Saying goodbye to a loved one is never easy. No matter when it happens it can be a tough time. In our 2020 British Seniors Funeral Report, we found that 31% of respondents don’t like to talk about their own death but being prepared and staying informed can make our passing easier on our loved ones when the time comes.
In this guide to planning a funeral, you'll find all the information you need about not only planning for your own funeral but the funeral of a loved one.
Here are the areas that will be covered:
- How to put a plan in place for your own funeral.
- Typical funeral costs and what you should consider.
- How to go about choosing a funeral director and what are your options if you don’t want to go with a funeral director.
- Organising a funeral service and the considerations that need to be made with arranging the ceremony.
- How to plan a funeral for someone else; from how to register the death to informing the relevant institutions.
- A helpful guide to arranging the details on the day of the ceremony.
- What to expect after the funeral, dealing with legal and financial issues.
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Are you planning your own funeral? You may want to leave clear instructions with your family in order to personalise your legacy.
Discuss how you would like the funeral service to proceed and how you would like to handle the disposition of your body. This will make planning your funeral more straightforward while taking the weight off your loved one’s shoulders.
Essential Funeral Planning Documents
Organising your records and placing them in a safe place will make things a lot easier for whoever is responsible for taking care of your funeral or managing your estate. Before we get into the details of planning your own funeral there are a few documents that would be great to have sorted out ahead of time.
Important end of life documents can include:
- Your Will
- Birth certificate
- Forms of ID
- Real estate documentation information like deeds or proof of ownership
- Information on financial assets i.e. your bank accounts,
- Life insurance policy
- Stocks, bonds or savings accounts
- Information on liabilities and debt i.e. mortgages, personal loans, credit cards.
Gather all your important documents, put them somewhere for safekeeping. Then, inform one or two of your closest friends or family of the location of these items.
Some of these items must be physical copies or originals like your birth certificate for instance, but other items can be stored digitally. This could be stored on a USB key or in an online document that can be accessed with a password. You could ask someone tech-savvy for help with this if you’re unsure. Choose whatever you’re most comfortable with. Just remember to let the right people know where and how to access these documents.
Review your will
One of the most important preparations to be done in advance of our death is the writing of a will. This legal document determines how your estate and assets are divided up after you die.
You could leave money and property to relatives, however, you could also leave everything to a charity close to your heart. Determining who gets what eliminates the potential for ambiguity and rifts developing between relatives after your death.
Discussing your wishes with your loved ones
Discussing your wishes with your loved ones is an important part of planning your own funeral. When we don’t talk about our death with our loved ones, they’re left unprepared during a stressful time. Having a chat about your funeral wishes helps clear up any confusion. But what’s the best approach to such a sensitive subject?
How to talk about your funeral
Did you know that 58% of over 55s have discussed their funeral plans with someone?* You can begin by preparing the details in advance, that way you know exactly what you would like to say, and you won’t leave anything important out. Consider what kind of funeral you would like... maybe you don’t want a funeral at all? - the point is, it’s up to you but you should know what you want before starting a conversation around it. There are plenty of options for you to choose from, the most important thing is that your wishes are realistic.
Once you have everything clear in your mind, it’s time to start preparing the details. It’s important to make sure you cover all grounds, even if the conversation veers off-topic every so often. The best way to keep everything on track is with a checklist. Here’s an example of a list of funeral details that might be worthwhile discussing:
- Where would you like to hold the funeral? A church, your home, another venue?
- Burial vs Cremation - what’s your preference?
- Would you like a secular or religious funeral?
- Who will give the eulogy?
- What personal touches would you like to add i.e. music, video or photos?
- Would you prefer an open or closed casket?
- Who would you like the pallbearers to be?
- What funeral director would you like to go with?
- Payment, do you have life insurance or a funeral plan or will the family be expected to pay?
- Do you have a preference when it comes to burial garments, makeup, hair?
- How would you like the disposition of your body handled i.e. donated to science, ashes spread in a place of your choosing
Be prepared for an emotional response
Be prepared for emotions, it’s perfectly normal for people to react differently. Even if there are a few tears shed or there is tension, try your best to remain calm and carry on with the conversation until you’re positive you’ve made your wishes clear.
If you wish, you can take this opportunity to discuss things like your will, life insurance beneficiaries, your estate. Having protection like over 50 life insurance can put your loved one’s mind at ease as it can be used towards funeral expenses.
