Planning a funeral can be an emotional process. Even people who are usually well organised and focused on tasks like these may find it difficult to navigate, what can be quite complex, event planning.
The following guidance is provided as a checklist and may cover aspects of a funeral service that are not applicable to your own plans. The list, whilst comprehensive is not exhaustive and there are some aspects, particularly those in relation to specific religious services, that may not have been covered.
Before you decide whether to appoint a funeral director or not (see below), it is important to have some idea of the kind of service you would like to arrange before you do so.
As well as discussing this with close family and friends, it is always recommended that you consider any last wishes that the deceased may have had in this regard which may involve reading the Last Will and Testament.
Read The Will
Sometimes, families do not refer to this important document before planning a funeral and find out at a later stage that the deceased had made certain requests. This can be upsetting to discover when it is too late to change so the first thing we would suggest is to find and read through the Will.
Discuss Initial Plans with Family/Friends
We would then recommend that you organise a family meeting to go through some of the points listed below in order to make some initial decisions about important aspects of the type of funeral you are arranging.
Armed with whether you are looking at a natural burial, direct cremation or traditional/religious burial will help you determine whether you need or want a funeral director to help you with the preparations.
At this stage, it is also worth discussing a few things like:
- whether the funeral will be a traditional one with mourners wearing black.
- whether the family would like floral tributes or charitable donations.
- whether there is to be a public viewing of the deceased’s body.
- whether there is to be a funeral cortege/procession.
- whether there is to be a wake.
There are many other things to consider (see below) but these elements of a funeral need to be addressed early so that details can be provided in the funeral notices issued to the local newspaper in order that mourners can make plans.
Appointing a Single Point of Contact
Whilst the decisions for much of the planning of a funeral will be made either by the next of kin or jointly with family, it can be helpful to appoint a single person who can act as the point of contact for all of the relevant people, companies and organisations involved with the planning. The responsibility of this could be shared as long as all parties communicate their plans with each other.
A change in timing for transport to the funeral, for instance, could have implications on other aspects of the funeral organisation.
Decide on Type of Funeral
The main focus of this planning meeting and reading the Will is to decide on what type of funeral you will be requiring. The decision between a burial and cremation will help you plan the next stages of the service.
Part of your decision may be to honour the religious beliefs of the deceased (e.g. cremation for Sikhs), respecting the wishes of the deceased to be interred with a loved one (traditional burial) or could be determined by personal preference (e.g. a natural burial). You may even be in a position where cost is a factor in which case direct cremation may be preferable.
It is important, at this stage, to consider if the deceased is entitled to any burial benefits or privileges such as military honours, fraternal order of rites (such as a Master Mason) etc.
Appointing a Funeral Director
The process of planning a funeral can be made more straightforward if you appoint a funeral director to act on your behalf. As well as arranging transport from the place of death to a funeral home, preparing the deceased for the funeral and organising the aspects of the service itself, funeral directors can also look after the official business of dealing with a crematorium/cemetery and issuing a death and funeral notice to the local newspapers.
However, there is no requirement in law that means you have to use the services of a funeral director nor, if you do, that they must handle all elements of the funeral itself.
You are at liberty to organise a funeral entirely by yourself or to take charge of those elements of the funeral plans that you wish to.
If you do decide to use a funeral director to take care of some or all of the funeral arrangements then you can do this by seeking recommendations from trusted friends, family or neighbours or by calling local funeral homes and arranging to meet with staff to get some idea of costs and types of service offered. The Funeral Advisor website has a full list of funeral directors who operate in the UK.
If you are considering a natural burial then the Natural Death Centre has a list of recommended Funeral Directors.
Setting the Venue and Date for the Funeral
Once you have decided on which method of funeral you would like to arrange, you will need to choose the venue where the funeral service is to be held and, if there is to be a separate burial or cremation, where committal/interment shall take place.
A separate service prior to cremation or burial is common for religious funerals and will often require you to tie up a date and time when the two can be accommodated together accordingly.
