Questions, Terminology, & Procedures

Understanding Funeral Home And Cemetery Terms

Funeral People Explained

The different roles you may encounter when dealing with a death.

We have listed below some of the people you may encounter when you visit a funeral home, and/ or are dealing with arranging a funeral or cremation. 

Funeral Director/Mortician

This is the certified and trained professional who is licensed to perform the supervision and prepa- ration of the deceased for burial or cremation.

Funeral Assistant

This role is performed by a person not certified as a funeral director or mortician. They provide sup- port services throughout the funeral arranging and funeral service processes.


The trained and certified person who can disinfect and preserve human remains.

Trade Embalmer

A licensed embalmer who is not employed in a funeral home but provides embalming services as a trade service to funeral homes.


A public official whose role it is to investigate the cause of death if no physician was in attendance for a period prior to the death.

Medical Examiner

Government officials whose duty it is to perform an autopsy if one is required.


Family and friends who carry the casket during a funeral. This role can be performed by funeral home employees as well.

Honorary Pallbearers

Friends or members of a fraternal, military, or social organization who may provide an ‘honor guard’ but do not actually carry the casket.

Bereavement/Grief Counselor

Some funeral homes will have a member of staff qualified to provide counseling for a bereaved family

Preplan Adviser/Advance Funeral Planner

This role is performed by a licensed funeral director or licensed preplan agent. They are specifically trained in the role of assisting families with the financial aspects of preplanning a funeral.

Certified Crematory Operator

If the funeral home has an onsite crematory, they will have a member of staff trained and certified to operate the cremation equipment.

Continuing Care Coordinator/After Care

This is a role sometimes held by a member of staff who specifically provides aftercare service to a family once the funeral is conducted. It can often be the same member of staff who is trained in counseling.

Community Liaison

This is a newer role in funeral homes and can be held by a member of staff who works to liaise with the community, providing outreach services and education for seniors about funeral planning. It is now an important role to move funeral homes into their changing role in culture in the 21st century.

Funeral Service Terms

Listed below are some of the key terms you may encounter when you are arranging a funeral.

Arrangement Conference

The meeting with the funeral director (and staff) to make the funeral arrangements.

Committal Service

The final part of the funeral service where the deceased is interred, entombed or cremated


The funeral procession


The use of makeup to enhance the appearance of the deceased. Embalming

The method of preserving and sanitizing the deceased by circulating an antiseptic preservative through the circulatory system.


A speech given at the funeral in honor of the deceased.

Final Disposition

The final process for human remains.

Final Rites

The funeral service can be considered in the faith aspect, rites of passage, etc.

First Call

The initial and immediate visit by a funeral director to collect the deceased

Funeral Arrangements

The conference between the family and the funeral director to arrange the funeral.

Funeral Procession

The procession of vehicles between funeral home and church, cemetery, or crematory.

Funeral Service

The service or ceremony performed before the final disposition. It can be religious or nonreligious. Memorial Service

A service or ceremony conducted in memory of the deceased, generally without the body present.


The notice of death published in a newspaper or online.


When the deceased is laidout for family and friends to visit before or after a funeral service. Vigil

A Catholic service held on the eve of a funeral service.


This is generally arranged as a private opportunity for family and friends to visit with the deceased before the funeral.


A form of death ritual where a watch is maintained over the deceased during the night before and after the funeral.

Cremation Terms

Listed below are some key cremation terms with a brief explanation as to what they mean.


This is when the cremated remains are divided into separate amounts. Maybe to either keep some and spread the rest, or to distribute between members of the family.


A building that houses multiple niches.


Another term sometimes used for cremated remains.


The reduction of the body to ashes with extreme heat.

Cremation Urn

The container that the cremated remains can be stored in.


The machine or furnace designated specifically for the cremation of human remains.


A small space designed to accommodate a cremated remains container.

Burial Terms

We have listed below some of the terminology that you may come across in the process of arrang- ing a burial.


The act of burying the deceased underground.


An area of land that is zoned for the burial or entombment of the deceased.


A monument (sometimes an empty tomb) that is erected in memory of a person buried elsewhere, such as military cenotaphs.


A type of vault or room used for holding remains.


This is when remains are dug up and removed to another place.


To dig up human remains, usually to conduct further tests to determine the cause of death or iden- tity of the deceased.


The hole in the earth that the deceased is buried in.

Grave Liner

A receptacle made of wood, metal, or concrete that lines the grave to give it some integrity.