Make room for any questions your loved ones might have concerning your wishes. Disagreements could arise, be sure to stick to your guns but be open to hearing people’s opinions. Make it clear that you hear and respect what they have to say but it is you who should get the final say on how your assets, your funeral and any other details are handled. You want to end the conversation with a sense that there won’t be any confusion over details when the time comes.
An important part of planning for your own funeral is deciding how you’re going to pay for it. More and more people are thinking ahead to try and take the stress and financial strain away from their families. If you’re thinking about paying for a funeral in advance, there are a few options you can consider.
How much does a funeral cost?
According to the British Seniors Funeral Report, depending on the choices you make, the average UK funeral can cost up to £5,000. The cost often comes down to decisions being made around burial or cremation and the addition of discretionary items like flowers and memorials.
In fact, our report showed that the most common items family members had to contribute toward when paying for a loved one's funeral were; flowers (41% of Brits contributed to this), the coffin or urn (41%), the cremation or burial (39%), catering for the event (36%)
It can be a hard pill to swallow when we think about our loved ones being left out of pocket should the worst happen. Especially considering 47% of people in the UK have contributed to various funeral aspects from funeral notices, an obituary, flowers and burial plots of respondents have had to assist with the costs of a family bereavement. However, that doesn’t mean people are preparing for the worst, only 22% of UK adults have life or funeral cover in place to cover the costs of their funeral**.
With these shocking statistics in mind, it's more important than ever to have a plan in place for these costs. Making sure your family is protected doesn’t have to be stressful. With a little bit of planning you can feel proud you’ve helped to look after your loved ones.
Some examples of how you can pay for your funeral:
- Money generated from your estate
- Out of your own pocket
- Funeral Plans
- Dipping into savings
- Over 50s Life insurance
Saving for funeral expenses
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 could be 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 any agreements.
British SeniorsOver 50's Life Insurance
Funeral payment plans
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. As important as it is to plan ahead when it comes to funerals, Mintel Report on funeral planning in 2019 shows that many people just don’t want to think about it.
How can having Over 50 Life Insurance help me?
Over 50s Life insurance can pay out a lump sum to your loved ones to help cover funeral costs. There will be various plans available, so it’s important to compare them as much as possible to ensure that you’re getting what you want (or as much as possible) from the plan you choose. Remember that you’ll also have to budget for what isn’t included.
How do I choose a funeral director?
Choosing a suitable funeral director is the first step as it’s their job to handle arrangements, with your guidance of course. You must meet with the funeral director at their office or in your home and you may need to meet with more than one funeral director to ensure that they are:
- able to provide you with everything you need
- offers it at an affordable price
Before getting into the personalisation of the ceremony, they will take care of the practicalities like ensuring the handling of the body and the funeral service meets all legal, religious and personal guidelines. They will make sure that relevant paperwork has been transferred with little or no fuss, for instance, the Certificate of Burial or Cremation issued by the registrar once the death has been registered.
You may or may not be aware of what kind of service the deceased would have wanted. If you’re unsure you can always ask the funeral director for advice, it is their area of expertise after all.
To find a funeral director you know will maintain an exceptional level of professionalism, visit the National Association of Funeral Directors website to find a NAFD member.
I don’t want to use a funeral director, what are my options?
You can always take matters into your own hands when it comes to planning a funeral. DIY funerals can be a cost-effective alternative. Not only that but it could be a more personal send-off.
Be aware that it may involve more planning, so expect to hold the funeral at a later date if the death was unexpected.
Be sure to contact your local council if you want to arrange a funeral in your local cemetery or crematorium
Disposition of the body
These days, people have all sorts of strange requests when it comes to the disposition of their bodies. Gone are the days of the standard burial or cremation being the only way; being cryogenically frozen, turned into a diamond or a tree, being buried at sea and even being shot into space are gaining popularity.
In many cases, the disposition of the body is important when determining the type of service, you will hold. A burial, for instance, will involve a service in a church or another venue and then a subsequent burial service to follow, while a cremation usually consists of one service, ending with a committal where the coffin is taken into the crematorium.
The details of the funeral service will depend largely on the values, personality, interests, and beliefs of the person who is being honoured.
Those who are organising the ceremony will know the deceased well enough to organise a meaningful service. It may be religious, non-religious, traditional, non-traditional or it may be simply a family celebrating the life of a loved one from the comfort of their own home. There are several ways to celebrate the life of someone you love, and there’s certainly no right or wrong way to do it.
Where is the best place to have a funeral service?