Confirm the booking with the venue and pay any deposits as appropriate. For both burial or cremation you will need to provide the relevant paperwork, namely the Certificate of Registration of Death (form BD8) and the Certificate for Burial or Cremation (also known as ‘the green form’).
Book an Officiant
If you are not booking a separate venue for the service and intend having an officiant to oversee the ceremonies then you will also need to ensure that they can accommodate the date and time you have chosen.
For cremations, it is increasingly common for a humanist service to be delivered and you will need to arrange a celebrant to do this. Remember that there is no requirement for you to opt for an officiant to direct the service and you may choose a family member or close friend to do this for you.
Whether you choose a priest or a celebrant, part of their role is to deliver a funeral service that is personalised to the deceased. As a result, you will also need to organise a suitable date to meet with your officiant in order for you to discuss the service.
Decide Upon, and Book, a Venue for the Wake
Decided on whether or not you will hold a wake and, if so, where this should be held. You can hold a wake at your, or the deceased’s, home or hire a function room at a local hotel, club or pub. Make sure you book the venue and confirm the expected number of guests; this will help the venue to ensure the right area is provided as well as staffing appropriately.
Notifying Mourners & Inviting Guests
Once you have a confirmed date, time and location for the funeral (plus a funeral director where applicable) you can now notify mourners by placing a death/funeral notice in the local newspaper. Your funeral director will normally do this for you.
Notices of this kind are often accompanied by any requests that the family has for floral tributes (or donations to a charity) along with any dress code or special requests (see below). They should also include details of the wake if this is an open-invitation event.
It is customary to personally invite family and friends of the deceased and to notify them separately to the general notice that is published in the newspaper. As per the above, you should confirm all of the relevant details of the funeral and any special requirements.
Write an Obituary
An obituary is different from a death, or funeral, notice and the two do not have to submitted together but often are.
There is no formal requirement for an obituary but some families like to honour their loved one’s with more of a detailed announcement.
Obituaries are commonly published when the deceased had a prominent role in the public eye. Whilst a loved one may not warrant a national press obituary, they may well have led a life of some significance at a local community level.
Summary Checklist for Funeral Planning
We have compiled a full list of all those things which should be considered as part of arranging a funeral in the UK. Whether you undertake the service yourself or use a funeral director, you will still need to make decisions on all of these aspects.
There is no set order in which to make these decisions but you may find it easier to start in the order presented so that you have a clear idea of the sequence of events you are planning.
For the avoidance of any doubt, we have also included all of those steps already mentioned above:
- Check the will for any specific request for the funeral.
- Discuss plans for the funeral with all family members.
- Appoint a single person to act as point of contact.
- Decide on type of funeral.
- Appoint a funeral director (if required).
- Choose a venue for the funeral service.
- Choose a venue for the burial/cremation.
- Set a date and time for both the service and burial/cremation.
- Book an officiant to lead the service and burial/cremation.
- Meet with the officiant to provide details of the service.
- Choose and book a venue for the wake.
- Issue a death notice to the local newspaper.
- Write an obituary (where appropriate).
- Notify and invite mourners.
- Choose a coffin.
- Select clothes for the deceased.
- Arrange transport for family to and from the funeral.
- Arrange transport for the deceased.
- Choose pallbearers.
- Decide on a dress code for mourners.
- Choose floral arrangements (if applicable) or select a suitable charity for donations to be given to instead.
- Select music and/or hymns (where appropriate) for the service.
- Prepare photos and/or other media for the service.
- Prepare the Order of Service cards and have these printed.
- Select readings and choose who to read them.
- Prepare a eulogy and decide who shall deliver this.
If you are holding a wake then there also a few things you will want to consider, including:
- Prepare Music for the Wake.
- Arrange for a Memorial Register/Guest Book.
- Arrange Catering for the Wake.
Finalising The Details
Once all of the details have been decided and plans have been made to book and organise each of these elements, it is key that the person appointed to act on the family’s behalf confirms all of these prior to the funeral itself.
With so many separate elements of a funeral to organise, it can be easy to miss a step or to make an assumption that someone else will deal with it. It is far better to make a few calls a few days before the funeral to make a final check on the arrangements.