How to arrange a funeral

- 20/08/21

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Arranging a funeral can be daunting. Most of us will never have done it before. We’re being asked to make all sort of arrangements at what can be a difficult and stressful time.

Here we’ll give you a few tips to make the process slightly easier. That way, you and your family can give your loved one a farewell that everyone will appreciate.

Organising a funeral with a funeral director

A funeral director will take responsibility for the arrangements of the funeral service. This will include booking and planning the ceremony, as well as preparing and dressing the body of the deceased. They will also usually complete legal documentation on your behalf.

Another benefit of hiring a funeral director is they’ll be there to provide support for you and your loved ones before and on the day of the ceremony.

When it comes to hiring a funeral director, you may wish to use a reputable local one or perhaps one the family have used before. If you don’t have a firm in mind, you can find one either through the National Association of Funeral Directors or The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF).

For those arranging non-religious funerals, you can contact the British Humanist Association and Institute of Civil Funerals for support.

Arranging a funeral yourself

If you choose to organise a funeral yourself, you’ll be able to make the service less expensive and more personalised. This can be ideal if the deceased specified that they wanted a simple, fuss-free service, or if they had requests that don’t suit a traditional ceremony. However, you will need to take responsibility for all the arrangements.

If you’re wanting to arrange a funeral yourself, you can contact the Cemeteries and Crematorium Department of your local council for more information. Alternatively, you can contact one of the many direct cremation providers who can help you arrange a fuss-free cremation.

Using a direct cremation provider

A company like Distinct Cremation can help take the stress out of organising a simple ceremony for your loved one. They can provide support, take care of all the arrangements, and even help complete paperwork. Additionally, a direct cremation plan means loved ones don’t have to worry about covering costs.

If you don’t know whether your loved one made arrangements for their funeral via a prepaid plan or expressed certain wishes, it’s worth double-checking. Even if you cannot find a funeral plan, the Funeral Planning Authority can help. You can fill out their online Trace Your Plan form to check whether there is a plan with its registered providers.

If they do have a plan, the provider will have given a contact phone number to ring. This will set the wheels in motion to deliver the services listed in the plan.

The paperwork before you start organising a funeral

Typically, the death will need to be registered before a funeral can be held. The staff at the hospital or care home will be able to advise on this and help with the paperwork. This includes getting a death certificate issued, registering the death, and choosing a funeral director, if you’re not planning the service yourself. If someone dies at home, the GP should be notified so they can issue a death certificate.

If you’re organising a funeral with a funeral director or through a direct cremation plan provider, they will take care of a lot of the paperwork. You will normally just need to provide them with the green form from the Registrar. If a coroner has been involved, they will issue an Order for Burial or Cremation 6 form instead of the green form.

If you’re organising the funeral yourself, you should be aware of paperwork required for cremations and burials. You’ll need to complete a Cremation 1 form to apply for the cremation. This will usually be supplied to you by the crematorium. You can also find them on the Ministry of Justice website, along with further useful information. In addition, crematoriums will require you to complete forms outlining your instructions for the ashes.

Those organising a burial without a funeral director will need to complete an application form when purchasing a grave site. Alternatively, if the deceased will be buried in an existing family plot, you will need to present the deeds.

What types of funerals are there?

Every person is unique, so it’s important to find the type of service that best suits them. Here are some options to help you decide which service you want to organise for your loved one:

Traditional services

Many funeral services are still religious, traditional ceremonies. These are typically held in a place of worship, such as a church. They will be led by an official or celebrant of that religion.

In addition to the service with hymns, readings and music, traditional funerals include a hearse, mourners, pallbearers, floral arrangements, and a dress code. They may be followed either by a burial or a cremation.

and where this is to be done and by whom.

Humanist options

Around 25% of the UK population state they have no religion1 so many people now opt for a Humanist funeral. This is a non-religious service, usually overseen by a Humanist celebrant. It can take place anywhere but is typically held at a crematorium or woodland burial site.

Celebrations of life

Today, many people say they want their funeral to be a "celebration of life". These services are often very informal. They can be a refreshing contrast to the sombre tone of a traditional religious funeral and focus on family and friends’ happy memories of the deceased.

