A cathedral window shows mourners.
A cathedral window shows mourners.
• Talk to your family.
"We think it's important for the family to make a decision together," says Mark Musgrove, of Musgrove Family Mortuary and Mount Calvary Cemetery in Eugene. "Where you are buried or where cremated remains go, for example, is about you, but not really for you. It's for the family. It's important to engage family."
J.C. Aubry, a pre-planner with Dignity Properties, suggests setting aside a time when the family can gather in a comfortable setting, and allowing everyone to share their thoughts about the plans. "Depending on your family, keeping the discussion light and casual may help, or a more formal approach may be in order," Aubry says.

• Make a will.
Scotti Cabeceiras, manager of Rose City Funeral Home in Northeast Portland, says there will be a probate hearing if you don't and that is not good for anyone. "Make sure your 401K beneficiary is up to date," says Cabeceiras, who has witnessed ugly arguments between ex-wives and paternity tests.

• Fill out an advance care directive.
Andrea White, third generation owner of family-run Mount Scott Funeral Home, says only 20 percent of Americans have one, which means a lot of unnecessary heartache for survivors. Forms are available on the State of Oregon website or from the funeral home.

• Designate caretaker for children.
White says that for those caring for children, this is a vital step. Grandparents responsible for care of grandchildren should also remember.

• Decide on burial or cremation.
Mark Musgrove, of Musgrove Family Mortuary and Mount Calvary Cemetery in Eugene, says more Catholics are choosing cremation, which is now accepted under church law. There is still a preference for burial of body in the church, and if possible the body should be present at funeral even if it will be cremated later. Musgrove says some families opt for a memorial Mass with the urn of ashes present before it is placed in a mausoleum. According to church practice, cremated remains should be treated with the same dignity as a body, meaning they should not be divided up or scattered.

• Pre-plan your funeral.  
Funeral homes can refer you to a professional pre-planner so you can choose a cemetery plot if needed and begin paying bit by bit for funeral director's services and a casket. About a third of people do this now, saving confusion and stress for survivors. Parishes will have forms to fill out to designate your reading and music choices — copies should stay with your parish, your funeral home and your own records. There are even details like choosing clothing to put on the body.  
"It really is taking care of your family and being a good steward," Musgrove says. "If you pay in today's dollars, it's cheaper now than down the road."
Cabeceiras suggests that adult children work to discover their parents' wishes. Even though it seems ghoulish, it usually turns out to be a meaningful project that touches on ultimate matters and expresses love.  
Aubry explains that there are more than 100 decisions to make before a funeral can take place, from burial place to liturgical music. Buying a cemetery plot will help lock in prices and cemeteries offer payment plans.
Chances are, Aubry says, a pre-planned funeral will be simpler than one put together under stress, when families may feel obligated to go fancy.
"In grief, people can make bad decisions," White says. "To pre-plan is a gift parents give to their kids."  

• Assemble vital records.
Your family will need to provide civic officials and the funeral home with a stunning amount of information, including Social Security number, full names of mother and father, birth date, veteran's disposition, photograph, and perhaps self-written obituary. Life insurance paperwork should be prominent.