Funeral Etiquette for Immediate Family

What is the proper funeral etiquette for immediate family members?

Let's take a look.

Funeral Etiquette for Immediate Family

Notification of death for immediate family

Close family members should be among the first notified in the event of a death.

Whoever is with or closest to the person at the time of death will want to notify the decedent's:

  • Spouse
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Grandparents
  • Close aunts, uncles, and cousins

What should family members wear at a funeral?

Immediate family members should wear formal attire in dark colors. Black is always appropriate; darker shades of gray and blue are also acceptable.

For men, go with a black suit with simple tie and loafers. Black or gray slacks and a tucked-in collared shirt is also acceptable in a more casual environment. Sports coats and vests are good accessories. Avoid t-shirts, bright ties, shorts, jeans, and tennis shoes.

For women, a black dress that goes past the knees is ideal. Business casual wear, such as black pants or long skirt and blouse is a perfectly acceptable alternative to the more formal dress. Avoid bright colors and patterns, revealing or tight-fitting clothes, jeans, and tennis shoes.

The main idea is to dress well in a way that does not draw undue attention to yourself and shows respect for the occasion.

For more information on what to wear at a funeral, including outfit ideas and other tips, see here.

Who walks in the funeral procession?

Typically the officiant (a minister or the funeral director) will walk in first, followed by the pallbearers carrying the casket. After the casket the family will come, closest family members first.

The order can vary a bit depending on the person's age and family structure at the time of death. The spouse is first, accompanied by children. Parents and siblings would be next, followed by extended family (grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc).

Where should immediate family sit at a funeral?

The immediate family members sit in the front rows. The closer your relation to the decedent, the closer you will be to them at the funeral.

The casket (or cremation urn) is at the front and center of the funeral service venue. The family will sit in the front rows, on either or both sides, as close to their loved one's remains as possible.

At most funerals the first 1-3 rows will be reserved for family members.

Who sits with the family at a funeral?

Proper funeral etiquette dictates that the closer you are to the deceased, the closer you will be to the casket. Spouse, parents, and children of the deceased will sit closest to the front. Sometimes close friends and "honorary family members" will sit with the grieving family.

Other family members (siblings and their families, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc) will be the closest to the immediate family. More distant relatives and other friends will sit nearer to the front, while acquaintances and coworkers will sit towards the rear.

Should family members bring funeral flowers?

Sending or bringing funeral flowers is a traditional and appropriate gesture at a funeral. Immediate family members are typically expected to bring or send flowers to the funeral service.

If you are the spouse or parent of a young child who has died, you will be receiving many flowers and are not required to bring your own. However, most spouses, parents, or other close family members will want to do so as an expression of love and respected for their beloved one.

Can family members bring a sympathy gift instead of flowers?

While flowers are still considered the traditional bereavement gift, there are also many reasons not to do so. These include environmental concerns, a request for "donations in lieu of flowers," and the desire to give something that lasts longer than flowers, which wilt and die after a week or two.

Regarding funeral etiquette for immediate family members, we would say that yes, it is entirely appropriate to give a sympathy gift in lieu of flowers.

Another related question is, Should I bring a sympathy gift to the funeral? Here's a great answer.

Should you go to the funeral even if you didn't have a good relationship with the decedent?

Unless you were specifically told not to come, you should probably go to a relative's funeral. If you had a poor relationship with the deceased and/or their spouse, children, etc, as family you are still expected to attend.

You may want to sit apart a little, show up right on time (rather than early) and sit in the back, and perhaps skip the reception or graveside service. 

If in doubt, call the person arranging the funeral and ask. Explain your intentions - to honor the deceased and pay your respects - and let them know you're not there to cause difficulty of make a scene. In most cases it should be fine; family will often put aside grievances for the death of a loved one.

Are immediate family members expected to attend the wake, viewing, or visitation?

Yes, as an immediate family member you will be expected to come to these funeral events if at all possible.

Learn more here:

Should immediate family members help pay for the funeral?

Financial responsibility for the funeral usually falls to the decedent's estate, or the next of kin. Other family members can and will sometimes volunteer to pay for or help out with funeral expenses.

One way you can do this is to offer to pay for the headstone, rent the facilities, arrange catering for the reception, or buy the cremation urn.

Since our specialty is cremation urns, we recommend starting with our 5-Minute Guide to Choosing a Cremation Urn.