Here we explain the options for burying or cremating a larger person and how to arrange their funeral.
Adjustments in funeral care
Funeral directors have the skills and equipment to ensure the dignity of the person who’s died
It’s true that laying a larger person to rest will present a few challenges, and that arranging their funeral may be slightly different.
But good funeral directors will work hard to provide the same high level of respect and dignity they offer every person. They know how to adapt their care and will gently talk through the options with you.
Your funeral director will help you source an oversized casket
A person who was obese may be too big for the average coffin which is 22-24 inches wide. They’re likely to need a custom-made coffin or casket.
What’s the difference between a coffin and a casket?
You might hear people use these terms to mean the same thing - but they’re actually different. A coffin has a tapered shape that’s wider at the top (the head and shoulders end) and narrow at the bottom - following the lines of the human body.
A casket is rectangular and has a lid that can open halfway so that you can view the person at the funeral service or wake. They’re typically more expensive than coffins, and are much more common in the US than in the UK. Some British suppliers call these ‘American-style caskets’.
As the number of people with obesity rises, funeral directors and manufacturers in the UK have had more people asking them to provide bigger coffins and American-style caskets.
The US is leading the way on making oversized caskets, as it addresses the country’s obesity crisis. A company called Goliath Casket makes them as big as 52 inches wide, and sells them directly to funeral homes in the US. This size of casket can hold a person who weighs up to 72 stone.
There’s no company in the UK specialising in oversized caskets but some manufacturers can make bigger ones to custom measurements. Working with a funeral director may be the best way to find a supplier who can provide what you need.
Obesity in the UK
According to the government, around 63% of adults in the UK are overweight, and half of these are living with obesity.
It might not be possible to have pallbearers
This is because the combined weight of the coffin and the body may be too much for people to carry on their shoulders without risking a back injury.
Funeral homes must balance taking care of the person who’s died with looking after their employees. So in this case they’ll let you know they cannot provide pallbearers, and recommend that you and your relatives do not take on the role.
The funeral director will talk this through with you and gently suggest safe alternatives. One option is to bring the casket into the service using a trolley.
Arranging a funeral and not sure where to start?
Our guide explains everything you need to know, from hiring a funeral director to deciding what to do with the ashes after a cremation. How to arrange a funeral
For some people, a standard hearse may not be big enough
The hearse is the vehicle that transports the coffin or casket to the funeral. If the funeral home cannot use their standard hearse, they may use another vehicle instead.
They may need to add electric rise-and-fall platforms to help get the casket in and out of the car. Another option is an open-top horse-drawn cart.
Transport can be a worrying factor for those grieving for an obese relative. But funeral directors will find a way that’s safe and dignified.
Is burial or cremation better?
Both burial and cremation are possible thanks to recent innovations
In 2015 the Independent reported that families in Scotland had to choose burials rather than cremations for their obese relatives. The National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) said an increasing number of people needed large caskets up to 40 inches wide – which is too big for many crematoria.
The situation has changed since then and growing numbers of crematoria can take larger coffins. The Mirror reported in 2021 that a third of all crematoria in the UK can now accommodate a 40inch coffin, with one in East Devon able to hold caskets up to 45 inches.
Funeral directors may use the term ‘bariatric cremation’ for an obese person
Bariatric is the term for any medical care for obesity - such as diet, exercise and surgery to help someone lose weight. Funeral directors use the word, too. At Farewill we classify bariatric as relating to a person weighing 20 stone or more.
Some cemetery authorities can now offer wider graves
In 2014, Sutton Bridge Council became the first local authority to offer 9ft by 8ft graves - four feet wider than standard graves. They built 30 of the larger plots near the burial ground entrance in Lincolnshire so that funeral staff did not have to carry coffins as far.
If the cemetery you want to use does not have larger plots, you may need to buy two standard-sized plots.
Some adjustments may need to be made to bury a heavier coffin safely. Funeral directors can use a hoist to lift and lower the body safely into the ground, with the help of employees who have the strength and training to move larger bodies.
It’s not safe for relatives to take the role of lowering the body into the grave using ropes - something that’s customary at traditional Scottish funerals. The NAFD says in this case most families ask for the funeral staff to lower the coffin into the ground before they arrive at the graveside.
How obesity affects the cost of a funeral
Modifying a funeral for a larger person can increase costs
Some things that can affect the costs are:
Having a coffin made to measure
Buying a larger or double burial plot
Cremation fees - because cremating a bigger person can take longer and requires a larger cremator.
If you’re worried about your budget, there may be support you can apply for, depending on your circumstances.
The Funeral Expenses Payment helps people in England and Wales who get certain benefits. If you’re not eligible, there are other funds that you might be able to claim, or you could set up a fundraising page on JustGiving.
Find out more about what happens if you cannot afford a funeral.
Our experienced funeral directors are here to help
We’ve helped thousands of families deal with life’s toughest moments, and we’re here to support you whenever you need.