Organising the funeral

Dandelions blowing in the wind in a meadow

Caring to the end

A guide to end of life care and beyond for unpaid carers in Surrey

Organising the funeral

Here’s a checklist of all the different steps you need to think about when organising a funeral:

First steps

Having to organise a funeral when you are coping with a sense of loss and bereavement can be difficult.

However there are some questions to ask yourself right at the start:

  1. Did the person tell you what they wanted for their funeral, including which funeral director, or leave instructions in their will? 
  2. Did they want to be buried or cremated and did they want their ashes buried or scattered somewhere in particular?
  3. What sort of ceremony did the person want? Are there any special cultural or religious requirements you need to think about in terms of location and who will lead the ceremony?
  4. How are you going to pay for the funeral? Did the person make their own arrangements eg. a pre-paid funeral plan or funeral insurance?
  5. Do you or other family and friends have any special wishes?

Using a funeral director

  • Using a good funeral director will make the whole process of organising a funeral that much easier. It can be helpful to have their expert guidance as well as their comforting support at such a difficult time. The funeral director can remove the body from the place of death and look after it up to the day of the funeral. They will help you plan the ceremony, deal with documentation that allows cremation/burial to go ahead and generally make sure everything happens at the right time, in the right place and by the right people.  
  • You don’t have to use a funeral director for every aspect of the funeral service/memorial. You could, for example, decide to get the director to make most of the arrangements with you choosing the music, poems and readings. Alternatively you could ask them to make all arrangements with just instruction from you or you may decide to organise the whole funeral yourself.

Things to think about

  1. Contact a few funeral directors in your area to compare cost and the nature of their service. Or ask friends, family or your faith leader for recommendations. 
  2. Look for a member of a professional association such as the National Society of Funeral Directors or National Society of Allied (NAFFD) and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) as they will have codes of practice and complaints procedures.
  3. If wanting to organise parts of the funeral yourself check out with the funeral director if they are happy with your preferences as some may see certain responsibilities to be part of their service whilst others might be more flexible.
  4. If organising the funeral yourself, the cemeteries and crematorium department of your local council can help you arrange a crematorium or burial. You may also want to look at a natural burial.
  5. If wanting an eco-friendly funeral contact the Association of Green Funeral Directors.

Paying for the funeral

  • The person may have had a prepaid funeral plan so the costs are already taken care of. You may have considered this with the person before they died and as part of you planning ahead together.
  • If not, the funeral costs will usually come out of the person’s estate – they will take priority over all other claims on the estate except debts secured against an asset. It may be difficult to get access to the funds in time for the funeral although the bank holding the estate should release funds to pay for the funeral from the person’s account, even if it has been frozen. You will need to present the bank with an itemised account from the funeral director and a copy of the death certificate.
  • If funds can’t be released in time then you and members of the family may need to fund the funeral and then be reimbursed until the estate is settled.
  • The price of a funeral will vary greatly depending on what you choose. The essential costs will include funeral director fees, doctor’s cremation authorisation forms, cremation or burial fee and minister, secular officiant or celebrant fee. Optional costs may include flowers, death notice or obituary, additional limousine, ceremony sheets, catering and venue for wake, memorial. 
  • If the costs of a funeral are difficult for you to meet there are ways in which help can be provided.  All members of the NAFFD and SAID pledge to provide a simple low cost inclusive funeral package for those struggling to pay. You can also consider:
  1. asking the funeral director to be paid in instalments
  2. approaching a charity that will help with funeral arrangements
  3. contacting the bereavement service either at the hospital or the local council (depending on place of death) to arrange a public health funded funeral
  4. getting a funeral payment from the government if you are on low income or getting certain benefits.The claim period runs from the date of death up to three months after the funeral. The payment is a grant unless money becomes available from the estate in which case it will have to be repaid.  It won’t cover the full cost so think about how the rest can be paid.

Things to think about

  • The person who signs the papers at the funeral director enters into a formal contract to pay for the funeral, so it’s important to understand how it is being paid for before you sign.
  • Try not to feel pressured into paying for a funeral which you can’t afford. Talk to the funeral director about ways to keep the costs realistic. 
  • If your only source of money is a funeral payment from the government, tell the funeral director first as they can advise you as to what you do next. 
  • When planning ahead together with the person consider a pre-paid funeral plan with a funeral director of their choice. This will spare you and other relatives facing the funeral costs but it will also specify how things are to be done and what they would like to happen at their own funeral.
  • Make sure anyone involved in organising and paying for elements of the funeral keeps the receipts as you will need these when off-setting the cost of the funeral against the estate. 

Burial or cremation?

The registrar will give you a form called a Certificate for Burial and Cremation which is known as the ‘green certificate’. You will need to give this to the funeral director. This gives permission for the body to be buried or for an application for cremation to be made.    


