the house empty during the service.
  • Taking care of business – Acknowledgement cards, messages, flowers, donations, gifts, including food deliveries. Contact lawyer and personal representatives (executor), check on insurance, death benefit, debts etc.

The financial part of “continuing on” can be as difficult to think about as planning the funeral. Here are a few things to review:

  • Estate Inventory – Make a record of the family’s important business and personal documents. This list should detail where each original document can be found. Most originals should be kept in a safe-deposit -box.
  • Chequing and Savings Accounts – You may want to keep joint accounts open for a few months afterwards. This ensures the spouse can continue to deposit cheques in the deceased’s name, and that these funds will be available to them.
  • Saving and Investments – You may need to temporarily draw on investments until the estate is settled. Familiarize yourself with the kinds of amounts of investments, and the institutions where they are held. The bank may release funds to pay the funeral business for funeral services.
  • Life Insurance – Contact the agent and make sure you have access to the original policy as you will need to settle the claim and receive the final payment from the Insurance company.
  • Credit Arrangements – Using copies of all credit and loan agreements, contact the appropriate institutions, advise them of the death and make arrangement for payment.
  • Tax Return – An individual tax return must be filed for the deceased by April 30 the year following the year of the death, or six months after the dates of death (whichever is later).

Please note: Financial advisors, accountants or lawyers should also be contacted for more information on the subjects listed above.