Again, this will depend on the type of funeral service. It may take place in a place of worship, a crematorium, a funeral home, a chapel at a cemetery or a family home.
Open or closed casket
You may consider holding an open-casket funeral assuming the body is intact. In some circumstances, the funeral director may advise against an open casket as sometimes the body may be in a later stage of decomposition or the cause of death has affected the body in such a way that might be upsetting for some.
Choosing the perfect coffin, casket or urn
When it comes to purchasing an urn or a casket, you may want to go down the route of a traditional high-quality, polished wooden coffin, or maybe you want something a little different like an eco-friendly biodegradable coffin that’s more in-line with the deceased’s values or interests? What about a steel casket?
The point is, there are many options to choose from. For instance, some caskets include memento drawers and personalised finishing like custom colours or cushioning.
Generally, urns are made of wood, porcelain, brass, glass, copper and other materials. If you’re scattering the ashes as opposed to keeping the urn you might opt for a simpler option. If you plan on keeping your loved one’s ashes, there are lots of ways to personalise the urn by adding artwork, engravings or decorative touches.
Losing a loved one can leave us feeling lost, and planning a funeral only adds to an already stressful situation. But not to worry, this guide is here to help you figure out what steps to take when someone close to us passes away.
From registering a death, to choosing the right funeral director, and finding a way to cover costs; here’s what to do when someone dies.
The very first steps
The very first thing you must do when someone dies is contact those are closest to the deceased to inform them of the bad news. Next thing is to ask a doctor to issue a medical certificate stating the cause of death.
If someone dies at home, you can arrange for a funeral director to collect the body. If your loved one happens to pass away in a hospice or a hospital, then the medical staff can offer advice on what to do next. Often when someone dies in a hospital, their body will be kept in the morgue for days, or sometimes even weeks which will give you more time to arrange the funeral.
If someone dies unexpectedly or under suspicious circumstances, you must call 999 as soon as possible. The police and paramedics will request a coroner who can investigate the cause of death. The coroner will most likely arrange for a funeral director to bring the body to the morgue for a post-mortem examination.
You are not obliged to use this funeral director for your own arrangements. Once a cause of death has been determined, you will be given forms granting the release of the body for burial or cremation.
How do I register a death?
To register a death, it’s advised that you visit the nearest register office to the location where the individual passed away. Registering a death won’t take long if you phone ahead and make an appointment. You will have 5 days to register a death if you’re located in England, Wales or Northern Ireland and 8 days for Scotland.
Click here to search for a registrar office near you.
Who can register a death?
You can register a death if you are a close relative to the deceased, someone who was present when they died, an administrator from the hospital in which they died or whoever is the executor or administrator of their estate.
What documents do I need to register a death?
You will need to bring the medical certificate stating the cause of death and it may help to speed things along if you have any of the following items at hand:
- Birth certificate of the deceased
- Their NHS card or National Insurance Number
- A marriage or civil partnership certificate
- Their passport, proof of address (this can be a utility bill)
- Their driver’s licence
- Council Tax bill
What happens after I register a death?
Once a death has been registered, you will receive the following documents:
- The Certificate of Notification of Registration of Death
- Copies of the Death Certificate
- The ‘Green’ Certificate for Cremation of Burial
- Information on government benefits for the bereaved
You will then be ready to start making funeral arrangements.
Does it cost anything to register a death?
Registering a death is free but you must pay for a death certificate. This costs £11 in England and Wales, £12 in Scotland and £15 in Northern Ireland.
We would advise you to get extra certificates in case you need them for claims to pensions, savings etc. as institutions like banks and insurance companies won’t accept a photocopied version.
Who must I inform when someone dies?
It’s not just family, friends and colleagues of the deceased who need to be informed of their passing. In fact, you may not realise just how many organisations you must inform.
After registering someone’s death, you should begin contacting the relevant government bodies and financial organisations immediately. You can notify just about every important government office at once by filling out one simple form or with a quick phone call with the Tell Us Once service. However, this service may not be available in your area. If this is the case, you’ll have to contact all the relevant offices individually.
You must also contact any relevant financial organisations such as pension providers, banks or building societies, credit and store card companies, mortgage providers and insurance companies.
Utility companies like gas, water, phone and internet companies must be notified along with Royal Mail, the Bereavement Register and Mailing Preference Service who will help you to remove the deceased’s name from commercial mailing lists.
You may also need to inform the individual’s landlord if applicable.