  • The person may have in their papers a grave deed (Deed of Grant or Exclusive Right of Burial) or other document showing they are entitled to a grave in a cemetery or elsewhere. The funeral director will need a copy.
  • If you’re needing to purchase a new grave, or re-open an existing plot, you will need to contact the church or local authority where you want the person to be buried. They should give you a notice of internment for you to complete with all the relevant details.
  • The cost of a new grave will vary and some churchyards are not open for burials due to lack of space.
  • Most cemeteries are non-denominational, which means you can hold most types of services.
  • Alternative (natural) burial sites include woodlands, nature reserves, meadows, and woodland sections of public cemeteries.
  • If you are organising the burial, you must complete the detachable section of the green form and return it to the registrar within 14 days of the funeral taking place. If using a funeral director this will be done for you.


  • If you’re using a funeral director, they will deal with the necessary paperwork on your behalf. Once you have given them the green form they will go through other documentation requirements with you, such as Cremation one (the application for cremation) and the Particulars (what you would like to do with the ashes). They will send all the forms to the crematorium in good time for the service so that they can authorise the cremation.
  • If you’re organising the cremation yourself, the crematorium will supply forms to apply for a cremation and to give you instructions about what happens to the ashes after the service. Ask the crematorium when they need the forms returned by. Some ask for the forms to be there two to three days before the service, while others only ask for 24 hours.
  • Check with the crematorium about any restrictions as to what can be put in the coffin or prohibited items eg. rubber soled shoes. If the person had a pacemaker or other type of implant this will need to be removed before cremation. 
  • If the person hasn’t said what they want done with their ashes you will have a few choices:
  1. Scatter in the garden of remembrance
  2. Scatter them in a meaningful place
  3. Arrange for them to be buried in a churchyard or family plot
  4. Keep in a casket or urn
  5. You can ask the RNLI to help scatter ashes at sea. This is at the discretion of the coxswain of the local crew, and a donation to the RNLI would be expected.
  • Some crematoria will keep ashes for up to one month, or longer, before making a charge to store them.
  • You may need to look at how to plan a cremation service. Which has a really good guide on cremation which you may find useful


  • Embalming the body delays composition and can improve the appearance of the body. Embalming may be required if the person has had a debilitating illness or an accident, however funeral directors can also do much to make the body look better without embalming.
  • It may be traditional within your culture to be able to see the deceased before and during the funeral ceremony, although not everyone may want to see the person after they have died.

Things to think about

  • Bear in mind some burial grounds and cemeteries won’t accept embalmed bodies due the chemicals involved.
  • The body cannot be embalmed unless a medical certificate of cause of death has been issued and the death has been registered.

Planning the ceremony

Who will lead the ceremony?

  • If you and the person did not plan this ahead together then there are a number of options to consider when it comes to who will lead the service: A religious minister or leader, a civil humanist (can include prayers or religious music), a humanist celebrant (with no religious reference to a God) or a member of the family, friend or colleague. 
  • A funeral director can recommend local ministers or celebrants they have worked with.

What coffin to choose?

  • There is a wide range of coffins made from many materials that you can choose from. A traditional wood coffin can be bought from different sources and costs can vary. It is often easiest to buy one from the funeral director but other options might be ordering one from a carpenter or local council, cemetery or crematorium or building one yourself.   
  • There are also a number of alternative coffins to choose from but they may not always be cheaper eg; wool, willow, bamboo or rattan. The cheapest option is cardboard which can be decorated, painted or draped.  You can also rent a wooden outer coffin for the service and buy a cardboard inner coffin.
  • Before choosing a coffin check with the place of burial or crematorium if there are any possible restrictions eg; types of paint and combustible materials if cremating.

How to dress the person?

  • Family members are able to choose what the person is dressed in for the funeral although there is no obligation. The funeral director can dress the body in a shroud if preferred. If a cremation is chosen, any clothing needs to be made of natural fibres and shoes will be removed. Cemeteries prefer biodegradable fabrics.  

How to choose the time?

There are lots of different options as to when and how you have the burial or cremation service. Options might include:

  1. Having the burial or cremation as soon as possible after death, particularly where your religion requires this.
  2. Arranging a memorial service and keeping the burial or cremation a private event for close family/friends.
  3. Having the burial/cremation and a memorial or celebratory event later on.
  4. Having a cremation and then burying or scattering their ashes at a later date.
  5. Having a burial and then a ceremony when the headstone is put up.
  6. Having a burial/cremation and then creating a memory of the person some other way eg. planting a tree.

How to choose where?