Direct cremations

Many people simply do not want any of the fuss of a formal funeral. They also don’t want their family to have to worry about making all the arrangements. What’s more, with the average price of a traditional funeral now over £4,000, many don’t want that much money to be spent on a goodbye and are looking for a more affordable alternative.

With a direct cremation, the deceased is simply collected from the hospital or care home for cremation with no mourners present. The ashes are then scattered on the crematorium grounds or handed back to the family.

Although there is no choice of the timing or location of the cremation, the mourners are then free to celebrate their loved one in whatever manner and at whatever time they think best.

Attended funerals

You can still choose to have a direct cremation but opt to have a number of people present.

This can be a small number (up to 12) of close family or friends. Alternatively, it can be without a limit and include a 30-minute family-organised service including readings and music.

Memorial service

A memorial service is a more formal way of remembering a loved one, but without a burial or cremation being part of the ceremony. Mourners gather together and honour the life of the loved one at a suitable location. This could be anything from someone’s home to a village hall or popular local venue. It could even be held outdoors in a park or at a local beauty spot.

If your loved one was religious, the service might include prayers and hymns. The service can be held at a local church or chapel led by a religious official.

There’s no set formula as to the content or structure for a memorial service. That said, you will want to agree an order of service beforehand and who is going to lead it, especially if the family are organising it. This will help things to run smoothly on the day. If the ashes are to be scattered at the same time, agree how

Arranging a funeral checklist

There are multiple elements that go into making a funeral service right for your loved one. Here is a checklist of tasks to keep in mind when arranging a funeral, whether you’re using the services of a funeral director or not:

1. Decide what kind of funeral it should be

One of the most important things to think about is what sort of funeral you want it to be. Even with a funeral director involved, it could be anything from a full religious service to a low-key humanist celebration.

You may also wish to give it a theme that honours your loved one. This might influence what people choose to wear or which sort of flowers they send. On the other hand, you might opt for a simple cremation with no service or attendees. This gives you the freedom to hold a separate celebration at another time.

It may well be the case that your loved one has expressed their wishes or already made plans in advance, and you simply need to enact those.

2. Choose where to hold the funeral

There is far more choice today where you can hold a funeral service. It no longer has to be in a place of worship but could also be held in:

It’s worth thinking carefully about the location if attendees have far to travel.

If you’re going to have a religious service, the religious official will be able to give you advice on how to plan it. They can also recommend how to make it more personal through the music and readings.

3. Pick a date that works for everyone

Once you’ve agreed where to hold the funeral, you will then need to choose a date. To a certain extent, this will depend upon the availability of the crematorium and the funeral directors.

If any loved ones live overseas, you may have to consider delaying it until they are able to organise their trip back. You can also ask the venue for a webcast, so everyone has the chance to view proceedings, wherever they are in the world.

Once you have the place and date agreed, you can inform invitees. You can send formal printed invites if you wish or simply send the details in a more informal way, such as a text or social media message.

4. Purchase a coffin

One of the most important things to consider is the coffin. These can be made out of almost any material. The most common is wood, although many are now from eco-friendly cardboard or wicker.

Coffins can be personalised in a variety of ways. These include engravings and small items of sentimental value, which can be placed inside if it’s a burial. However, you need to check with a funeral director or crematorium as to what is permitted.

Your funeral director will be able to advise on the options available for the coffin as well as on the headstone, if there is to be a burial. If you’re buying a coffin yourself, you can contact suppliers who sell to the public. Be sure to purchase an option with load-bearing handles and organise for loved ones to carry the coffin on the day of the service. You should be able to contact the mortuary where the deceased is resting to request measurement information.

5. Pick an urn

Similarly, if it’s to be a cremation, there are a number of options for the urn. These range from simple cardboard or plastic designs that are made for easy scattering to more expensive and elegant urns designed for display in the home.

Biodegradable urns are also available from recycled paper. These can be buried and usually include seeds or saplings, which can then grow into a memorial tree. Alternatively, you can choose to have the ashes added to decorative keepsakes, such as pendants or paperweights. These can be ideal if multiple people are wishing to keep the ashes.

