Can you legally stop someone coming to a funeral?

Worried someone could be disruptive at your loved one’s funeral? Here, we look at the options for keeping them away – and what to do if you can’t.

Generally, funerals are public events and there isn’t a way to legally ban someone. But as the organiser, you do have the right to ask a difficult relative not to come.

It’s not possible to take out a court order to legally stop someone from coming, and the police are unlikely to get involved. They’ll usually only step in if there’s a history or threat of violence, or if there’s already a restraining order in place against the person.

Unless you say it’s private, people may assume a funeral held at a crematorium, funeral home or place of worship is open to anyone who wants to come. 

You don’t have to publish a funeral notice or let anyone know it’s happening, beyond those you want to invite. But it’s quite easy for the details to get out. This may be worrying if there’s someone you feel could cause a bad atmosphere.

Who decides what happens at a funeral?

If the person who’s died made a will, it’s the executor of the will who has the right to bury or cremate their body, and who arranges the funeral - including inviting family and friends. 

Sometimes people leave instructions in their will about the kind of funeral they’d like. These might include a request for who to invite - and who not to.

If there’s no will, it generally falls to the next of kin to organise a funeral. That’s the closest living relative, such as their spouse or civil partner. It could also be their children, parents or siblings in certain circumstances.

Working out what your loved one would want

When arranging a funeral, the first thing to think about is what your loved one would have wanted. Many families find it uncomfortable to talk about this kind of thing, but you may be able to find details of their funeral wishes in their will. 

There’s nothing in the law that says you have to follow these instructions, but people often find it a good starting point.

Grief can bring tensions to the surface

It’s not unusual for there to be family tensions around a funeral. The situation brings together relatives who may not be in touch regularly or aren’t on good terms. And there are lots of arrangements to make when people are feeling emotional.

Sometimes, issues around money and inheritance are on people’s minds, stirring up tension and leading to arguments. 

A relative may hold a grudge against the person who’s died or someone else in the family, and there’s a chance they will upset people by bringing this up at the funeral. 

Or they may want to use the opportunity to make up for past wrongs, which could distract from giving your loved one a fitting send-off. Keeping them away may feel like the best option for everyone’s sake.

Make sure you’re stopping someone from coming for the right reasons

Stopping someone attending a funeral is a big statement so you may want to consider these questions:

  • Do other relatives feel the same as you?

  • Could stopping someone coming create more upset?

  • Is there another way to resolve the problem?

It can be helpful to bear in mind that you’re not responsible for managing all the family’s tensions while making the funeral’s practical arrangements. It may be useful to talk through your worries with the funeral director and see what they advise.

A funeral director arranges the details of a funeral service or ceremony

They usually work in a crematorium or a funeral home. You don’t have to have one, but they can help you organise all aspects of a funeral and bring everything together on the day.

Holding a more intimate funeral

One way to avoid having to deal with an unwanted guest is to have a completely private funeral. Usually it’s only a few family members and close friends who come to this sort of funeral. 

Be clear in any announcements about the death of your loved one that it’s by invitation only. You may still have to deal with family members who hear about the funeral and are upset you didn’t invite them. 

This isn’t easy, but an honest conversation about why you’ve made the decisions you have may be a good way to approach it.

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Talk openly with the person

If you’re thinking of stopping someone coming or not inviting them, it could be worth having a discussion first, to see if you can resolve the problem or find a way to compromise.

Try taking these steps to approach that difficult conversation:

  1. Share your concerns about a possible bad atmosphere.

  2. Ask to hear their view - and let them know you’ve listened.

  3. Request that they put their grievance aside at the funeral.

It may be that having this conversation relieves some of the tension enough so that the person can come to the funeral and not disrupt it. 

Just talking about the problem could take enough anger out of an old grudge to shift the focus back on to remembering the life of the person who’s died.

By talking about your worries with the person, they may either:

  • realise that if they want to come, they need to be respectful and not disrupt the day, or

  • agree that it’s best not to be there

You could suggest they have a private visit to the grave instead and pay their respects separately from the family.

If you can’t reach a compromise

If your difficult relative won’t agree to any of your suggestions, insists on coming against your wishes, or suggests that they’re going to cause a scene, it doesn’t have to mean they derail the funeral. 

Instead, it’s a matter of working with the funeral director or the venue to help manage the situation.

Security guards are an option

In more extreme cases, if there’s a risk that someone could become physically or verbally aggressive, you may want to look into having some security to stop them coming into the service. 

Security can be a hassle to arrange and will depend on the venue agreeing to it and working with you to arrange it, as it’s their premises. But it may be worth bearing it in mind as an option if you’re very worried.

Ask friends or relatives for help

You may need support dealing with a tricky situation on the day so it could be helpful to have some relatives on hand to keep people who may argue away from each other, or to help steer someone out of the service if necessary.

Keep the funeral director in the know

Their role is to help the funeral go smoothly and they will want to help. If they’re aware of a difficult situation, they can do everything in their power to make sure the focus stays on remembering your loved one and saying goodbye.

Article reviewed

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