Funeral Service Workers

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What Funeral Service Workers Do[About this section] [To Top]

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

Duties of Funeral Service Workers

Funeral service workers typically do the following:

  • Offer counsel and comfort to families and friends of the deceased
  • Arrange for removal of the deceased’s body
  • Prepare the remains (body)
  • File death certificates and other legal documents
  • Train junior staff

Funeral service workers help to determine the locations, dates, and times of visitations (wakes), funerals or memorial services, burials, and cremations. They handle other details as well, such as helping the family decide 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 attend to the administrative aspects pertaining to the person’s death, including submitting papers to state officials to receive a death certificate. They also may help resolve insurance claims, apply for funeral benefits, or notify the Social Security Administration or the U.S. Veterans Administration of the death.

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

Funeral service workers also may help individuals adapt to changes in their lives following a death by providing information on support groups.

The following are examples of types of funeral service workers:

Funeral service managers oversee the general operations of a funeral home business. They perform a wide variety of duties, such as planning and allocating the resources of the funeral home, managing staff, and handling 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 services. 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 prepare the sites of all services and provide transportation for the deceased and mourners. In addition, they arrange the shipment of bodies out of state or out of country for final disposition.

Finally, these workers 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 by family and friends of the deceased.

Work Environment for Funeral Service Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Funeral service workers held about 60,400 jobs in 2014. Approximately 54 percent worked in the death care services industry. About half of all funeral service workers were self-employed in 2014.

Funeral services traditionally take place in a house of worship, in a funeral home, or at a gravesite or crematory. However, some families prefer holding the service in their home or in a social center.

Funeral service managers work mostly in a funeral home office.

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

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

Funeral Service Worker Work Schedules

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

How to Become a Funeral Service Worker[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Funeral Service Workers near you!

An associate’s degree in funeral service or mortuary science is the typical education requirement for funeral service workers. With the exception of funeral service managers, all workers must be licensed in Washington, D.C. and every state in which they work, except Colorado which offers a voluntary certification program.

Funeral Service Worker Education

An associate’s degree in mortuary science is the typical education requirement for all funeral service workers. Courses taken usually include those covering the topics of 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 2 years of formal education; serve a 1-year internship before, during, or after attending a mortuary college; and pass a state licensing exam after graduation.

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

The American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE) accredits 58 funeral service and mortuary science programs, most of which are 2-year associate’s degree programs offered at community colleges. Some 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 provide valuable experience.

Funeral Service Worker 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 internship may be completed before, during, or after completing a 2-year funeral service or mortuary science program and passing a national board exam. Internships provide practical experience in all aspects of the funeral service.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

With the exception of funeral service managers, all workers must be licensed in Washington, D.C. and every state in which they work, except Colorado which offers a voluntary certification program. Although licensing laws and examinations vary by state, most applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • Be 21 years old
  • Complete 2 years in an ABFSE funeral service or mortuary science program, and pass a national board exam
  • Serve an internship lasting 1 to 3 years

Applicants must then pass a state licensing exam. Working in multiple states will require multiple licenses. For specific requirements, applicants should contact each applicable state licensing board.

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

The International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA) and the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) offer crematory certification designations. A growing number of states are requiring certification for those who will perform cremations. For specific requirements, applicants should contact their state board.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

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

Important Qualities for Funeral Service Workers

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 over a short timeframe.


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Funeral Service Worker Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for funeral service managers was $70,890 in May 2015. 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 $38,530, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $142,750.

The median annual wage for morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors was $48,490 in May 2015. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,000, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $82,010.

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

Job Outlook for Funeral Service Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Overall employment of funeral service workers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Employment of morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors is projected to grow 7 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for funeral service workers will stem from deaths in the aging population.

These workers increasingly are performing day-to-day routine tasks, including many administrative duties, such as filling out paperwork and securing death certificates. In addition, as a growing number of baby boomers prearrange their end-of-life services, these workers, through their services, will offer people a stress-free understanding that their final wishes will be met.

Employment of funeral service managers is projected to grow 3 percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. Despite growth of the death care industry, fewer managers will be needed as morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors increasingly handle the day-to-day activities at a funeral home.

Funeral Service Workers Job Prospects

Job prospects for funeral service workers are expected to be good overall. Opportunities should be particularly favorable for those who are licensed as both a funeral director and an embalmer, for those willing to relocate, and for certified crematory operators.

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

Employment projections data for Funeral Service Workers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Funeral service workers 71,000 72,400 2 1,400
  Funeral service managers 29,300 30,300 3 1,000
  Morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors 31,100 33,200 7 2,100


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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