Do you have to have a funeral when someone dies?

Funerals seem like a pretty traditional thing after someone dies - but do you have to have one? And if you do not, what are your options?

You do not legally have to have a funeral in the UK - lots of people do not want a funeral, and that’s OK. But you do have to register the death, and either cremate or bury the body.

There is no law that says you must have a funeral when someone dies

It’s a personal decision and there are many reasons why it might or might not be the right choice for you or your loved one. 

But there are some important steps you have to take when someone dies. The government website has a helpful step by step guide (you can choose to skip step 2 where they go into detail about organising the funeral), and we’ve also summarised it for you below.

You must register the death

After someone dies you have to register their death within 5 days (8 in Scotland). This involves a relative or friend of the person who’s died attending an appointment at a local register office. Once complete the registrar will provide a certificate for burial, or an application for cremation. You’ll need one of these whether you’re having a funeral or not.

You must bury or cremate the body of the person who has died

Under UK law, you have to bury or cremate a person after their death. This does not mean you have to have a funeral service though. You can arrange for the body of the person who’s died to be buried or cremated without organising a funeral service which people have to attend. 

You can have a direct cremation if you do not want a funeral service

A direct cremation is a cremation without a service. The crematorium will take the body of the person who’s died into their care, cremate them and then bring their ashes back to you. Some people find it gives them more flexibility and space to deal with their emotions, and they can choose to hold a separate memorial service at a later date.

You must tell the government about the death

You have to let the government know when someone has died. This is separate to registering the death, but it will often happen at the same time. The registrar can help talk you through the process. 

In the UK there’s a service called ‘Tell Us Once’. It lets you tell all the government agencies about someone's death at the same time.

You should check if the death means a change to your benefits or status

If you were closely linked with the person who died, you might qualify for bereavement benefits. There's helpful advice on the government website. It’s also a good idea to check if there are any changes to your own situation - such as your pension, taxes, or benefits. 

It can sound like an intimidating process, but there’s lots of support to help you. Citizens Advice has a useful guide to find out if you qualify for bereavement benefits, and how to claim them. 

Arrange a direct cremation from £1,200 

A direct cremation allows you to respectfully cremate someone’s body without having to organise a funeral. You can then decide how to scatter or store their ashes at a later date if you need more time to decide how you want to remember this person. 

Reasons why a funeral might, or might not be the right choice

What to do when someone dies is as personal and different as each individual person is. There’s no right or wrong option.

Reasons you might want a funeral

  • The person who died has requested a funeral or has spoken about having a funeral.

  • If the person who died was religious, a funeral might be the best way to honour their wishes.

  • Funerals can provide a well-known and comforting format for people to follow. 

  • You want a way to gather together with lots of people to remember the person who died and celebrate their life.

Reasons you might not want a funeral

  • The person who died did not want a funeral.

  • The person who died previously told you not to spend much money on their end of life arrangements.

  • You cannot afford a funeral at the time of the person’s death.

  • You do not want to make a decision on how to remember the person or celebrate their life.

  • Not everyone can attend a funeral and you do not want to leave people out.

  • The person who died wanted a memorial service later on.

  • It feels too painful to organise a funeral.

All these are valid reasons for having or not having a funeral. If you decide not to have a funeral, there are other choices available

Things you might want to think about when arranging a funeral

If you do decide to have a funeral, there are lots of options available to you, and it’s common for it to feel overwhelming. Answering some of the following questions can help you start making decisions.

Did the person who died express any wishes?

This can be a helpful way to decide if a funeral is the right choice for you and your loved one. Did the person who died ever talk about what they wanted to happen after their death? Did they express any preferences? 

There’s no legal obligation to follow their instructions, but it can be a useful starting point.

How to arrange a funeral

Our guide on how to arrange a funeral offers lots of information on funerals, explains your options and will help you estimate the cost.

Would a funeral director be useful?