You will also need to consider the size of the urn. There are approximately 2-3 kilos of ashes produced from an adult. Most urns available from crematoriums are sized between 3-4 litres, so should be suitable. You can discuss your requirements with the crematorium, urn supplier or funeral director.

The crematorium will prepare the ashes for you prior to collection. If you are wanting to turn ashes into decorative memorial items, you will have to arrange this through a specialist company after you have collected the ashes from the crematorium.

6. Book transportation

Your funeral director will talk to you about the hearse and limousines. They can also advise on the route you might want to take to the service.

Chauffeured limousines allow the family to travel together. They also mean you don’t have to concern yourself with details like parking, driving, and arriving on time on the day. You can always use your own cars and most crematoriums have plenty of parking spaces.

Funeral directors now provide a link that you can forward via messaging services like WhatsApp. These give the recipient details of where and at what time the funeral is to be held.

If you are organising the service yourself, you can contact private transportation companies to book hearses, limousines, or other vehicles. These are not a legal requirement though. You are free to arrange transportation of the coffin to the crematorium yourself, as long as it is properly secured during the journey.

7. Choose music, readings and eulogies for the service

As to the content of the service, many people find music comforting at a funeral. You may wish to play a favourite piece of music along with readings and a eulogy from family or a friend who knew them very well. You can organise this with the crematorium or venue.

Your loved one may even have left a request as to what is played or read. If there’s a celebrant or religious official leading the service, you can always ask them for recommendations.

8. Design an order of service

Once you’ve decided upon the eulogies, readings, and music, you’ll be able to print an order of service. This helps things run smoothly on the day and acts as a memento which can be sent to loved ones who can’t attend.

When putting the order of service together, you may want to include:

  • The order of events
  • The words of the hymns
  • Any other songs or poems
  • Reference to the readings
  • A small number of photographs

You can discuss your requirements with a funeral director. If you’re organising the service without a funeral director, you can design and print these yourself. Many online printing services offer templates for order of services. If you’re planning a more informal celebration of life or memorial service, you may prefer to simply notify attendees of what will be happening during the service.

9. Organise flowers, tributes and donations to charity

Flowers and floral tributes are a very popular way to remember a loved one. Many families like to place a small photo on top of the coffin. Floral displays are usually carried in the hearse and then laid out at the place of worship. You may also want some flowers at the place of worship and the wake.

It’s becoming increasingly popular to ask people to donate to a charity, sometimes in lieu of flowers. If your loved one had a cause that was close to their heart, or if there was a local charity that cared for them in their final years, you might want to publicise their details.

It may be the case that your loved one wanted nothing at all in terms of a ‘do’ attended by family and friends. However, you can still mark their passing and respect their legacy with more discreet gestures. For example, many charities offer in memoriam gifts where your gift will in some way be directly linked with your loved one’s name.

Alternatively, you may want to do something as simple as lighting a candle or asking everyone to write down their favourite memory of the deceased. You can even create an online page in their memory or a digital book of remembrance.

10. don't be afraid to reach out for help

Whether it’s a simple no-frills cremation or a fully attended service, a funeral can be an emotional occasion. There are two people who are there to make sure everything runs smoothly:

The funeral director you've appointed will be there to guide you through the day. They will make it as calm and stress-free as possible. As well as organising the transport and making sure the order of service booklets are ready and distributed, they will liaise between you and the crematorium. They will be there in case of any problems or questions.

The chapel attendant works for the crematorium and will be there to greet you when you arrive. It’s their responsibility to make sure any requests you’ve made are carried out. So, if you’ve chosen music or want to display pictures and photos, they’ll make the arrangements.

Organising a funeral yourself can be stressful. It’s worth reaching out to your loved ones and asking them to help. That may involve them taking responsibility for some of the arrangements or simply just being there to provide emotional support. Your loved ones may be wanting to help but feeling unsure of the best way. Don’t hesitate to tell them what you need. You can also reach out to your personal advisor if a direct cremation plan is in place.

What happens on the day of the funeral?

No two funerals are the same. Each is unique and personal to the person whose life is being celebrated, whether it’s a traditional church service and burial or a simple cremation.

