Making Memorial Service Plans in Advance

A memorial service, or remembrance event, is a time when family and friends gather to remember, honor, and celebrate the life of someone they’ve lost.

While memorial services are usually part of overall funeral services shortly after death, remembrance events are often scheduled separately from burial or cremation, and may be done at any time in the future.

If you choose to be cremated, you can still plan to have a traditional funeral or memorial service, before your ashes are in a final resting place.

Why preplan your memorial or remembrance event?

Planning a memorial service can be a big task, and family and friends dealing with grief after a loss may find it difficult to make decisions about such an important event. By preplanning your memorial or remembrance service, you can reduce the burden of these decisions on your loved ones and ensure that your final wishes about memorialization are followed.

While you’re thinking about end-of-life plans, consider working with someone you trust to record ideas for your memorial service or remembrance event. Some other benefits:

  • Ensuring those close to you are included; your family may not know all your friends and loved ones.
  • Choosing a location that is meaningful to you and your loved ones.
  • Being involved in decisions including the theme, who speaks, and other details, both for your own peace of mind and to ensure your family knows what you want.

While preplanning for cremation typically requires reaching out to a cremation or funeral services provider, preplanning a remembrance event may be as simple as writing down all of your wishes and sharing the document with people you trust to carry them out in the future.

Eight steps for preplanning a memorial service or remembrance event

While you can record all of your wishes independently, it’s often beneficial and cathartic to work with loved ones in planning what kind of memorial service you want.

Friends and family might at first think the idea seems morbid, so make sure that they understand why you want to preplan your memorial. Explain that you’d like them to be involved in the decisions, and that you want to reduce some of their future burden. You might also tell them that you want your remembrance event to be as personalized as possible, and their input will help.

When you begin planning your event, you may add your own steps and skip some of these.

1. Choose whether you want a memorial service or remembrance event

Consider what works best for you and your loved ones. Do you want a traditional service? If you’re choosing cremation, do you want your ashes scattered immediately? A memorial service might be the best choice.

If family and friends who you want to be part of your service are scattered or live far away, or you want to plan something unique and non-traditional that perhaps takes a little more time, a remembrance event might be more appropriate in fulfilling your wishes.

2. Choose your theme

Choosing a theme for your memorial service may simplify other decisions for you and your loved ones, and also provide a foundation for the service.

The theme can be as broad or as streamlined as you like. Some people decide on themes such as “joy,” “love,” or “fond memories.” More specifically, you might choose a theme from work, a hobby or activity, or a relationship that you feel defined your life in positive, joyful ways. You can also pick a simple phrase, a color, or a song lyric that resonates with you or says something meaningful about you. 

3. Make a guest list

Decide whether the remembrance service will be public or private. If it’s public, create a few announcements or outlines for future announcements that might be placed with local newspapers and on social media. Create a list of special friends and family members who you want in attendance, to ensure they know about the service.

If the service will be private, start creating an invitation list and add to it over time. Try to include contact information for guests, or work with a trusted family member who can gather that information for you. If you plan well in advance of the time of need, update the list occasionally.

4. Choose a location

Pick a location where you’d like your memorial held. When choosing, keep the following in mind:

  • The number of people you expect to attend.
  • Whether you want multimedia capabilities for videos or slideshows.
  • Whether you need audio equipment for speakers or singers.
  • Whether you want an outdoor or indoor service.
  • The amount of your planned budget so you know how much you have to rent a space, if necessary.
  • Whether you want scattering to be part of your service.

These factors all help narrow down where the service can be held. A few close friends and family might meet at someone’s house, but a large group may require a hall or house of worship. If scattering ashes is part of the service, make sure that is allowed in the place you’ve chosen, or decide where you’d like your ashes to be placed.

When you’re preplanning, consider choosing more than one place, since your remembrance service might not be held for a while. If you’re preplanning well before the time of need, your first-choice location may not even exist in the future. List a couple of other options for loved ones who will put these plans into motion later.

5. Choose invitations

You might want to work with loved ones on a design, or choose one that reflects your life and personality. Consider whether you’d like to:

  • Mail paper invitations to family and friends.
  • Post invitations on Facebook, if the next of kin has access to your social media accounts.
  • Publish an open invitation in local newspapers or on pertinent websites. (Note that in doing this, you are announcing the event to the general public.)

6. Choose leaders, speakers, and other participants

Choose the people you want to be involved in the memorial service. Don’t assume people will automatically agree to be involved; it’s a good idea to ask them if they would like to and are able to participate in the capacity that you wish.

