Funeral service workers organize and manage the details of a funeral.

Duties                                      

Funeral service workers typically do the following:

  • Provide emotional support to the bereaved
  • Arrange for removal of the deceased’s body
  • Prepare the remains (body)
  • File death certificate and other legal documents
  • Train junior staff

Together with the family, funeral service workers establish the locations, dates, and times of the visitations (wakes), funerals or memorial services, burials, and cremations. They handle other details as well, such as determining whether the body should be buried, entombed, or cremated. This decision is critical because funeral practices vary among cultures and religions.

Most funeral service workers deal with paperwork pertaining to the person’s death, including submitting papers to state officials to receive a death certificate. Some help resolve insurance claims or apply for veterans’ funeral benefits on behalf of the family. They also may notify the Social Security Administration of the death.

A growing number of funeral service workers collaborate with clients who wish to plan their own funerals in advance to ensure that their needs are met.

Increasingly, funeral service workers also help individuals adapt to changes in their lives following a death with support groups.

The following are examples of types of funeral service workers:

Funeral service managers oversee the general operations of a funeral home business. In this position, they perform a wide variety of duties, such as allocating the resources of the funeral home, managing staff, and handling the marketing and public relations.

Morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors plan the details of a funeral. They often prepare obituary notices and arrange for pallbearers and clergy. If a burial is chosen, they schedule the opening and closing of a grave with a representative of the cemetery. If cremation is chosen, they coordinate the process with the crematory. They also decorate and prepare the sites of all services, and provide transportation for the deceased and mourners. They also direct the preparation and shipment of bodies’ out-of-state or out-of-country for final disposition.

Morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors also handle administrative duties. For example, they often must apply for the transfer of any pensions, insurance policies, or annuities on behalf of survivors.

Most morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors embalm bodies. Embalming is a cosmetic and temporary preservative process through which the body is prepared for a viewing of visitation by family and friends of the deceased.

Work Environment

Funeral service workers held about 32,800 jobs in 2012. Approximately 97 percent worked in the death care services industry.

Funeral services typically take place in a home, house of worship, funeral home, or at the gravesite or crematory.

Funeral service managers work mostly in a funeral home office.

Morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors work mostly in funeral homes that have a merchandise selection room, and sometimes a chapel. Some may also operate a crematory or cemetery, which may be on the premises. The mood can be quiet and somber, and the work often is stressful, because workers must arrange the many details of a funeral within 24 to 72 hours of death. They also may be responsible for multiple funerals on the same day.

Although workers sometimes may come into contact with bodies that have contagious diseases, the work is not inherently dangerous if proper safety and health regulations are followed. Those working in crematories are exposed to high temperatures and must wear protective clothing.

Work Schedules

Most funeral service workers are employed full time. They often are on call and work long hours, including evenings and weekends.

Education and Training

An associate’s degree in mortuary science is the minimum education requirement for morticians, undertakers, funeral directors, and funeral service managers. With the exception of funeral managers, funeral directors and embalmers must be licensed in Washington D.C. and every state in which they work, except Colorado.

Education

An associate’s degree in mortuary science is the minimum education requirement for all funeral service workers. Courses typically include ethics, grief counseling, funeral service, and business law. All accredited programs also include courses in embalming and restorative techniques. States have their own education requirements, and state licensing laws vary. Most employers require applicants to be 21 years old; have two years of formal education; serve a 1-year apprenticeship before, during, or after Mortuary College; and pass a state licensing exam after graduation. 

In some states, licensure for funeral directors and embalmers are separate.   

The American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE) accredits 57 mortuary science programs, most of which are 2-year associate’s degree programs offered at community colleges. About 7 programs offer a bachelor’s degree.

Although an associate’s degree is usually adequate, some employers prefer applicants to have a bachelor’s degree.

High school students can prepare to become a funeral service worker by taking courses in biology, chemistry, and business, and by participating in public speaking.

Part-time or summer jobs in funeral homes also are good experience.

Training

Morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors must complete hands-on training, usually lasting 1 to 3 years, under the direction of a licensed funeral director or manager. The apprenticeship may be completed before, during, or after completing a 2-year mortuary program. Apprenticeships provide practical experience in all aspects of the funeral service.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

With the exception of funeral service managers, funeral directors and embalmers are required to be licensed in Washington DC and every state, except Colorado. Although licensing laws and examinations vary by state, most applicants should meet the following:

  • Be 21 years old
  • Complete 2 years in an ABFSE mortuary science program
  • Serve an apprenticeship lasting 1 to 3 years

Applicants must then pass a qualifying exam. Working in multiple states may require multiple licenses. For specific requirements, applicants should contact their state licensing board.

Most states require morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors to receive continuing education credits annually to keep their licenses.

Work Experience

Workers increasingly should have some office management experience, particularly for funeral service managers who run their own funeral home business.

Important Qualities

Business skills. Knowledge of financial statements and the ability to run a funeral home efficiently and profitably are important for funeral directors and managers.

Compassion. Death is a delicate and emotional matter. Funeral service workers must be able to treat clients with care and sympathy in their time of loss.

Interpersonal skills. Funeral service workers should have good interpersonal skills. When speaking with families, for instance, they must be tactful and able to explain and discuss all matters about services provided.

Time-management skills. Funeral service workers must be able to handle numerous tasks for multiple customers, often in a short time frame.

Pay

The median annual wage for funeral service occupations was $51,600 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,100, and the top 10 percent earned more than $94,860.

The median annual wage for funeral service managers was $66,720 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $38,420, and the top 10 percent earned more than $140,740.

The median annual wage for morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors was $46,840 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,580, and the top 10 percent earned more than $80,900.

Most funeral service workers are employed full time. They often are on call and work long hours, including evenings and weekends.

Job Outlook

Employment of funeral service workers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Employment growth reflects an increase in the number of expected deaths among the largest segment of the population, aging baby boomers.

In addition, a growing number of older people are expected to prearrange their end-of-life services, increasing the need for funeral service workers. This service offers people a stress-free understanding that their final wishes will be met.

Job Prospects

Job prospects for funeral service workers are expected to be good overall and more favorable for those who are licensed as both a funeral director and an embalmer and are willing to relocate.

Some job openings should result from the need to replace workers who leave the occupation each year.

For More Information

For more information about funeral service occupations, including accredited mortuary science programs, visit

National Funeral Directors Association

For scholarships and educational programs in funeral service and mortuary science, visit

American Board of Funeral Service Education

National Funeral Directors & Morticians Association, Inc.

For information about crematories, visit

Cremation Association of North America

International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association

Candidates should contact their state board for specific licensing requirements.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

Average Yearly Pay

$52,210

Holland Code

Helping
Persuading
Organizing

Job Growth

12%

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