If a family member or friend has died, you may have to organise their funeral at a time when you are really struggling to come to terms with their loss.
Planning a funeral can be exceptionally difficult, especially as losing someone you love often feels totally overwhelming, but it can help to understand the various things you’ll need to think about.
How to plan a funeral - first steps
The person who died may have left instructions about what kind of funeral they wanted (whether they wanted a burial or cremation). If they left a will, they may have recorded this information in their will.
If the person who died had a pre-paid funeral plan, contact the company they bought this through before you arrange the funeral. You’ll need to find out how the company will pay for the funeral and how much they’ll contribute.
A funeral cannot be held until the person’s death has been registered. The death should be registered within five days of the death (eight days in Scotland). There’s information on the Gov.uk website about registering a death here.
Choosing a funeral director
You don’t have to use a funeral director to arrange a funeral – it’s perfectly legal for you to arrange it yourself. If you do want to use a funeral director, then unless the person who’s died had left instructions for a particular director to be used, it’s worth doing some research before choosing one.
Not only do some directors charge different amounts for pretty much the same service but, more importantly, their approach varies quite widely. Some are simply better at it than others.
There’s an increasing number of directors offering non-traditional and more personalised options. For example, Poppy’s Funerals (which operates in the M25), Birmingham-based A Natural Undertaking, and Arka Funerals in Brighton all offer something a little different, if you think a less traditional approach may be suitable for the person who has died.
The cost of a funeral (either a burial or a cremation) varies widely.
If you want to use a funeral director, the cheapest option is a direct cremation, which can cost less than £2,000. A funeral with a burial can cost several thousand pounds – more if you want an elaborate ceremony or something like a horse-drawn hearse.
- Direct cremation: This involves collecting the body of the person who died, a basic coffin, the cremation and returning the ashes. You can’t normally view the body before the cremation and you usually have to pick up the ashes afterwards. Not all funeral directors offer direct cremations.
- Cremation: Here the funeral director will collect and keep the body until the cremation. You will be able to visit the deceased (although you will normally have to arrange when you do this in advance).
- Burial: The cost of a burial varies widely depending on the type of coffin, headstone, service and hearse you want.
There is limited government help available for funeral costs (basically, it’s up to £700 towards the funeral itself, plus burial or cremation costs and costs towards things like transport. This payment is means-tested. You can find out more about help with funeral costs here.
If you don’t qualify for government help and the person who died didn’t have a funeral plan, then as long as they had some savings, the bank should be happy to pay the funeral bill direct, even if probate hasn’t been granted. However, the funeral director may ask for an upfront deposit for the cost of using the crematorium or for the burial plot (these are called third party fees as they’re not charged by the funeral director).
Personalising the funeral
There’s lots of information online to help you to plan a funeral and the funeral director can also help you to pick the music and appropriate readings. Here are some tips:
- The eulogy: The eulogy is a chance for someone who knew the deceased well to say a few words about them and their life. Speaking in public can be daunting, especially at a funeral which is bound to be very emotional. If you don’t like speaking in public, don’t put yourself under pressure to deliver the eulogy. You can always say or read a few words before or after the eulogy (if you feel like it) or leave it to someone else to write and/or read the eulogy.
- Flowers: Don’t feel like you have to have white or pale flowers for a funeral. If the person who’s died liked bright colours, there’s nothing to stop you getting a vivid display.
- Music: You don’t have to have traditional hymns or classical music. You can have something completely different, such as birdsong, for example, if the person who died was a nature lover.
- The type of service or ceremony and who leads it: If religion or faith was important to the person who died, you will probably want to reflect that in the service. But if they were not religious, you may prefer to have a non-religious celebrant to lead it. The Humanist Society has information on finding funeral celebrants here.
Where to go for more help
The Natural Death Centre Charity has lots of information about arranging a funeral here.
If you are looking for a funeral director and don’t know where to find one, the Good Funeral Guide has a ‘find a funeral director’ section on its website here. The Funeral Guide site also has a funeral directors section on its website here.