What Does a Funeral Director Do?

The US Department of Labor estimates the employment of funeral service workers will grow at an average rate of 12% per year between now and 2022. The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites median income for funeral service directors at $68,420 per year and projects a need for 3,200 new funeral service directors by 2022.

As a funeral director, you have the opportunity to manage your own funeral home and personalize every aspect of your services to the location. You can also work for a privately-owned funeral home or a conglomerate, which owns many funeral homes, cemeteries, and florists.

Funeral directors are also frequently referred to as morticians or undertakers. They provide organized and thoughtful services in preparing the deceased, while also giving consolation to the grieving loved ones.

Funeral Director Responsibilities

Those who choose a career as a funeral director will work to coordinate and perform the entire requirements for a funeral. They work with the family of the deceased to arrange the whole funeral from the beginning to the end. These duties include organizing the funeral performance, the officiant (a clergy member or other selected person), and how and where the remains will ultimately be placed. In some cases, the deceased may have left detailed instructions for his or her own funeral. The funeral director will respect these wishes and organize any other logistics such as transporting the body, arranging times and dates, and where the services will be performed.

Additionally, Funeral directors have many other responsibilities including preparing obituary notices and distributing them to media outlets according to the wishes of the family. They will also arrange for clergy and pallbearers, schedule the opening and closing of a grave with a representative of the cemetery, prepare and decorate the sites of all services, and ensure transportation for the remains, mourners, and flowers between sites. Funeral directors are also responsible for overseeing the preparation and transportation of the remains for out-of-state burials, following accordance to the laws and regulations.

Funeral Service Director Tasks

Among the funeral service director’s key task areas:

  • Consult with families or friends of the deceased to arrange funeral details, such as obituary notice wording, casket selection, or plans for services.
  • Direct and supervise work of embalmers, funeral attendants, death certificate clerks, cosmetologists, or other staff.
  • Monitor funeral service operations to ensure that they comply with applicable policies, regulations, and laws.
  • Negotiate contracts for prearranged funeral services.
  • Offer counsel and comfort to families and friends of the deceased.
  • Plan and implement changes to service offerings to meet community needs or increase funeral home revenues.
  • Plan and implement sales promotions or other marketing strategies and activities for funeral home operations.
  • Schedule funerals, burials, or cremations.
  • Sell funeral services, products, or merchandise to clients.
  • Complete and maintain records such as state-required documents, tracking documents, or product inventories.
  • Identify skill development needs for funeral home staff.

Funeral Director Services Provided:

  • Embalming
  • Cremation
  • Respecting Customs and Requests
  • Customer Service
  • Administrative Responsibilities


Funeral directors, most of whom are trained, licensed, and practicing embalmers, generally handle embalming. At larger funeral homes, two or more embalmers will be employed along with several apprentices. Like refrigeration, embalming is a sanitary and cosmetic process by which a body is preserved and prepared for burial, which is required by most states if more than 24 hours pass between death and the funeral.

Embalmers begin by cleaning the body with germicidal soap and replacing the blood with embalming fluid to preserve the tissues. In cases where there is disfiguration or maiming, an embalmer may use materials like clay, cotton, plaster of Paris, and wax to reshape or reconstruct the body. To give the body a natural appearance, they also may apply cosmetics. Finally, they dress the body and place it in a casket. Funeral directors and embalmers keep embalming reports, itemized lists of clothing and valuables accompanying the body, and other relevant records.


Although entombment does frequently take place, burial in a casket is a common funeral practice in the United States. Cremation, the incineration of a body in a special furnace, has gained popularity in recent years, partially due to its lower overall expense and convenience. With cremation, funeral services can take place anywhere, at any time, and even months later for all relatives and friends to be able to attend.

Even when cremation takes place, many families still choose to hold memorial services. A funeral service held for a cremation is not different than one that precedes a traditional burial.

Cremated remains are commonly put in an urn, a type of permanent receptacle much like a vase, and then given a final resting place. The family may bury the container, place it in a mausoleum or columbarium, or have it buried in a cemetery urn garden.

Respecting Customs and Requests

The site of the funeral services depends entirely on the family or loved one’s wishes. Funeral services usually take place in a home, place of worship, funeral home, at the gravesite, or crematory. While some services are nonreligious, many choose to reflect their family’s beliefs. Funeral directors must be aware of different funeral and burial customs of many faiths, ethnic groups, and fraternal organizations.

Prearranged funerals are an increasingly popular service. Many people desire peace of mind and the time to grieve during this period. Funeral directors are responsible for arranging every aspect of the services in a way that will do justice to both the deceased person and their remaining family members and friends.

Aside from these types of services, funeral directors also take care of paperwork involved with a person’s death. States rely on funeral directors to file the appropriate forms so that they can issue a formal certificate of death.

In some cases, funeral directors assist family members with further formalities such as requesting veterans’ burial benefits, informing the Social Security Administration of the death, or applying for the transfer of any pensions, insurance policies, or annuities on behalf of survivors.

Customer Service

Most funeral homes are small, family businesses where the funeral director is either an owner-operator or an employee. Consequently, the businesses’ prosperity depends directly on funeral directors. Part of running a successful funeral home involves effective and efficient customer service, and funeral directors do their best to cultivate a friendly environment for their employees and a compassionate demeanor towards the families. More and more funeral directors are extending their traditional roles by offering aftercare services or support group activities to assist individuals to adapt to life following a death.

Administrative Responsibilities

The administrative duties of funeral directors include keeping records of expenses, purchases, and services provided; preparing and sending invoices; preparing and submitting reports for unemployment insurance; preparing Federal, State, and local tax forms; and preparing itemized bills for customers.

Funeral directors must also maintain any electronic files related to the funeral such as online obituaries and guest books.

As for the physical facilities, most funeral homes have a chapel, at least one viewing room, a casket-selection room, and a preparation room. Funeral homes usually offer a selection of caskets and urns for families to purchase or rent. Hearses, flower cars, limousines, and other vehicles are normally available as well.

Funeral Service Director Tools

Among the tools funeral service directors use in their daily work:

  • Autopsy tables or accessories
  • Body bridges
  • Embalming tables
  • Mortuary dressing tables
  • Mortuary operating tables
  • Cadaver carriers
  • Cremation stands
  • Mortuary cots
  • Cadaver lifter or transfer devices
  • Casket carriages
  • Casket lowering devices
  • Pallbearer casket carriages
  • Vault lowering devices
  • Container trailers
  • Dump trailers
  • Conveyor roller
  • Mortuary roller systems
  • Dating or numbering machines
  • Numbering machines
  • Embalming vein drainage tubes
  • Jugular drain tubes
  • Mortuary aspirators
  • Electric mortuary aspirators
  • Hydro-electric aspirators
  • Mortuary packs Mouth formers
  • Protective gloves
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Protective latex gloves
  • Surgical trocars
  • Trocars

* Source: US Department of Labor O*NET - http://www.onetonline.org/link/details/11-9061.00