difference between mortician and undertaker

Mortician vs. Undertaker vs. Funeral Director: What’s the Difference?

The professionals involved in end-of-life arrangements play an important role at one of the most challenging times in a person’s life. Funeral directors, morticians, and undertakers share knowledge about funeral services and have the specialized skills and experience to guide grieving friends and family through the process.

Morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors also provide reassurance and comfort to people when they need it most. But what is the difference in responsibilities between these three titles?

Many people use these three terms interchangeably, but the jobs of a mortician, funeral director, and undertaker are unique. In this guide, we’ll explain the difference between a mortician, an undertaker, and a funeral director, detail their responsibilities, and explain how to become a funeral service professional.

Mortician vs. Undertaker

The most significant difference between a mortician and an undertaker is where the term is used and when.

The term undertaker is one of, if not the oldest, word relating to the disposition of the dead. As church graveyards, family cemeteries, and public cemeteries began to be used to bury the dead, the undertaker’s role became crucial.

Undertakers were responsible for transporting the deceased from their home to the gravesite where they would be buried – the deceased’s final place of rest.

In the late 1800s, the title of undertaker became mortician, with both referring to the person responsible for overseeing all of the funeral rites for the deceased. These responsibilities included arranging the funeral service, preparing the body for burial, and conducting the burial at the graveyard or cemetery.

A mortician’s job begins when the family first calls to enlist their services and ends at some point after the funeral. Other duties of a mortician include:

  • Transportation of the body to the funeral home
  • Paperwork pertaining to the death certificate
  • Arranging notary services
  • Assisting families in planning a memorial
  • Cleaning and dressing the body
  • Embalming
  • Cremation if applicable
  • Grief support for the bereaved
  • Officiating funeral ceremonies
  • Creating funeral programs and memorial cards
  • Assisting with video or slideshow equipment for the funeral service
  • Obituary writing
  • Grief aftercare
  • Death care education

Mortician and Undertaker vs. Funeral Director

Just as mortician replaced the term undertaker, the term and title of ‘funeral director’ often now overlaps with or replaces the term mortician. However, there are distinctions between a mortician and a funeral director regarding job duties and salary.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), a funeral director works with the bereaved during times of emotional need by enabling families and communities to express their emotions and helping them to grieve properly. But being counselors is just one part of their job description.

Funeral directors are the uppermost managers or coordinators in the funeral home. The funeral director is typically the person who owns and operates the funeral home and handles many of the logistics of the funeral for the family, including:

  • Arranging transportation of the body
  • Preparing the body
  • Arranging or directing funeral services
  • Arranging for pallbearers and clergy services
  • Getting burial permits
  • Arranging military funerals or military funeral honors for veterans
  • Scheduling the opening and closing of a grave with a representative of the cemetery
  • Arranging the shipment of bodies out of state or out of the country for final disposition
  • Receiving and arranging floral deliveries
  • Offering counseling to grieving families

Funeral directors also handle administrative duties like applying for the transfer of any pensions, insurance policies, or annuities on behalf of survivors. Essentially, they take care of all the administrative details that go into a funeral, allowing the family to focus energy on grieving and healing.

Additionally, at smaller funeral homes, the funeral director may take on some of the duties of the mortician mentioned previously. When the roles are split, morticians are in charge of transporting, washing, embalming, and dressing the body, casketing the body in the coffin, and applying cosmetics to enhance appearance.

How Do You Become a Funeral Director, Mortician, or Undertaker?

A career in funeral services requires someone with a high level of compassion and understanding. These professionals assist the bereaved in following the deceased’s wishes and ensuring the services honor their memory.

Funeral directors also have an extensive educational and certification process to follow before being called funeral directors. While qualifications vary depending on the state, a funeral director must have some higher education, a multiple-year apprenticeship, and a professional certification.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an associate degree in Funeral Service or Mortuary Science is typically required to become a funeral service worker. However, some employers prefer applicants to have a bachelor’s degree in Mortuary Science, Psychology, and Business.

Associate and bachelor’s degree courses usually cover topics like ethics, grief counseling, funeral service, and business law.

In addition to a college degree, morticians, funeral arrangers, and funeral directors must complete one to three years of training under the direction of a licensed funeral director or manager and then pass a state or national board exam to be fully licensed.

The licensing requirements for morticians are generally the same as for funeral directors, though you may need a separate license for embalming, depending on your state of employment. Do your research to ensure you meet all the requirements if you want a career as a mortician or funeral director.

Funeral Services Job Outlook, Career Growth, and Pay

The BLS projects that the overall employment of funeral service workers will grow eight percent by 2031, faster than the average for all occupations. They also project an average of 7,900 openings for funeral service workers each year over the decade.

Funeral service directors earn a median annual wage of $74,000, while morticians, undertakers, and funeral arrangers earn a median yearly salary of $48,950. While minor differences exist between a mortician, undertaker, and funeral director, all three careers allow you to help individuals and families when needed.

The associate degree in Funeral Service at Goodwin University will prepare you to become a trusted funeral service professional. In our program, students develop and refine interpersonal, business, and time-management skills to treat clients with care, compassion, and sympathy during grief and loss.

Learn more today by taking the next steps to become a funeral service professional. We’re ready when you are.