What is a Funeral Director?

Funeral directors, also called morticians and undertakers, manage funeral homes and arrange the details of a funeral. Funeral directors work mostly in funeral homes and crematories. They are often on call and work long hours, including nights and weekends. Most work full time.

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What does a Funeral Director do?

Funeral directors typically:

  • Arrange transportation of the deceased
  • Prepare the remains (body)
  • Submit paperwork and legal documents
  • Consult with the deceased’s family
  • Help plan funerals
  • Train junior staff
  • Discuss and plan funerals with people who wish to arrange their own service in advance.

Most funeral directors arrange the details and handle the logistics of funerals. Together with the family, funeral directors establish the locations, dates, and times of wakes, memorial services, and burials. They handle other details as well, such as determining whether the body should be buried, entombed, or cremated. This decision is critical because funeral practices vary among cultures and religions.

Although family members or others may handle some details, funeral directors must be able to assist family members in preparing obituary notices and arranging for pallbearers (people who carry the coffin) and clergy. They may decorate and prepare the sites of services, arrange for flowers, and provide transportation for the deceased and mourners.

Most funeral directors handle paperwork involved with the person’s death, including submitting papers to state officials to get a formal death certificate. Some help resolve insurance claims or apply for veterans’ funeral benefits on behalf of the family. They also may notify the appropriate federal insurance agencies of the death.

In many settings, funeral directors embalm the deceased. Embalming is a sanitary and cosmetic process through which the body is prepared for burial, usually in a casket. Funeral services may take place in a home, house of worship, or funeral home or at the gravesite or crematory.

A growing number of funeral directors work with clients who wish to plan their own funerals in advance to ensure that their needs are met. Many funeral directors also help prepare and ship bodies if the person dies in one place and is to be buried or cremated elsewhere.

What does it take to be a Funeral Director?

High school students can prepare for a job as a funeral director by taking courses in biology and chemistry and by participating in public speaking. Part-time or summer jobs in funeral homes also are good experience. An associate’s degree in mortuary science is the minimum educational requirement.

All funeral directors must be licensed by the state in which they work. Funeral directors must have at least an associate’s degree in mortuary science. A growing number of employers, however, prefer applicants to have a bachelor’s degree.

In all mortuary science programs, students take courses in ethics, grief counselling, funeral service, and business law. Funeral directors must complete hands-on training under the direction of a licensed funeral director, usually lasting one-to-three years. The apprenticeship may be completed before, during, or after completing a mortuary program. Most jurisdictions require funeral directors to receive continuing education credits to keep their licenses.

What is the workplace of a Funeral Director like?

About 92% worked in the funeral services industry. Funeral directors work mostly in funeral homes and crematories. The mood can be quiet and somber, and the work is often stressful. They have to arrange the many details of a funeral within 24 to 72 hours of death. They also may be responsible for multiple funerals on the same day. Although funeral directors handle corpses, the health risk is minimal. Still, they must follow safety and health regulations.

Most funeral directors work full time. They are often on call and work long hours, including nights and weekends.

How much does a Funeral Director earn?

The median annual wage of funeral directors was $54,140 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $29,890, and the top 10% earned more than $98,340. Most funeral directors work full time. They are frequently on call and work nights and weekends. Long hours are common.

Learn more about being a Funeral Director