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Funeral Planning Guide and Checklist

Do you know what you need to do to prepare for a funeral?

Planning a funeral can be an expensive process as well as one that is emotionally exhausting. To try and make the process somewhat easier, ensure that you are prepared mentally and physically for the range of emotions that you may be filled with leading up to the funeral and during the event itself.

We know how painful losing a loved one is and the temptation to seclude yourself and  your emotions from the rest of your friends and family.

Ensure you have a close friend (that is not directly affected by the grief) with you during this funeral planning stage.

 Their support and availability during this time may help you to observe things from a clearer perspective, they may be able to guide you through information that you may have been given.

You will more than likely be emotionally drained and may not be able to process your thoughts – therefore an extra support will be valuable at this time.

Make sure you have someone close to you that is not necessarily directly grieving – could be a friend, close work colleague that can support, help, look at things with fresh eyes as you are more likely to be emotionally draining, not processing thoughts properly.

We have organised this resource into three sections:

Pre funeral – what are the first steps? 

  • Choosing a funeral director and exploring what their role is within the process
  • Funeral costs, burial and cremation fees 
  • What is the process of embalming and cremation? 
  • Planning a funeral alone – without the help of a funeral director

Preparing for the funeral 

  • Selecting the venue and a date
  • Making arrangements for the day
  • Personalising the funeral 

The funeral day

  • The different stages of the day
  • Post funeral ceremonies 

As mentioned in information resource article on what needs to be done when someone dies, a funeral can only be held once a death has been registered, and a death must be registered within 5 days (8 days in Scotland).

When you register a death, the registrar will give you a death certificate and also a certificate for burial and cremation.

This is often referred to as the green certificate or form.

It simply gives authorisation for the body to be buried or for an application for cremation to be made, this should be given to your funeral director (if you plan to use one).

This guide article will provide you with useful information to help you plan the funeral of your loved one.

You can jump directly to the question you are thinking of by using the table of contents below.

In this funeral planning guide you will find:

Pre funeral - What are the first steps?

How to start making your funeral plans

Before you imminently start making funeral plans, it is important to check whether or not your loved one put arrangements for their funeral in place before their death.

These arrangements can be anything from prepaid funeral plans or life insurance.

If this is not the case, when planning a funeral, the best place to start is with the desires that the deceased might have had for their funeral and working to ensure that these plans fit within your financial remit (we will talk in depth about finances further down).

When putting into consideration what your loved one would have wanted, a funeral director can aid you through this process.

How far in advance do you plan a funeral?

There is no time frame on how far ahead you can plan a funeral, you can take as long as necessary.

Nevertheless it is important to remember that the body will naturally decompose after someone’s death so a funeral should ideally take place within 3 to 4 weeks of someone’s death. 

Conversely, if you want the funeral to happen as soon as possible you can hold it up to 24 hours after your loved ones death.

If you would like proper funeral care and the help of a funeral director, funerals can take place within 1 to 2 weeks.

What are the next steps after registering my loved ones death?

The next step after you have registered the death, provided the necessary paperwork and contacted the right individuals  is to decide how and where you wish for your loved one to be buried.
One of the first decisions you will probably make after getting a funeral director, or in the early stages of funeral preparation is what you want to be done with the body.
If a direct burial is not the option you have decided to take, cremation and embalming are your two options.

What should I expect when they collect the body of my loved one?

If your loved one passed away in a hospital or residence, a funeral director will eventually take care of the body during the first few days after death. This can often be a painful and perhaps surreal experience.

What is cremation?

Cremation is the process of using intense heat to reduce the body to its basic elements.
The process of cremation follow the following 5 steps:
The body of the deceased is identified and permission to cremate the body is acquired.
Here the body is cleaned, bathed and clothed, jewellery is taken off, medical devices are also removed – unless in the case of direction cremation.
The body is arranged for the process and positioned inside a cremation container made of wood or other inflammable materials.
The container is taken to the cremation chamber, also known as a retort (this is where the cremation occurs.
This process can take from 1.5 – 2 hours.
After this, a magnet is used to remove any remaining bits of metal. The remains are then ground and formed into what we know as ashes.
The “ashes” are then transferred to a impermanent container or an urn presented by the family

What is direct cremation?

This is a process where no members are present and no funeral service occurs.
With this type of cremation, the body is cremated in the days immediately after the death. In this circumstance you can choose to remember the deceased in a time and place that best suits you.
  • However, with a direct cremation you cannot:
  • Select which cremation is used
  • Attend the cremation
  • Choose the date or time of cremation
  • Visit the person who has died in the chapel of rest
 A direct cremation does however include the following:
  1. Arranging for a doctor to complete the necessary paperwork.
  2. Collecting your loved one from the hospital, along with their preparation and care until the day of the funeral.
  3. Transport to the crematorium in the funeral vehicle.
  4. Scattering of ashes in the gardens of remembrance or the safe arrival of ashes to the family (if requested)

What is embalming?

The process of preserving human remains, after death naturally, the body will decompose – the lifelessness can cause visible changes to the body as well as unpleasant odours.
During this process, a disinfectant solution is injected into the bloodstream of the deceased, this is then circulated around the body, which in turn decreases the movement of pathogens and bacteria that are present in the body.
This process simply gives the deceased and restful appearance and can eliminate some of the evident appearances of the cause of death.
This process takes about 3-4 hours to complete but can be longer in certain circumstances.

What is a funeral?

A funeral is a tribute to the life of a deceased individual.
The funeral day is typically split up into 4 stages (depending on the type of service that you choose to incorporate). Nevertheless, do not feel alarmed or overwhelmed, we are here to break down these 4 stages for you:
  • Funeral procession
  • Funeral ceremony
  • Cremation or burial
  • Reception (wake)
Your funeral director will consult with you and work ahead to ensure that everything runs smoothly on the day.