However, a typical funeral begins with a hearse containing the coffin being driven slowly to the church or crematorium. Close family often join the funeral cortege in their own cars or vehicles supplied by the funeral directors. Other mourners go straight to the venue.

All are greeted at the church or crematorium by the chapel attendant and funeral director. At the appointed time, the coffin is carried in by pallbearers. If it’s a religious service, it will be led by a member of the clergy. If not, many families hire a non-religious celebrant who will conduct the service and perhaps say a few words about the deceased on their behalf.

A cremation ceremony is normally around 30 minutes and might consist of readings, hymns, memories and perhaps some favourite songs or poems. The important thing is to make it a fitting send-off for your loved one. At the end of the service, the coffin will disappear behind some curtains. You’ll then have the opportunity to look at the cards and any floral tributes.

With a direct cremation offered by companies such as Distinct Cremations, funerals are normally quite simple. If the service is unattended, your personal advisor will call you to let you know when the cremation will be taking place. Afterwards, they will call again to confirm that this has happened.

With an attended ceremony, you and your family will be greeted at the crematorium by the chapel attendant. The coffin will already be there, placed on a wooden platform. At the appointed time, mourners will take their seats in the chapel, the chosen music will start to play, and the service begins.

Receiving and scattering the ashes

Following the cremation, the ashes will be scattered on the crematorium grounds or returned to you. If you have requested their return, you will be given your loved one’s ashes in a container or urn.

The deceased may have left instructions about where they would like their ashes scattered. If so, it’s simply a matter of organising how to comply with their wishes. Otherwise, it’s up to you to decide whether to scatter the ashes in a special place or keep them.

You don’t need to make this decision quickly. Take your time, talk to family and friends and research your options. If you decide to scatter them, choose somewhere meaningful. Consider that you may want to return to that place to remember your loved one in the future.

Here are a few things to think about when organising the scattering of ashes:

  • As long as you have permission, you can scatter ashes almost anywhere. If it’s on private land, you’ll need the landowner’s permission first (for example, if you want to scatter them at a favourite sporting venue or beauty spot).
  • Some people choose to scatter the ashes in rivers, lakes, or the sea. This is fine as long as it’s not close to people swimming, fishing or using a beach, or near a water extraction point. It’s best to check with the Environment Agency.
  • If you simply want to cast the ashes into the wind, it’s easiest with a scattering tube. These are available from as little as £10-15.
  • Why not make an occasion of it? Invite close family and friends and treat it as a celebration of your loved one’s life with each person contributing a memory.

Typical costs of a traditional funeral

If there is no plan in place and you’re organising a traditional funeral, there’ll be both standard and optional funeral costs to meet. You need to be prepared for these. The standard costs for a traditional service include:

  • Funeral director fees
  • ‘Disbursements’ or ‘third-party costs’ are expenses that your funeral director will pay on your behalf. This can include things like cemetery and crematorium costs, for example. If you’re organising the funeral yourself, you will need to arrange payment for these.
  • Local authority burial or cremation fees

There are also optional costs that can vary for services. These help you tailor the funeral to your wishes and might include:

  • Type and style of coffin
  • Type of hearse
  • Limousines
  • Flowers and floral tributes

Funeral directors should list these costs in their quote so you can take your time to consider them. It’s a good idea to get quotes from a couple of funeral directors so you know you’re getting good value for money. If you want some ideas about how to reduce your costs, The Money Advice Service can help.

If you decide to have a direct cremation with a company such as Distinct Cremations, many of these expenses will not be necessary. You can see our guide to direct cremations for more information.

Your options for paying for a funeral

When it comes to covering the cost of a funeral, there are several ways this is typically done. For example, it can be paid for:

  • From a financial scheme, such as a pre-paid funeral plan (which will cover all the costs itemised in the plan) or an insurance policy
  • By yourself or other loved ones
  • With money from the estate of the deceased, such as their savings. You’ll need to apply for a ‘grant of representation’ (also known as applying for probate) to gain access to these funds

There’s also help available from the Government if the family is struggling to cover the costs of the funeral. In such cases, you could apply for the Funeral Expenses Payment.

