Funeral sympathy cards are sent by friends and loved ones to the family of the deceased to express their condolences. Thank you cards are sent by the family of the deceased to those who contributed in some way to the funeral arrangements, sent gifts of sympathy or otherwise helped the family. There are rules of etiquette to follow in both cases.

Sympathy Cards: What to Write

Although most sympathy cards have a printed message inside, etiquette states that it is best to also include a personal message of condolence inside the card. Handwrite a note of sympathy, such as "We will always remember Jim for his wonderful smile and caring nature." Express your sorrow that the loved one is gone, and sign it with your full name and your relationship to the deceased if you think the family may not immediately recognize your name.

Sympathy Cards: When to Send

Send a sympathy card any time after the death notice appears in the local paper. The death notice is the formal notification of the passing of a person. Send the sympathy card to the home of the closest family member of the deceased, or send or bring it to the funeral home. The funeral director will collect the notes and pass them along to the family. Some people send flowers along with the cards. Others may donate money to a charity in memory of the deceased. If you do this, write a note in the card that you have done so, but don't mention the exact amount of the donation.

Thank You Cards: What to Write

Thank you cards should be handwritten on nice note cards, not sent via email or hastily typed up on a computer. The message doesn't have to be long, but taking the time to write a thank you card shows that you are sincere. Thank the person for his or her contribution and express how much that contribution meant to you. Then, sign the card on behalf of the family.

Thank You Cards: When to Send

Funerals are not easy to plan. There are so many things to remember and grieving to be done. Sometimes, life doesn't slow down very much after the funeral either. Still, etiquette states that you should generally send out the thank you notes within three weeks after the service. To do this, enlist the help of one or more family members to get them written and addressed, and keep in mind that not everyone who came to the funeral needs to receive a thank you note -- reserve them for those who went above and beyond to help, who contributed at the service or who sent gifts or flower arrangements. Finally, remember that even if the thank you cards are sent out late, most people will likely be very understanding about it.