  • Although the cremation or burial cannot be held anywhere, the funeral service or memorial service can be. You could choose a place where the person loved spending their time eg. by a lake where they used to fish, or in their garden. 
  • Most crematoria have a service/prayer room which you can use at no extra cost and this room is suitable for all religions or for those with no religious belief. You, or the funeral director, can talk to the staff at the crematorium to ensure the setting is right, particularly if you have special requests.

How to choose music and readings?

  • Music is likely to be an important part of the ceremony before, during and at the end as people leave. This can be religious music such as hymns, or non-religious music that was perhaps meaningful to the person. You can have people singing/playing music or you can play a recording. Ask the crematorium how best to provide a recording eg. downloadable or CD. For music ideas go to Wesley Media.  The Wesley Media website also allows you to select a montage of photos for a short video.
  • Readings at a funeral are an opportunity to reflect on the person, their personality or interests and help everyone to remember them. You, or another close relative or friend, can write something personal about them and/or you can read an extract from a book, religious or non-religious, or a poem they might have liked. For ideas go to Natural Endings website or Lasting Post website. The CO-OP provides really good pointers on how to write a eulogy.

How to choose transport ?

  • The most common form of transport for the coffin is a hearse and this will be organised by the funeral director. You can arrange further limousines from the funeral director if required. If organising the funeral yourself you can rent a hearse from a local funeral director. 
  • You don’t however have to use a hearse, it could be another type of vehicle eg. a horse drawn carriage, a vintage vehicle.

Printed order of service

  • Often a funeral director can help with the design and printing of an order service as well as sources of poems, music etc. Or you can design and arrange your own printing. You may want to include one or two photographs of the person.

Flowers and donations

  • It may be useful for you to consider whether you wish family and friends to send flowers or to make a donation to a chosen charity. If possible it is helpful to think about this with the person when drawing up a funeral plan. If opting for a charity then make sure you give people in any correspondence or announcements as well as the printed order of service on who to make cheques/donations payable to.

Hospitality afterwards

  • You may wish to arrange an event after the service (often referred to as a ‘wake’) as a way of remembering the person, sharing memories as well as a way of offering refreshments to those who have travelled a long way. You can choose to provide this at home or a local venue eg. a local pub, hall or hotel. Often a separate room can be provided. 
  • Provide an address and a map to mourners so they can get from the funeral to the venue as some may not be familiar with the local area.

Telling friends and family

There are a number of ways to tell friends and family:

  1. Telephone, write or email.
  2. Public announcement in a local or national newspaper, or online. This is a good way to get in touch with friends and acquaintances that were not in regular contact with the person that died. The funeral director can help with the wording. 
  3. You can include the details of the funeral in the announcement if you want it to be made public but ensure you avoid using a personal address and don’t leave your home empty for security reasons. 
  4. When sharing details about the funeral with family and friends it is helpful to mention any wishes about flowers or donations to a chosen charity. Think about setting up a ‘giving’ website for people to make donations easily to a charity. If accepting cheques make sure friends and family are clear who the cheque needs to be made out to. 

Things to think about

  1. Try to remember that the way bad news is delivered will often stay with the person so consider the best way of breaking the news. If possible face to face is best but if this is not possible due to distance of your family member or friend be sensitive to the impact the news may have on them. Sometimes rehearsing what you are going to say can help.
  2. Make sure you have enough time to be with the person or to speak on the phone and that you are in a safe and confidential setting. Make sure there are no interruptions. 
  3. Use plain simple language to avoid any confusion, especially if their first language is not English. When giving bad news, the person will only absorb a limited amount of information. So don’t give too much information straight away and check that the person has understood what you have said. Be prepared to repeat yourself. 
  4. Your family member or friend may become distressed. If you are not with them in person, or unable to stay with them, see if there is someone you can contact on their behalf that can be with them. You also may find delivering bad news distressing so see if there is someone who can be with you too.

Children attending the funeral

  • It is sometimes difficult to know how to support a child in the family when you may be struggling to cope with your own feelings. However, it is important that children have the opportunity to express their emotions and to be in a safe environment with family and friends around them.
  • It is important for the child to know the person has died and the person’s death to be explained to the child in words that are age appropriate. Allow the child to see the body if this is what they want to do and prepare them for what to expect.
  • In relation to the funeral there are a number of ways in which to help them:
  1. Tell the child what to expect at a funeral.    
  2. Give the child the choice about whether to attend or not. We may feel we want to protect them and keep them away but often, later in life, the child may express disappointment at not being able to say goodbye at the funeral.
  3. Have an alternative ceremony if your child chooses not to go. This could be scattering the person’s ashes, planting a tree or letting off a balloon with a message on it.
  4. Provide support during the funeral. Make sure there is someone who can leave the service with them if it is too distressing.