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Funeral Director Job Description, Career as a Funeral Director, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Vocational/technical school; license

Salary: Median—$45,960 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Funeral directors arrange funeral services and burials. They work in funeral homes, where bodies are kept until cremation or burial. Most funeral homes are small and owned by the funeral director. Some, however, have many employees. Funeral directors are sometimes called morticians or undertakers.

When funeral directors are notified of a death, they arrange for the body to be moved to the funeral home. They get the information needed for the death certificate and for the newspaper death notice, or obituary. They meet with the family of the deceased to discuss the details of the funeral service, including the selection of a casket. Funeral directors help the family to set the time and location for burial, arrange for a member of the clergy to conduct any religious services, and choose pallbearers. Once these plans have been made, funeral directors contact cemetery officials, the clergy, and the newspapers.

Funeral directors need to know about the funeral customs of various religious, ethnic, and fraternal groups. They must also be familiar with the laws dealing A funeral director is sometimes called a mortician or an undertaker. They need to know about the funeral customs of various religious, ethnic, and fraternal groups. (© R. Holz/zefa/Corbis.) with the handling of dead bodies. Since many funeral directors are also licensed embalmers, they may prepare the body for burial. They arrange the casket in a parlor and take care of lighting and flower arrangements. They stay in the parlor to greet and comfort the family and friends of the deceased and to make sure that the services run as planned. They also arrange transportation to the cemetery or crematorium for the family and pall-bearers. Funeral directors lead the funeral procession to the church or cemetery, where they may help direct the service. If burial is to be in another area, they oversee the preparation and shipment of the body.

Funeral directors may also help the family of the deceased with insurance claims. They may serve the family for several months until they have taken care of these and other details.

Education and Training Requirements

A person can begin to prepare for a career as a funeral director while in high school. Courses in science, biology, bookkeeping, art, sociology, speech, and business subjects are useful. Psychology courses may provide a better understanding of how and why people act as they do under the stress caused by death. A funeral director must be able to stay calm in stressful situations and be willing to handle distasteful tasks, such as the removal of burned or decomposed bodies.

Private vocational schools offer special programs to train funeral directors, called mortuary science programs. They take nine months to three years to complete. A few colleges also offer two-to four-year programs in funeral service. In addition, a person will probably need to serve an apprenticeship of about one to three years during or after formal training.

Most states require funeral directors to be licensed. Requirements vary, but, typically, a person must be at least twenty-one years old, a high school graduate, and a graduate of a school of mortuary science or funeral service. A candidate should also complete an apprenticeship and pass a state board examination. Continuing education is required to maintain a license. Most funeral directors get an embalming license as well.

Getting the Job

A person can apply directly to funeral homes for a job. Although most funeral homes are family businesses, many employ people who are not family members. Some funeral directors continue working at the funeral homes where they held part-time jobs while in school or where they served apprenticeships. Most schools that train funeral directors also have placement services that can help candidates find a job. Members of the clergy may be able to make introductions to local funeral directors. Also professional associations, newspaper classifieds, and career Web sites can be good sources for job leads.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Funeral directors can become managers in large funeral homes, buy an existing funeral home, or start a new one. Owning a business requires a great deal of money, but loans are available to qualified funeral directors. The employment outlook is anticipated to be good, though opportunities for funeral directors are expected to grow slower than the average through the year 2014. Jobs will become available as workers retire or leave the field, and relocating to another city may be necessary to find a position.

Working Conditions

Funeral homes are usually attractive and well kept. They range from small frame houses to large, modern buildings. They often serve as the homes of funeral directors and their families. Funeral directors are on call at all times. Evening or weekend funeral services or meetings are not uncommon, and funeral directors often work more than forty hours per week. Their hours are irregular, because there may be slow periods followed by a series of funerals within a short period of time. In larger funeral homes the directors may work in shifts.

Funeral directors are dealing with people under difficult conditions who often lack prior information about costs, are under time pressures, and are in a disturbed emotional state. Therefore, funeral directors must be tactful and sympathetic to problems. In addition, they should be respectful of the burial customs of all religions. Those who are also embalmers must be able to work well with their hands.

Where to Go for More Information

Associated Funeral Directors, International
PO Box 1382
Largo, FL 34779
(800) 346-7151

National Funeral Directors Association
13625 Bishop's Dr.
Brookfield, WI 53005-6600
(800) 228-6332
http://www.nfda.org

National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association
3951 Snapfinger Pkwy., Ste. 507
Decatur, GA 30035
(800) 434-0958
http://www.nfdma.com

Earnings and Benefits

The median yearly salary of funeral directors is $45,960, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Experience, level of employment, and geographical location influence the earning potential. Those who own their own funeral homes and are very successful can earn much more. Benefits may include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.

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