One of the first steps in arranging a funeral is meeting with the funeral director, but first you have to choose one to handle the arrangements. A funeral director’s job is to ensure that the handling of the body and the funeral service meets legal, religious and personal guidelines, so there will be a lot of information that they need to be aware of. This will require a meeting either at their office or at your home.
It is important that you choose a firm that you are entirely comfortable with. You may also take quoted prices into consideration – some firms might be unaffordable, even if the deceased has left money to be used in the organisation of their big send-off. The body and relevant paperwork should be transferred between funeral homes with the minimum of fuss.
A number of areas will be covered during this meeting with the funeral director. Therefore, it’s important that you have access to the wishes of the deceased (if they had any) so you can make the correct decisions. In addition, you will need the Certificate for Burial or Cremation, issued by the registrar when the death is registered. Give this to the funeral director to prove that you have permission for the body to be buried or cremated.
The disposition of the body is one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make, and hopefully you’ll know which option the deceased wanted. Morally, you should abide by their wishes, but if a lack of finances makes this difficult (burials are more expensive than cremations) then you may need to go against them. There is no legal obligation to abide by their wishes.
The disposition of the body will also dictate the type of service, to an extent. A burial will involve a service in a church or elsewhere and then a subsequent burial service, while a cremation will be one service ending with a committal where the coffin is taken into the crematorium. Neither service has to be religious in tone.
Regardless of the disposition of the body, either a casket or an urn will have to be chosen. Although coffins tend to be made of polished, high-quality woods like mahogany or oak, there has been a vogue in recent years for economically-friendly, biodegradable coffins that cost significantly less than their counterparts. Steel caskets are also available. In terms of features, they may include memento drawers, personalised cushioning and a unique finish (for instance, the rock band KISS has its own line of branded caskets).
You may not worry too much about the way an urn looks if you’re planning to scatter the ashes, but if you’re going to keep and display them, you’ll want to give it more thought. Urns can be made from wood, porcelain, brass, glass and copper to name a few materials, and can be personalised to the person whose ashes they contain. Engravings and artwork on the interior and exterior, for example, are popular decorative touches.
Once the date, time and location of the service has been finalised, family and friends of the deceased must be informed as soon as possible in order to ensure that they can attend – funerals tend to take place during the week and childcare or arrangements for time off work may have to be organised at short notice.
This may also be an opportune moment, if it is appropriate, to place a notice of death or a longer obituary in local or national newspapers as a means of spreading the news to people who may have known the deceased but whom they may not have been in touch with. The notice will often include details of donations (monetary or flowers) and the funeral service if it has been finalised.
While the casket would traditionally be transported to the service in a black hearse with guests’ cars following behind, there are now many different ways in which the deceased can make their final journey. Horse-drawn carriages, JCBs, fire engines and even tanks have been used in the past, so it’s simply a matter of finding an alternative hearse supplier that can meet your needs.
In traditional funeral processions, the hearse leads the way with the immediate family of the deceased following in the car behind (often a limousine arranged by the funeral home), then the rest of the mourners coming after them. The headlights of all vehicles should be on and the funeral home may provide identifying flags or other markers to participating vehicles. There may also be a special guard of honour from members of a club or team the deceased might have belonged to, such as a motorcycling or road cycling chapter.
“I realise now how personal a funeral is to the person who died and how much is expected from loved ones who attend the funeral. You want to make sure everyone who attends feels that their life was represented in the funeral and these people can be from many different points in their life so pleasing everyone and helping them with their grief is extremely difficult.” Carol D’Arcy
The route tends to begin at the deceased’s home and end at the location of the service, but it has been known for the hearse to meet mourners at the service, skipping the procession part of the funeral entirely. The family may also dictate the route that the funeral procession takes to the ceremony – it might wind past their former homes or places that meant something to them as a mini tribute to their lives. Funeral homes will do their best to accommodate specific routes but it’s worth remembering that the slot for a funeral service is tightly allocated and overrunning due to a late arrival may cost extra.
Planning a funeral service should be relatively straightforward, as it will be dictated by the personality, interests and beliefs of the person it’s honouring. The person organising the ceremony should be someone who knows them well and can therefore put together a suitable order of service.
The general form and tone of the service will take cues from the beliefs of the deceased. If they were religious, the ceremony should have a traditional tone. If they were more informal in terms of their beliefs and wishes, a degree of irreverence could be incorporated into the service.