Using a funeral director can make the process of arranging a funeral easier. A funeral director will take care of a lot of the arrangements (whilst consulting you) for the funeral. In particular they usually:

  • talk through the options available to you (burial or cremation)

  • help you choose a coffin

  • transport the body to the funeral home and to the place of the funeral

  • take care of the body until after the funeral

  • provide people to carry the coffin

  • take care of the paperwork

  • provide advice on what’s required in a funeral service

Funeral costs vary depending on what type of funeral you have

Things like where in the country you are, what day of the week you hold the funeral and what time will are all factors that affect the cost. 

How much does a funeral cost?

Find out how much you can expect to pay with our guide to how much funerals cost.

When do you want the funeral to take place?

People usually hold funerals a couple of weeks after a person dies. This can be longer or shorter depending on:

  • religious beliefs

  • family circumstances

  • availability of the crematorium/burial site

  • how busy the funeral directors you use are

You might be able to get help paying for a funeral

If you want to have a funeral but are worried about the cost, there is help available. You can apply for a Funeral Payment

The average cost of a funeral in the UK is £4,800.

The cost will vary depending on where you are in the country and what type of funeral you’re having.

The payment can help pay for the costs of:

  • burial fees

  • cremation fees

  • travel expenses

  • death certificates and other documents

  • up to £1,000 for other expenses such as flowers, funeral director’s fees, and a coffin

The exact amount you receive will depend on your circumstances, but before you discount having a funeral based on the cost, it can be worth checking to see if you’re eligible for a funeral payment. 

Not everyone is entitled to help with paying for a funeral

But if you meet certain criteria you may be able to get help towards some of the costs. The full criteria are listed online on the government website, but broadly, you will be eligible if you or your partner get any of the following tax credits:

  • Income Support

  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance

  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance

  • Pension Credit

  • Housing Benefit

  • The disability or severe disability element of Working Tax Credit

  • Child Tax Credit

  • Universal Credit

You also have to of had a specific relationship with the person who died to be eligible. Such as if:

  • you were the partner of the person who died at the time of their death

  • you were a close relative or close friend of the person who died

  • you were the parent of a baby stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy

  • you were the parent or person responsible for the child who died (if they were under 16 or under 20 and in approved education or training)

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Alternatives to having a funeral

If you decide that a funeral is not right for you, there are some other options available such as:

  • direct cremation

  • memorial

  • celebration of life

A direct cremation is a cremation without a funeral service

The crematorium takes the body of the person who’s died into their care, performs the cremation and returns the ashes to the family afterwards. The family or close friends could then arrange a memorial at a later date if they wanted. 

It’s an increasingly popular choice as it allows you more freedom in how and when you remember the life of your loved one.

A memorial service takes place at some point after someone’s died

But there is not a set time for when it has to happen. It could take place weeks, months or years after someone has died. 

People often arrange them to take place on the anniversary of the person’s death, on the person’s birthday or on another important date. People sometimes scatter ashes at a memorial.

If you’re going to scatter someone’s ashes

There are a few things you might want to know. Our article on scattering ashes offers some ideas of where to scatter ashes, as well as practical advice on how to do it. 

Celebration of life

A celebration of life is an end-of-life event held to honour, celebrate and remember someone’s life, rather than focus on their death. Lots of different end of life events can take elements of a celebration of life. 

So a funeral or memorial could focus on celebrating someone’s life. But you could also decide to make the celebration the entire event. 

It’s OK to say ‘no’ to a funeral

Just because something is traditional, it does not mean that you have to do it. In an ideal world if you decided that you did not want a funeral everyone would agree. Unfortunately, (especially when someone has died), things can often be more difficult.

Here are some phrases to think about using if you need to explain why you do not want a funeral after you’ve died, or if you do not think a funeral is right for your loved one who’s died:  

  • a funeral is not what this person would have wanted 

  • a funeral is too formal - the person who died was more free-spirited and I want to reflect that

  • we’re not sure how we want to celebrate their life - a direct cremation lets us take time to decide on what we do

  • it’s difficult for everyone to get to one place for a funeral

  • it means people do not have to worry about travelling or attending something in person

  • I do not want people spending lots of money on my funeral

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