Here are some participant roles to consider:

  • Someone to lead the service, such as a pastor or other religious official, member of the family, or someone else close to you.
  • Speakers to share memories during the service; you may opt to ask one person to speak, ask a few specific people to share a bit, or open the floor for anyone who would like to speak.
  • Singers or musicians to share their talents with music meaningful to you.
  • Artistic or crafty individuals to contribute to the decorations
  • Someone to operate sound or lighting equipment.
  • Greeters and ushers to welcome people.
  • People to prepare or serve food.

Obviously, it’s helpful to offer alternatives and leave room for changes.

7. Create an itinerary

Some things you might want to consider as you plan events for the memorial service:

  • How long will the service be?
  • How do you want to start the service?
  • In what order do you want speakers, musicians, and others to be presented?
  • Do you want interactive participation from those attending, such as through group singing or a candle lighting?
  • How do you want to end the service?
  • Will food and refreshments be served?

When planning for the order of events, consider how each part of the service may be received. Some people opt for maintaining a balance, asking someone to tell a funny story about their time with the deceased to offset the mood that might have been created by melancholy music. Others strive for the same tone throughout the service and want to avoid anything that might seem jarring, such as a move from the serious to the funny.

Again, there are no rules. What matters is creating a meaningful space that reflects what matters to you, and in which your loved ones can honor and celebrate your life.

8. Choose decorations

Decide if you want to include:

  • An urn or decorative container holding the ashes and displayed prominently
  • Flowers, and if so, what kind
  • Photos or other pictures
  • An altar or stand

Planning a memorial for someone else

If you’re planning at the time of need because your loved one has already passed away, all of the above suggestions still apply. Make choices that honor the person being remembered and comfort their closest friends and family. Choose a theme that you think would be meaningful to their memory and to those present. Working together with people who were close to your family member or friend can be helpful, especially at a time when you are feeling sorrow and grief.

When planning a service for someone who has already passed away, consider looking at their correspondence, social media pages, and emails to find friends who might have been dear to them and would appreciate an invitation.

Select a date

Consider the availability of close friends and family to choose a date that works for most of the people who would like to be present. You’ll also have to consider availability of the location and factors such as seasons and weather, especially if you intend to have an outdoor service.

Remember, the memorial service doesn’t always have to take place within a week of the person passing away. In some cases, services are held a year later, sometimes on the anniversary of the person’s death.

It’s a good idea to get other people involved to help, as doing all the work yourself can be exhausting.

While it’s tempting to stay constantly busy ensuring all the plans are put in motion appropriately, take time to remember your loved one. It helps to delegate certain jobs and responsibilities to others.

Other considerations when planning a memorial service

Depending on circumstances, beliefs, and other factors, you may want to consider a few more things when preplanning your own memorial service or planning for your loved one.

Veterans services

Veterans who have been discharged with any status other than dishonorable from the military may receive special memorial and burial benefits. Find out more about memorial options for veterans.

Religious beliefs and traditions

Religious beliefs play a critical role in how we care for and celebrate the deceased. If you’re wondering how your religion – or that of your family or loved one – might play a role in preplanning a memorial, talk with religious leaders or family members to ensure you are honoring any religious traditions that might be important to your loved one. Read more about religion and cremation.

Respect for close relatives and friends

Whether you’re planning for your own future service or for a loved one, keep other close relatives in mind. Excluding spouses, children, parents, siblings, or other relatives and friends can be hurtful, and they might have meaningful contributions to make.

Dress code

Decide if you want to have a dress code at the service, and make sure you communicate that in invitations and announcements. If you plan to go casual, let people know; there’s no need for someone to show up in a traditional suit if everyone is sporting beach attire in honor of the loved one’s preference for the tropics.


Decide whether you want to offer refreshments, and what kind. Food isn’t a requirement, and if you’re having an intimate remembrance event, you could just invite everyone to join you afterward at a local eatery. If you are providing food, make sure you have the space, equipment, and help to handle it, especially if you’re planning a large event.

Whether you’re thinking years ahead or planning a memorial for a loved one now, the process doesn’t have to be cumbersome and unpleasant. Thinking about what makes you, your loved one, or your family unique or happy can be a pleasant experience, and working together to honor someone you love is a great way to alleviate at least a little sorrow.

For more information about planning for end of life, sign up for our Thinking Ahead email series.


The Neptune Society is the nation’s oldest and largest provider of affordable cremation services. Whether you have an immediate need or want to plan cremation services in advance, we are always available to assist you and your family.

Call 1-800-NEPTUNE (800-637-8863) today or contact us online to learn more.