Close and memorialise online accounts
One of the knock-on effects of the rise of technology is the abundance of online accounts we now have – everything from internet banking and shopping to social media. Give the details of each account to a family member so they can delete them or do so yourself if there’s time.
In the case of banking and phone providers especially, the process is much quicker if the organisation can speak directly to the account holder (although allowances will be made if that person has passed away).
Planning the journey to the funeral
Traditionally, a casket is transported to the funeral service in a black hearse while immediate family follows behind in a car or limousine – this is often arranged by the funeral home. Other mourners will then follow closely behind.
All vehicle headlights should be on, and the funeral home may provide other identifying flags or markers to participating vehicles.
There are many alternative hearses available these days and it’s not unheard of for people to choose something very different like a horse-drawn carriage, a fire engine or even a tank.
The route that the funeral procession takes is determined by the family of the deceased, it may pass by their home or places that were meaningful to them. Some decide to skip this part altogether and request that mourners meet at the ceremony. The funeral home may charge more if you request a specific route.
Planning a truly meaningful ceremony
You may or may not be aware of what kind of service the deceased would have wanted. Planning a funeral can be tough for anyone and making decisions around the ceremony can be even more difficult.
If you’re unsure of what to plan you can always ask the funeral director for advice, it is their area of expertise after all.
Choosing the right music
You must choose entrance and exit music to play as the coffin arrives and leaves the service venue. But what’s the best music to pick for a funeral service?
The music at religious ceremonies generally consists of the deceased’s favourite hymns but different types of funerals may include other kinds of music, particularly the favourite songs of the deceased. “My Way” by Frank Sinatra and Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” are popular choices. You may also wish to include instrumental pieces to play during the ceremony.
Readings and eulogies
Who should read a eulogy?
Think carefully about who knows the deceased the best. It’s a good idea to choose someone who doesn’t shy away from public speaking.
What should I say in a eulogy?
The better someone knows the deceased, the more meaningful their words will be. Bible readings are common at traditional, religious funerals while poems are a popular choice for secular services.
Photos, videos and imagery
Photographs and videos are a fantastic way to remember the ones we love. It’s easy to forget that funerals are as much about remembering the life of a person than just mourning their passing.
Use an appropriate, clear photograph for the order of service and the big display photograph. Many people choose to print other photos from throughout the deceased’s life and use them as decorations at the service and/or 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 are often members of the deceased’s family – their spouse, children, fathers, brother and so on – or their closest friends. Typically, there are six handles on a coffin and therefore six pallbearers. Pallbearers must have the emotional and physical strength to handle their roles. Honorary pallbearers are often chosen to walk beside the coffin as it is carried if they cannot physically do it themselves.
It’s becoming increasingly common for families to request that well-wishers donate 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 funeral service. Traditionally, white lilies are a common choice, but many prefer to use the deceased’s favourite flower (if they had a preference).
Decorations & mementos
Decorations for the funeral service are often personalised in honour of the deceased and they should be easy to set up and take away when the time comes.
Decorations might include flowers, photographs, ornaments that were sentimental to the deceased, their favourite football team’s jersey, a hat that they wore every day or something else that they were heavily associated with.
These items are often placed on top of the coffin during the ceremony.
Choosing and placing a memorial
When we lose someone we love, we often want to pay tribute to them in a meaningful way. Many people do this by arranging an engraved headstone or by arranging a memorial of some kind.
This may be something placed on their grave, a plaque mounted on the ground or in a crematorium, or maybe even a park bench.
There’s been a recent trend in people planting memorial trees in honour of their loved ones. Just remember, you may have to contact the council or relevant local authority if you wish to place a bench or plant a tree in memory of the deceased.
Dealing with legal and financial matters
Once the funeral is over and everything has settled down a bit, you will have to start thinking about legal and financial matters. This may be outstanding debts, dealing with someone’s estate, sorting the will (or lack of will), inheritance tax and so on. For more information on this, you could visit the Age UK website.
Where can I get bereavement support in the UK?
Grief can be exceptionally hard to handle and there’s no reason why you should have to face it alone. British Seniors have partnered with the National Bereavement Service to offer help and support for you and your loved ones.
The National Bereavement Service offers people free practical, social and emotional help when dealing with the loss of a loved one. They can also help with a lot of the practical work which could be unfamiliar to you.
* Funeral Planning, Mintel, UK October 2019, Executive Summary, pg. 6
** 2020 British Seniors Funeral Report