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Funeral planning: getting started

Organising a funeral can be difficult when you’re trying to cope with feelings of loss and bereavement. This chapter provides comprehensive information about funeral planning and aims to take the stress out of the process.

For help with your feelings at this difficult time, get in touch with a specialist support organisation .

On this page:

Getting started

Asking yourself a few questions before you start can help you go ahead with confidence and peace of mind.

If there are no formal instructions, the executor named in the Will or the person who is arranging and paying for the funeral will make the decisions. They must also decide if any wishes expressed by the person who died are practical, affordable and acceptable to the family or friends.

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Telling friends and family 

Call, write or email current friends and relatives. You can do this in a few different ways:

  • Place an announcement about the death in a newspaper. This is a good way to reach people who weren’t in regular contact with the person who died. You could also create a social media page in their memory and share it with people they knew.
  • If you wish the funeral to be public, include the date, time and place of the funeral and/or memorial event.
  • Mention any wishes about flowers or donations to charity.
  • For security, avoid including a personal address and arrange for somebody to housesit during the funeral if the person’s home is going to be empty.
  • If vulnerable adults or children have been affected, you might want to think about how to include them in the memorial service.

If you need to tell organisations about a death, please go here. We also have more information about telling friends and family.

Before you go ahead

  • Contact several funeral directors in your area to compare prices and available options. Many costs, for example cremation fees, are fixed but charges can vary. A full breakdown of funeral costs is available here.
  • Ask for a price list or cost breakdown to help you decide which items and services to choose. You might also want to check with other funeral directors if the date you want isn’t available.

Here are some things to think about:

  • If you plan to organise part of the funeral yourself check that the funeral director is happy with this. Some may see certain responsibilities as part of their service while others will be more flexible.
  • It isn’t always cheaper to do things yourself so check prices before taking anything on.
  • Even if you make your own arrangements some funeral directors will provide certain services for a charge. For example, they may deal with documentation, supply a simple coffin, or hire out a hearse or other vehicle. You may also be able to use their mortuary.

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Using a funeral director

You don’t have to use a funeral director for every part of the service and memorial. Doing so can be the easiest route at an already difficult time, but there are a number of options, including:

  • The funeral director makes all the arrangements with instruction from you to ensure you get the funeral you and your family want (within the limits of the law and what you can afford).
  • The funeral director makes most of the arrangements but you choose songs, music, hymns and/or readings.
  • You arrange the funeral and the funeral director organises items or services such as the coffin or hearse.
  • You organise the whole funeral yourself. This could be either a traditional funeral, or an alternative one, for example a natural burial in woodland. The cemeteries and crematorium department of your local council or The Natural Death Centre   can give you information about alternative funerals.

Choosing a funeral director

If you decide to use a funeral director:

Don't feel pressured

Don’t feel embarrassed to ask for a simpler or less expensive option, and don’t feel pressured to make choices beyond your means. Many people arrange funerals which they then struggle to pay for.

Questions to ask a funeral director

  • What services do you provide?
  • Can we pick and choose from your menu of services and just pay for the ones we choose?
  • What do your charges include?
  • Are any items included in your quote optional or are there alternatives?
  • When do we pay the bill?
  • Do we have to pay a deposit?
  • Are you comfortable delivering the choices we have discussed?
  • Can we buy a coffin or its equivalent from another source?
  • Can we provide our own transport?

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Choosing a coffin

Traditional coffins

A wide range is available from various places. Check the coffin is suitable for the place of burial or crematorium before buying. Costs can vary widely so check the price list too. Here are some options:

  • Buy one from a funeral director (be aware that only some manufacturers sell direct to the public). 
  • Order one from a carpenter.
  • Buy one from your local council, cemetery or crematorium.
  • Build one yourself (if you have the necessary carpentry skills).

Alternative coffins

If you prefer an alternative coffin there is a wide range to choose from. You can also decorate these yourself. It’s also possible to just use a shroud such as a burial sheet although only some are suitable for crematoria. Some alternative coffins can cost as much as, or even more than, a traditional coffin so check the price before buying one.

They include:

  • Wool.
  • Woven willow, bamboo, rattan and other natural fibres.
  • Cardboard, which is stronger and more attractive than you might imagine. You can drape, decorate or paint these. If the person is to be cremated, check with the crematorium about possible restrictions. Some types of paint may be unacceptable under emission regulations.

An alternative is to rent a wooden outer coffin for the service, and to buy a cardboard inner coffin. After the service, just the inner coffin is cremated.

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Choosing the time and place

Think about whether to have the burial or cremation at the same time as the memorial service.

It’s also worth being aware that you can have the memorial service anywhere you like. More detailed information can be found here.

Useful links

The Natural Death Centre   – alternative funerals

The National Association of Funeral Directors   (NAFD) – find a funeral director

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