When you’re organising a funeral for someone close to you, it can feel like there’s a lot to do at an emotional time. Breaking it down into smaller tasks may help you keep track of where you are with your planning.
Choose a burial or cremation
This may be a simple decision if the person who’s died let you know their wishes, but if not, here are the main differences:
A cremation service, also known simply as a funeral service, is the most common type of funeral in the UK, and usually takes place in the chapel at a crematorium.
A traditional burial begins with a funeral ceremony in a place of worship or other venue, after which family and friends witness the burial.
A direct cremation is when the funeral director takes the person who’s died into their care, cremates them at a crematorium without a service and then hand-delivers their ashes back to you.
A woodland burial is the choice to bury someone at a site of natural beauty, such as a woodland, meadow or orchard.
We have a guide on how to choose between burial and cremation.
Work out a budget
The cost of a funeral in the UK varies depending on the type of service you want, so it’s worth working out your budget before you start making any detailed arrangements. The average cost of a funeral is £4,800 - but this only covers the basics, and there are additional costs to consider when it comes to planning a memorial.
These are some of the most common funeral expenses and their average costs:
Memorial - £1,200
Venue hire - £245
Catering - £408
Limousine - £313
Flowers - £184
Order of service - £88
Death notice in a newspaper - £82
With pre-paid funeral plans becoming more popular, the person who’s died may have paid for everything already. Sometimes these plans include some decisions about the service they wanted. You can speak to the funeral provider to make the arrangements.
If you cannot afford to pay for a funeral
You may be able to claim a Funeral Expenses Payment from the government. Other options include using the bank account of the person who died and arranging a Public Health Funeral. Find out what happens if you cannot afford a funeral.
Choose a funeral director
It can take a bit of time to talk to a few before you decide. It’s important that it feels like a good fit, as they’ll be working closely with you and your family to coordinate much of what happens on the day.
Choose a venue
If you’re arranging a cremation service, you may have a specific crematorium in mind. You can chat to a specialist about arranging a local funeral by calling us on 020 3695 2090.
If the person who’s died left a will, they may have included wishes about the kind of funeral they wanted and where to hold it – so it’s a good idea to look there first.
If you cannot find anything in their will, or if they did not make one, it’s worth talking through your venue options with family and friends.
Set a date
Funerals usually happen one or two weeks after someone dies. A few things can have an impact on when you hold it:
You may need to wait for a timeslot at your chosen crematorium, place of worship or cemetery. The waiting time can be up to three weeks, and varies by location, depending on how many crematoria there are.
You may need to give relatives and friends time to travel from around the country or abroad.
It can take time to work with a funeral celebrant if you hire one to plan and run the service. Their availability and the time it takes to hold conversations with you, gathering stories and memories, can affect how long it takes to arrange a funeral.
You can invite close family and friends by phone or email, or place a funeral notice online - some funeral directors will do this for you. If you’re opening it up to a larger number of people, you may want to place an obituary in the local paper and include the funeral details.
In your funeral notice or invitation let your guests know any special requests. Some people say ‘no flowers please’, or ‘family flowers only’, and some ask for donations to a charity that was meaningful to the person who died.
Also let guests know what you’d like people to wear. Your guests will probably wear black, the go-to colour, if you do not specify, but you can request bright colours in order to make the funeral more of a celebration of life.
We also have a guide on how to invite someone to a funeral.
What is traditional funeral etiquette?
Funeral etiquette means things like what to wear, whether to send flowers and where to sit. If you’re going to a particularly traditional funeral in a church or crematorium, it can be daunting if you’re not familiar with the etiquette. But following the protocol is not about making people feel awkward. It’s a way to show that you’re taking the occasion and the family’s wishes seriously and empathising with their loss. Read our guide to British funeral etiquette.
Organising the details
Decide if you’d like a viewing in a chapel of rest
Some people decide to have their loved one in a chapel of rest, at a funeral home, to allow the family to visit and say their farewells in the days before the funeral. You do not have to do this, and it’s not always possible, but if it’s something you’d like, talk to the funeral director to see about arranging it.