Arrangements after the funeral

Naturally, when someone dies, there are a number of legal and administrative practicalities that have to be dealt with. These can feel a bit daunting, especially at a time when you are grieving the loss of a loved one. Don’t worry though, they don’t all have to be done at once. You can take care of them in the weeks and months following the funeral.

If you feel you need help, it can be worth talking to a lawyer who specialises in this area. There’s also lots of useful information on the Citizens Advice  website.

Dealing with the estate

Firstly, you’ll need to find out whether your loved one made a Will. If so, there will probably be a copy at their home or lodged with a solicitor.

This will say who the executor is: most likely a family member or solicitor. The executor is the person or people responsible for carrying out the details of the Will and managing the money, debts, possessions, and property of the deceased.

If the estate is worth more than a certain amount, the executor should make an application for legal permission to manage the estate. This is known as probate.

If there’s no Will, you and other family members will need to choose an ‘administrator’. This is often the deceased’s next-of-kin. The administrator will need to make an application for Letters of Administration with the Probate Registry. This is required before they start dealing with the estate.

Informing banks and building societies

You may want to order multiple official copies of the death certificate, as some organisations may need to see them.

One of the first things to do is to inform the deceased’s bank so they can transfer authority, stop payments and direct debits and settle any debts.

You don’t need to tell them all individually. Just contact the Death Notification Service and they'll inform several banks and building societies. Remember, the deceased may have accounts, policies, and credit cards you don’t know about. So, it’s worth spending a little time going through their paperwork to make sure you have them covered.

Telling other organisations

  • Utility companies (gas, electricity, water, etc.)
  • TV, internet, and mobile phone providers
  • Medical services such as GP, dentists, and opticians
  • Mortgage, pension, and credit card providers
  • Insurance companies (home, car, travel, etc.)
  • Employers
  • Solicitors and accountants

Informing the local authority and government services

You can do this in one go through Tell Us Once, a free government service. This will automatically inform local council services such as council tax, housing and child benefit, electoral services and more.

Tell Us Once will also inform other government services. That will set the wheels in motion to cancel things like the deceased’s passport and driving license if they had them.

Redirecting post

To redirect the deceased’s post, you will need to complete a special circumstances form at your local Post Office. You will need to show the Post Office a death certificate copy or proof of power of attorney to complete the process.

It’s also recommended that you register with the Mailing Preference Service (MPS) and the Bereavement Register. These are free services which will stop unsolicited post being sent to the registered person.

Dealing with grief and support for those left behind

Amongst all the practical things you have to do when a loved one dies, it’s the emotional considerations that are the most difficult to deal with. It’s natural to grieve when you lose a family member or friend, but grief takes many forms. Everyone reacts in their own time and in their own way.

Feelings of anger, depression, guilt, and even physical pain are common. It may be difficult to talk about your feelings and friends may also be unsure how to react.

On some days, the feelings will be more acute than others. However, while the sense of loss will be there for a long time, most people will find they’re able to come to terms with their loss with time.

The important thing to remember is that help is there if you need it. There are a number of places where you can find help and bereavement counselling services. The NHS provides a good summary of the services available. Cruse Bereavement Care offers advice and support over the phone and online, 24 hours a day. The National Bereavement Service also offers practical advice on making arrangements after death, as well as emotional support.

Closing social media accounts

Facebook accounts stay active until they are informed of death. You can then either close or memorialise an account. A memorialised account will stay up as a place where friends and family can share memories of the deceased.

Twitter will automatically close an account if it has been inactive for six months. However, it’s a good idea to ask them to close it before that time.

Instagram accounts can also be memorialised in the same way as Facebook. Contact Instagram to organise this or request the removal of the account.

Sources

  1. Humanists UK (2021)
Distinct Cremations is a trading name of Distinct Cremations Limited I Registered in England, No. 13366310 and Distinct Funeral Plans Limited [Prepaid Funeral plan provider] I Registered in England, No. 13366327 | Registered Office Westerleigh Crematorium, Westerleigh Road, Bristol BS37 8QP | Part of the Westerleigh Group |