Selecting someone to lead the ceremony

  • A funeral officiant is typically responsible for structuring and leading the service.

  • Anyone can officiate a funeral, but having someone with experience to lead has advantages.

  • Common options for a funeral officiant include religious officials, funeral directors, or certified celebrants.

  • Some officiants may charge $200-$500, so you want to make sure you select the right option for your event.

When you’re grieving a loved one, the pressure and details of planning the funeral can seem vast and overwhelming. Many find it helpful to break this challenge up into small, finite tasks—and choosing a person to officiate the ceremony is one important decision that can make a lot of other choices fall into place. Fortunately, there are many ways to approach finding someone you and your family are comfortable with in this emotional moment.

The funeral officiant is usually responsible for organizing and structuring the service, including delivering the eulogy, leading any religious elements, and informing guests of any post-ceremony events (like the burial, reception, or scattering of ashes). Because this person will be the voice honoring your loved one, you’ll want to trust them and feel comfortable sharing your family’s stories with them.

Every officiant will also bring their own style and personalization to the service, and the type of ceremony your family wants will usually influence your choice of officiant. A traditional funeral is not the right fit for everyone, and not all services are religious. You may, for example, be considering a less formal memorial service, a celebration of life, or a small event in your own home. The officiant you choose should reflect the type of service you hope to hold for your loved one. Above all, the right officiant will make your day easier. 

Who can officiate? 

Technically, anyone can. Unlike a wedding, there is no legal need for any certification or professional experience to officiate a funeral. If you or a family member wants to be the guiding voice of a service, you can do so. 

However, hiring a person with experience leading funerals and memorials does have its advantages. Such a person will most likely have a structure in mind, and you will work with them to customize it to make it feel personalized to your loved one and your family. 

Religious officials

If your loved one was religious, the choice of officiant should reflect those beliefs. In many cases, this will mean a pastor, priest, rabbi, imam, or similar member of clergy. They will be well versed in the aspects of laying people to rest in accordance to their religious beliefs and will be able to advise you on traditions, readings, and hymns. 

In certain religions, there are requirements for the service and who can officiate it. Working closely with your loved one’s place of worship during the planning process will make sure you honor those. 

Funeral directors 

For services being held at a funeral home, the funeral director will usually be available as an officiant. Because they are accustomed to working with grieving family members, funeral directors are a popular non-religious choice. They have specific knowledge on how to remember a person, will work with your family, and can relieve some of the pressure of planning this important day. 

Certified celebrants

In recent years, more families have been turning to secular professionals called certified celebrants. These people are typically trained in funeral planning, family facilitation, presentation and ceremonial skills, and emotional support. They are an excellent resource if you’re planning a nontraditional service.

Other options  

You might have someone else in mind—a friend, family member, or another acquaintance used to speaking in front of groups. 

If you’re leaning toward this option, bear in mind that it can be extremely difficult for someone close to the person who died to run a meaningful service. Emotions will be high, and grief is unpredictable, so even the most practiced speaker might struggle and be overwhelmed in the moment. Therefore it is often advisable to find someone outside of the immediate circle of grieving friends and family. 

Questions to help you find the right officiant

As you search for the right person, you might have specifics in mind for the service, like a venue, speakers, songs, stories, or hymns. It is important to find an officiant who will work with you to create a program that you feel honors the memory of your loved one and allows friends and family to say their goodbyes. 

To make sure you’re aligned from the beginning of the process, it’s important to ask the right questions and agree on certain aspects up front. Think of this meeting as an interview for a business arrangement—but one that is built on a high level of emotional trust. Consider things like: 

  • What pre-funeral planning needs are involved?

  • What types of questions will they be asking the family?

  • Are they aligned with religious beliefs, requirements, and knowledge?

  • Is there a schedule or structure they’ve used before?

  • How willing are they to collaborate with you?

When you decide to work with a person, you’ll need to discuss payment. Cost varies widely depending on who you choose. Friends or family will often be willing to do it for free; the tradeoff is that they may not have the experience or skills to make the service flow seamlessly. Clergy will also not charge in some cases; some may agree to a donation to their religious organization or house of worship in lieu of direct payment. Funeral directors and celebrants usually charge from $200 to $500. 

Ultimately, you’ll want to find an officiant who you’re comfortable working with when emotions are running high and who you trust with your grief. Once you find someone to lead the service, they’ll take the reins and help make space for you and your family to just be present during the service and to mourn your loved one together.

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.