Choose a coffin
There are lots of different types to choose from, depending on your budget and the style that best reflects the person who’s died.
You may also want to discuss with your family and friends about putting any mementoes inside the coffin. The funeral director will let you know if there’s anything that you cannot put in.
What can you put in a coffin for cremation?
There are not usually any restrictions on what you can put in a coffin for a traditional burial. For green woodland burials and cremations, some things are not allowed - because they could damage the environment or become dangerous when they get hot. For cremations, there are plenty of things that are fine to put in, such as photos, flowers and teddies. But for a green burial, everything in the coffin needs to be made of natural materials like paper, cardboard, cotton or wool. Find out more about what you can put in a coffin.
Arrange funeral vehicles or a procession
Your loved one will travel to the service in a hearse - the name for the car that transports the coffin. You may want to arrange a car for close family members to travel to the service together.
If you like, you can have a funeral procession or cortège, where family and friends drive slowly in several cars behind the hearse, usually from the family home or funeral home to the service. The funeral director will arrange this and direct the procession.
Funeral directors can provide pallbearers (people who carry the coffin from the hearse into the service). Some people feel it’s important to have relatives or friends carry their loved one’s body. In that case, it can be helpful to ask them well in advance so that they can understand the role.
This may take a bit of planning, especially if you’re looking to create personalised wreaths to place in the hearse. Your funeral director can help you make these arrangements or recommend a florist you can speak to.
Choose clothing for your loved one
The funeral director may ask you to provide an outfit for your loved one. They’ll help you choose clothes that feel right for the person who’s died, and that are suitable for the type of funeral you’re arranging.
Here are a few points to help you choose clothes:
For traditional burials, your loved one can wear anything you like, and it can include shoes, jewellery and other accessories.
For woodland burials, clothes should be biodegradable and made from natural fibre, such as cotton, wool or linen.
For cremations, some clothes and accessories are not allowed as they may become dangerous when they’re hot - for example, shoes and boots made of treated leather.
An alternative is to choose a simple gown or shroud - which may be the best option if you’re having a woodland burial and need to avoid any synthetic materials.
Write an order of service
This is typically a printed card or booklet which includes the timeline for the funeral, listing any hymns and readings, with hymn lyrics for guests to be able to join in, and perhaps a cover photograph of your loved one.
If you’d like a friend or relative to give a reading, arrange this in good time so that you can include their name and the text of their reading. Find out more about how to write a funeral order of service.
It does not have to be hymns. You could make a playlist of their favourite songs, or just play a few of their favourite tracks during the service. You might want to list these in the order of service - for information, but also as a tribute to your loved one.
The wake - if you’re holding one
If you decide you’d like to organise a wake, here’s a checklist to help with your planning:
Book a venue
You might choose to hold the wake at your home or, if you’re expecting lots of people, a hired venue might be better.
Some venues people typically choose for wakes include:
Pub or bar
If you’re holding it on the same day as the funeral (which you do not have to), you’ll need to book the venue with plenty of notice to make sure it’s available on the date you want.
Usually, most of the people who attend the funeral will also come to the wake. If you want the wake to be smaller and more private it can be helpful to specify this when you put out details about the funeral.
If you want someone who was not invited to the funeral to come to the wake you may have to send them a separate invitation by phone, email or post. Or you could create an event page on Facebook.
Arrange food and drink, or hire a caterer
Providing sandwiches or a simple buffet is an option and it’s common to offer tea and coffee, or alcoholic drinks like wine or beer, but you do not have to.
If you prefer, you might want to ask your guests to bring food. This is a common scenario and people are often happy to contribute. Or, if you’re expecting lots of people or would rather not prepare food at home, you can hire a professional caterer.
Plan music, photos and activities
At wakes, some people choose to have music playing, show a video montage, display some photos or provide memory jars where guests can write down their memories for the organisers to keep.
Every wake is different and it’s alright if you don’t want to include any activities and prefer the idea of a simpler wake, or want to ask friends and family for help or ideas.
Arrange a direct cremation
If you’d prefer to arrange a direct cremation, you can have a memorial at any time, anywhere you wish, perhaps at home or your loved one’s favourite pub.