How to arrange a funeral yourself, without a funeral director

Most funerals are arranged by a funeral director, but some people will go for a ‘Do It Yourself’ or DIY alternative. This article will explain how to arrange a funeral without a funeral director, including questions to ask yourself if it’s an option you’re considering.

A funeral director is someone who specialises in arranging funerals. Arranging a funeral without one is not impossible, but it is very difficult.

Funeral directors have lots of different responsibilities

Their role usually involves:

  • Taking care of the person who’s died, which could include arranging for them to stay in a funeral home

  • Preparing the body of the person who’s died for the funeral

  • Helping loved ones to visit the person who’s died before the funeral

  • Arranging the funeral, including doing the paperwork and transporting the person who’s died to their final resting place

  • Organising the funeral ceremony - including things like printing Orders of Service and organising flower deliveries

  • Helping loved ones order a coffin, casket or urn, or helping to arrange the scattering of ashes

It takes a lot of specialist knowledge and involves doing things that can be costly - like storing your loved one’s body before the funeral. This means that funeral directors can be expensive.

Content Warning

The rest of this article involves descriptions of taking care of a loved one’s body, which some readers might find distressing.

You can arrange a funeral without a funeral director, but it’s not a decision you should take lightly

Most people will choose to involve a funeral director in their funeral planning. But you might decide to do it yourself.

This could be because:

  • You cannot afford a funeral director

  • You cannot find any funeral directors that can fulfil your needs or those of the person who’s died

  • You want to give your loved one a highly personalised send-off

  • You think arranging the funeral yourself will help you come to terms with your loved one’s death

  • You think arranging the funeral yourself will be more rewarding

However, a DIY funeral comes with lots of responsibility and tends to be challenging. Arranging a funeral isn’t just planning the funeral service: the event where people gather to say goodbye. It also means handling logistics like taking care of the body.

There are lots of questions you could ask yourself before you do this. These include:

  • Will you be comfortable taking care of your loved one’s body after they die, and preparing them for burial or cremation?

  • Are you confident you know how to fill out the right paperwork at the right time?

  • Do you know where to find a coffin or shroud?

  • Are you financially prepared to pay for each individual cost of the funeral, including the cost of burial or cremation?

  • Are you prepared to transport your loved one to their final resting place?

  • Do you have support networks around you, in case you find the process overwhelming or stressful?

If you choose not to involve a funeral director, there are steps you will need to take yourself

Store your loved one’s body somewhere safe and cool

If your loved one died in a hospital, the medical staff will temporarily take care of their body. This will usually be enough time for you to make other arrangements.

If your loved one died at home, you will need to do this yourself, or pay for a ‘chapel of rest’. A ‘chapel of rest’ is a place where people can stay between their death and their funeral.

If you choose to take care of your loved one at home, laying them out in a garage (or another unheated room) will normally be ok. You should avoid keeping them there for longer than a week, to keep their body in the best possible condition. This will also be affected by the time of year, as it may be harder to keep their body cool in the summer.

You might want to lay them on a blanket or tarpaulin, to help with transporting them to their final resting place.

Contact your doctor or a local hospital

This will allow you to get a medical certificate, which will let you register the death. Unless the doctor thinks a coroner should get involved, you can normally continue caring for your loved one at home.

Register their death

To do this, you’ll need to contact a registry office and make an appointment. Before you do this, you’ll normally need your doctor to send the medical certificate directly to the registry office.

Not declaring someone’s death is illegal, so it’s important that you do this. This normally has to be within five days in England and Wales, and eight days in Scotland.

Once you have successfully registered the death, you should receive a Certificate for Burial or Cremation (‘green form’) and a Certificate of Registration of Death (‘form BD8’).

Order a coffin or shroud

You will need this to transport your loved one to the crematorium or cemetery, and you can often order one online. Once it arrives, you could ask someone to help you put your loved one into the coffin or shroud.

Book their burial or cremation

You can usually do this via your local council. What you choose will depend on your personal preferences, as well as those of the person who’s died.

Plan the funeral service, if you want one

This will depend on lots of different things - including the faith, financial situation, and personal preferences of you, your loved ones, and the person who’s died.

Some key things to keep in mind could be:

  • Planning what will happen at the ceremony

  • Finding someone to officiate the ceremony, if required

  • Inviting guests to the ceremony

  • Planning transport to the ceremony - for guests, yourself, and the person who’s died

Take the body to its final resting place

You’ll need to decide how you’re transporting your loved one to their final resting place. You could do this in a hearse if you prefer, but you should also be able to do this in a large car or van.

If no one arranges a funeral, the local authority will step in

This is their legal responsibility, and they will normally get a local funeral director to arrange the funeral on their behalf. They might try to claim this cost back from the ‘estate’ of the person who’s died - meaning the financial sum of all their money and assets.

They will normally try to invite the family of the person who’s died. If no one can attend the funeral, they might send someone from the local council.

If you’re not happy with your funeral director, you can change to a different one

However, this tends to be challenging. The funeral director will normally have started carrying out their services and will expect you to pay them. They might also need to move your loved one to a different location so that the new funeral director can take over.

In most cases, you could consider discussing the issue with the funeral director, and seeing if you can come to an agreement. For example, if they are unaware of particular religious requirements, you could agree that they will hire a particular celebrant.

What’s a celebrant?

A celebrant is someone to help you carry out the funeral in line with your wishes, or those of the person who’s died. A celebrant often specialises in a particular religion or belief system.

You can arrange a funeral yourself, but it’s worth thinking about carefully 

Some people will find the process of arranging a funeral empowering. Other people might find it stressful or upsetting. And the costs of a funeral director can be high - but they are not always higher than arranging the funeral yourself.

It's important to remember there's no such thing as a 'perfect' funeral. Just the kind of funeral that best reflects the wishes and beliefs of you and your loved one.

Article reviewed