What is a Funeral Director?

Also known as: Funeral Arranger, Funeral Arrangement Director, Licensed Funeral Director, Funeral Home Manager, Mortician, Undertaker.

A funeral director (called a mortician or undertaker in the past) is someone who manages a funeral home and arranges the details of a funeral. Funeral directors work mostly in funeral homes and crematories. The funeral industry is by no means an easy career option, however it can be very fulfilling and rewarding.

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What does a Funeral Director do?

A funeral director will typically do the following:

  • 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, 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.

How to become 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.

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Further Reading

  • How to Become a Funeral Director: Career Path Guide

    Helpful information for a funeral director career, such as job description, job duties and salary expectations.

  • What Does a Funeral Director Do?

    Often referred to as an undertaker, the funeral director is a professional that provides competent and sympathetic support during the arrangement of funeral rites and the respectful disposition of the body of a loved one.

  • Funeral Director

    The information provided in this brochure is intended for high school leavers or those who are interested in working in the funeral industry.

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