“I have planned the whole funeral, down to the songs and the readings because I don’t want anyone to go through the stress of having to deal with my funeral. It really did make me think, I cannot get my partner to do the same thing.” Carol D’Arcy
The location of the funeral will be decided in conjunction with the type of service. If it’s a religious service, it will take place in a church or wherever the deceased’s main place of worship was. If it’s a non-religious service, it can take place in a crematorium, at the funeral home, in a chapel at the cemetery or anywhere else that the family deems appropriate.
Depending on your beliefs, religious or otherwise, you may consider holding an open-casket funeral so people can say goodbye face-to-face. If the body is in an advanced stage of decomposition or is otherwise not easily recognisable, the funeral director will advise against an open-casket service. If the casket is to be opened, the body will almost always be embalmed at the funeral home.
In a religious ceremony, the music will predominantly consist of a few of the deceased’s favourite hymns, but a secular service will employ non-religious songs from favourite artists or composers – “My Way” by Frank Sinatra and Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” are perennial pop choices. There will also be entrance and exit music to be played as the coffin or mourners enter and leave – some choose longish instrumental pieces to fill the relatively lengthy time this takes.
When choosing readings to be included in the service, thought also has to be given to who is going to give them. Close family or people who have known the deceased for a long time are the best people to pick as long as they agree to it, especially when it comes to reading a eulogy. Their words will mean the most because of their long friendship or relationship with the deceased. In a religious ceremony, readings will probably come from the Bible in addition to eulogies and perhaps a poem or two. A secular service will be similar but exclude the Bible passages.
Photographs are a big part of the day, which is as much about remembering the life of the person as it is about grieving their passing. The order of service and big display photograph are two areas in which appropriate, clear photographs should be used. However, many people print out more photos from throughout the deceased’s life and use them as decorations either at the service or at the wake.
Additionally, PowerPoint presentations and video compilations are increasingly being used as a comprehensive means of honouring the deceased during the service.
Pallbearers are usually male and will often be members of the deceased’s family – their spouse, children, fathers, brother and so on – or their closest friends. When it comes to making a decision, bear in mind that there will typically be six spaces (most coffins have six handles), and pallbearers must have the emotional and physical strength to handle their role. Honorary pallbearers are often chosen to walk beside the coffin as it is carried if they cannot physically do it themselves.
Many families now request that well-wishers make donations to a chosen charity in lieu of flowers, while some buy floral tributes that are placed against the casket both in the hearse and during the service. While lilies are traditional funerary flowers, many prefer to buy the deceased’s favourite blooms (if they had any) and create tributes using those.
“With no real plans in place I chose the cheapest coffin but I did have flowers because he loved flowers and I felt that was important for me and the family to remember that.” Lynda Gratton
Decorations for the funeral service are personalised to the deceased, and should be easy to set up and take away. They might include the aforementioned flowers and photographs, but anything that can be easily transported and displayed can be used.
Other decorations that can be incorporated might include things like the deceased’s favourite football team’s shirt with their name on the back, a favourite hat or something else they were associated with like a walking stick that can be laid on top of the casket.
It’s traditional for a reception or wake to be held after a funeral. It allows the social group to reflect on the loss of the deceased and express their feelings or grief in a (generally) less formal atmosphere. The planning for this doesn’t need to be particularly in-depth – usually the location and food and drink are the only things that have to be arranged ahead of time.
If it’s a small funeral you may be able to head back to somebody’s house after the funeral. Alternatively, you can hire a room at a local hotel or pub, which will usually be able to lay on a spread for guests as well. Nobody expects a banquet at a funeral reception – all you need to serve is finger food such as sandwiches, cakes, crisps and sausage rolls in addition to water, various juices, tea, coffee and alcohol.
Whenever anyone asks you if there’s anything they can do, this is a perfect area for them to contribute.
It will often be appropriate to arrange a permanent memorial to the deceased. If they are to be buried then a headstone will be the obvious choice – it not only memorialises the person but also ensures that mourners know which grave is theirs when they visit. Other options include a plaque, which can be mounted on the ground or on the wall in a crematorium, or a bench that actually serves a purpose. There has also been a recent vogue for planting memorial trees. The memorial you choose will likely depend on the disposition of the body, available finances and the wishes of the deceased if applicable.
