It's difficult to arrange a dignified and appropriate service for someone you love when you're suffering their loss. Take a steady friend or relative with you to help sort it all out.

Find out from a close family member or a lawyer if the deceased left special requests regarding funeral arrangements.

Set a budget. Prices for caskets and services vary hugely. Expect to spend $5,000 for the viewing, funeral ceremonies and an average casket, excluding charges for a burial plot. Consider less expensive options such as a graveside service only or cremation, which costs between $1,000 and $2,000.

Contact funeral homes. Family members may have their preferences. Ask about payment plans. Consumer advocates say prepaid funerals are generally a poor choice for everyone but the funeral home. And the fees (from $5,000 to $10,000) can really burn you up.

Ask for an itemized price list (required by federal law), and make sure you understand exactly what it includes.

Cut casket costs (which range from $375 to $8,500) by buying one online at sites such as FuneralDepot.com. You will avoid the funeral home's markup, and caskets can be shipped there in a matter of hours, if necessary. Or ask about rental coffins, used for viewing purposes only (the body is buried in a basic casket).

Find out what fees members of the clergy charge for their services, if applicable.