Grave Marker, Headstone, Memorial Marker or Monument

The above terms all refer to a marker placed upon a grave to identify the occupant of the grave. It can be constructed of marble, granite, stone, wood, or other materials.

Green Burial

This refers to a burial conducted without any unnatural materials. i.e. no embalming and burial in a wooden casket with no metal, or a shroud and buried directly into the earth without a grave liner.


The act of burying a body.

Lowering Device

This is the mechanism used to assist the funeral staff to lower the casket into the grave.


A building that houses aboveground tombs, crypts, and niches. Opening & Closing Fees

The fees a cemetery charge for digging the grave and filling it, or for opening & closing an existing plot to inter a further occupant, or cremated remains.


A chamber in the ground or above ground in rock or stone that houses human remains.

Funeral Home Terminology

When you visit a funeral home or crematory you may be surprised at some of the different terms used to describe the rooms in the funeral home. This list below explains some of the funeral home ‘space’ descriptions we have come across.

Arrangement Room

This can be a special room used to meet with the family and conduct the arrangement conference.


A large room used for the purposes of conducting a funeral service.

Display Room

A room set aside for the purpose of displaying funeral merchandise such as caskets, urns, prayer cards, etc.

Family Room

A special room where the bereaved family can convene in privacy.

Minister’s Room

A room for the use of a minister to prepare before a service and/or meet with the family.


A place where human remains are stored pending an autopsy or an official identification.

Preparation Room

A room specially equipped for the preparation of the deceased. It is ordinarily where embalming, dressing, and any cosmetology will take place.

Reposing Room

The room where the deceased lies in state once casketed and awaiting the time of the funeral ser- vice.

Slumber Room

A room that contains a bed for the deceased to be laid in state prior to the funeral. This can be used for viewing or visitation purposes when a casket is not being used. i.e. for a cremation.

Visitation Room

A room designated in the funeral home for the deceased to lie before the funeral so that people can view the deceased.

Funeral Merchandise Terminology

Listed below are some terms you may come across when choosing funeral merchandise and ancil- lary products in preparation for a funeral.

Burial Garments

Clothes especially made for the deceased

Burial Vault

The container placed inside the gravesite to hold the casket.


A portable canvas shelter or marquee used to cover the gravesite during the burial service.

Casket or Coffin

The container generally made from steel, metal, or wood for placing human remains in for burial.

Casket Veil

A transparent net that goes over the casket to keep flies off.


The stand that the casket rests on during a funeral service.

Cremation Urn

The container in which the cremated remains are placed.

Flower stand or rack

Stands used to put floral displays on.

Grave Marker, Headstone, Memorial Marker or Monument

The marker used to identify the occupant of a grave or niche.

Memory Book or Guest Book

A book that attendees can write their condolence messages in and any tribute to the deceased.

Memory Board or Memory Table

A display board where memorabilia about the deceased can be displayed.

Prayer Cards

Personalized stationery used during a funeral service.

Death Care Legal Terms

There are a number of legal terms associated with death care and we have outlined some of the common terms below.


The person who is the recipient of the proceeds of the will or life insurance policy.


Making a gift in a will.

Burial/Cremation Permit or Certificate

A permit issued by the local government that authorizes the burial or cremation.

Certified Death Certificate

The legal copy of the original death certificate.


An amendment to a will that supersedes any original provisions.


The legal challenge to the validity of the will.

Death Notice/Obituary

The formal notice placed in the press that communicates the death and any funeral arrangements.


The person who has died.


The administrator of the estate, as outlined in the will.

Funeral insurance/burial insurance

An insurance policy that covers the costs associated with a funeral or burial.


An official hearing if there are circumstances surrounding the cause of death.


When someone dies with no will.

Living Will

A legal document that details the wishes of an individual about his/her medical care should they be- come unfit to make decisions.

Perpetual Care Fund

A portion of funds set aside in trust for the ongoing maintenance of a burial plot.

Prearranged Funeral, Funeral Trust, and Preneed

These all refer to plans and contracts which involve preplanning funeral arrangements and prepay- ing before death occurs.


The court process to validate a will.


A person making a valid will.

Transit Permit

The permit issued that enables the deceased to be transported to the burial site.


A monetary fund that is managed by one person for the benefit of others.


A legal document stating the wishes of the deceased in terms of the disposal of their estate and their remains.

Written by Sara Marsden-Ille

Sara is the Editor in Chief for US Funerals Online and has been researching and writing about the death care industry in the US for the last 10 years.