The location of the memorial, if it’s not a headstone, is up to you – a bench or tree can be placed anywhere, but an application and payment to the council will probably have to be made. If there is a specific public location you have in mind, find out who maintains that space and speak to the relevant local authority.
If you are looking to arrange a funeral for yourself, the above advice is still valid. You can make further arrangements to benefit your family and personalise your legacy.
Thinking ahead and leaving clear instructions with regard to aspects like the conduction of the funeral service and the disposition of your body, will make the planning of the funeral much more straightforward. In addition, you can decide how the costs are going to be met, as there are a variety of payment plans available.
“Since this experience I’ve made sure there is a plan in place when I die and in my will I have asked that mine and my wife’s ashes are scattered together on a beach in St Ives.” Nigel Say
One of the knock-on effects of the rise of technology is the amount of online accounts we now have – everything from internet banking and shopping to social media. While it would be prudent to at least give the details of each account to a family member so they can delete them, you should do so yourself if there’s time. In the case of banks and phone providers especially, the process is much quicker if they are able to speak to the account holder (although allowances will obviously be made if that person has passed away).
The most important preparation that has to be done in advance of our deaths is the writing of the will. This legal document determines how your estate and assets will be divided after you die. Most people leave money and property to relatives, though it has been known for people to leave everything they have to a charity close to their hearts. Determining who gets what eliminates the potential for ambiguity and rifts developing between relatives after your death.
“The stress of not having a will in place and the repercussions split the family and my Father is now estranged from his two granddaughters whom he loved very much. Death and grief does strange things to people.” Carol D’Arcy
In the research UK adults estimated on average that the cost of a funeral is £3,733, however those who have had to pay for a funeral had to pay significantly more with a total average spend of £4,136. Loved ones could be badly out of pocket if the worst were to happen, as only 21% of UK adults have life or funeral cover in place to cover the costs of their funeral. Londoners are more unprepared for the costs of their funeral to be covered, whilst those outside of the South are the most prepared, with those in the North East (27%) most likely to have life insurance in place followed by 26% of Scots.
British Seniors Insurance Agency looked at the average funeral cost over the next ten years using calculations based on the forecast CPI. The costs of funerals are set to go up by 22% (to £5,066 from £4,136 this year) by 2026 as they rise in line with inflation.
With this in mind, an important part of planning for your own funeral is deciding how you’re going to pay for it. Many people are thinking ahead to try and take the stress and financial strain out of their final journeys. If you’re thinking about paying for a funeral in advance, there are a few options to think about.
Guaranteed life insurance is a great option as far as funeral finances and general after-death financial planning are concerned. If you take out a life insurance policy to be paid upon your death, some of the money from that could be used to pay for your funeral, or at least certain elements such as the coffin, transportation or burial plot. In many cases, a guaranteed life insurance plan is the most reliable way to ensure that the burden of paying for your funeral does not fall on your family, and will go a long way toward easing the general financial strain that may accompany your death.
The advantages of a British Seniors Over 50s Life Insurance plan include:
With the Lifetime Payback Guarantee®, the lump sum payment will always be the greater of the cover amount or the total premiums that have been paid towards a life insured’s cover (the Lifetime Payback Guarantee® amount).
This means that you can rest assured knowing that you, or your loved ones, will never get back less on death than the premiums already paid in.
The protection of the Lifetime Payback Guarantee® applies if you continue your policy for life and will only reduce in value if you reduce your benefit amount.
You can put aside a portion of your estate to help your relatives with the costs by yourself, without pension companies or financial providers getting involved. It’s a good idea to open a joint bank account with the person who will organise the funeral so they can withdraw the funds and then close the account upon your death. Different banks and building societies have different policies regarding the management of joint accounts so ensure that your needs will be met before signing an agreement.
Prepaid funeral plans, which are also sometimes referred to as annuities, guarantee a certain level of service by allowing you to pay today’s prices for the type of funeral you want in the future. Funeral plan providers will offer a few different plans with varying levels of service (such as different types of coffin, the option of following limousines in the procession and so on). Customers purchase a plan and can either pay the full amount upfront or commit to a monthly fee.
Funeral insurance works in the same way as other types of insurance and is generally available from specialist providers and even from funeral directors themselves. There will be various plans available so it’s important to compare them as much as possible to ensure that you’re getting everything you want (or as much as possible) out of the one you choose and remember that you’ll also have to budget for what isn’t included. You should be able to pay everything up front if you wish, as opposed to monthly payments.