Pre-funeral: Choosing a funeral director and exploring their role.

Who is a funeral director?

Funeral directors may sometimes be known as an undertaker or mortician. They make preparations for burials and cremations, take care of the body of the deceased, provide support and guidance for the bereaved and help liaise with other organisations on behalf of the bereaved.

Why do you need a funeral director?

There is no law requiring that you must use a funeral director, however it is a less costly process. However ensure you are up to date with surrounding rules, guidelines, and regulations with relations to the funeral process.

What does a funeral director do?

A funeral director makes all of the arrangements for the funeral, with instructions from the family.

They help to make sure you receive the perfect send off for your loved one, working within the confinements of what you can afford.

You and your family arrange for the funeral, but the funeral director is on hand to arrange certain aspects.

They also work with third parties such as clergy, florists, crematorium and cemetery staff. They also provide a dignified and personal service, including the use of our funeral home facilities

Funeral directors typically take care of the deceased, keep their body until the funeral, wash and dress them and lay their body out. Their responsibilities also include the:

  • Arrangement of transportation of the deceased
  • Submission of paperwork and legal documents
  • Help to plan the funeral
  • Consultation with the deceased’s family 

The embalming of the body is not part of the funeral director’s duties but that of a mortician.

What is the difference between a mortician and a funeral director?

A mortician prepares the body for the funeral – whether that is embalming or arranging for the cremation of the body.

What is the difference between a funeral director and an undertaker?

The word has no correlation to the business of putting bodies in the ground amid common misconceptions.

Undertaker refers to someone who undertakes a task. Funeral undertakers were the funeral directors of the 17th Century.

How do you choose a funeral director?

When selecting a funeral director it may be more convenient to go with a local business. However it is always best to check around and compare prices, to see what works well within your budget.

Don’t feel pressured to choose a funeral director immediately, as this can be a very costly process.

How to choose a funeral home?

Funeral directors work within funeral homes. Your loved one may have already pre paid for their funeral, put certain plans in place, or they have already discussed their plans with you prior to their death.

However, even if that was not the case a funeral director can point you in the right direction and give you the support and guidance that you need along the way.

Alternatively if you are planning the funeral alone, your family and you are more than capable of organising a thoughtful and peaceful send off for your loved one.

Questions to ask a funeral director

Do not be afraid to ask a funeral director questions, you want to be sure you are in the best possible hands during the planning stages.

Below are some questions that you can ask a funeral director, and may help you to select a suitable funeral director. 

  • How long have you been in this business?
  • What is the role of a funeral director?
  • Is embalming necessary?
  • Can you help care for the person who has died by washing and dressing him/her?
  • Are there any limitations on spending time with the person who has died? Are there any costs involved?
  • Will you visit me at home to arrange the funeral if I wish?
  • Is the funeral home or director a member of any organisations?
  • What are my payment options?
  • What services are handled in-house?
  • What packages do you offer?
  • How can I customise a funeral service?
  • What makes your service distinctive?
  • How long can the funeral ceremony be?

Pre-funeral: Funeral costs, burial and cremation fees

Is it possible to arrange a funeral without a funeral director?

Though most funerals in the UK are arranged through funeral directors, it is still possible to arrange a funeral without a funeral director.

This will dramatically cut funeral costs, and the costs you pay will solely be dependent on third party fees and optional extras that you select for the funeral.

If you would like the help of a funeral director through some aspects of the funeral planning, some directors may be willing to help with demanding aspects, like keeping the whole of the body and ensuring it is kept at the right temperature or handling the necessary paperwork.

How much does a funeral cost?

The average cost of a funeral in the UK is £4,184. However it is important to note that funeral costs will ultimately depend on the type of funeral service you choose, the funeral director fees, the location of the funeral, type of coffin and any extra add-ons that you may have included.

What is the breakdown cost of a funeral?

Funeral costs rare typically split between these five aspects:

  1. Funeral director fees
  2. Third party costs
  3. Burial costs
  4. Cremation costs
  5. Optional costs

Funeral director fees: Do funeral directors need a deposit?

As mentioned earlier, funeral service provider fees vary from business to business.

However one thing that is certain is that many funeral directors will require a deposit before the funeral to (at least) cover the costs of the disbursements which they have to pay to third parties.

Third party costs

Who are third parties?

Third parties can be anything from churches or minister officiants to doctors to the individuals handling the cremation or burial process.

What are third party funeral costs?

These costs are paid for arrangements that are not made by a funeral director.

For example if you plan to have a chapel ceremony before the burial takes place, you will be required to pay church fees. You may also be expected to pay the minister or officiant conducting the service, an organist, choir, musicians.

You may also be expected to pay doctors’ fees – as they may be required to sign off certain deaths – which is not part of their duty as a doctor.

Burial costs

What are burial costs?

Burial fees are also specified within third party costs and the UK average burial fee is £5,033.

This fees include basic service costs, the viewing and burial of the deceased, a casket, embalming, transporting their body to the funeral home as well as any other forms of preparation that may be needed. 

Burial costs will be contingent on where you reside within the UK as some regions are more expensive when arranging burials.

London is the most expensive region for burials and the South West, however, is the second cheapest region for burials within the UK.

You can use this funeral costs calculator to give you an approximate estimate on how much a funeral might cost within your area.

Cremation costs

What are cremation costs?

Cremation costs, like burial costs, are dependent on the location in which the arrangements are being made.

However cremation is a far less costly process than a burial as the upkeep of the body is not needed. The average cost of cremation in the UK is £3,858.

Optional costs

What are optional costs for a funeral?

Optional can cover anything from flowers, limousine hire, a memorial service, catering, a death notice or obituary within a newspaper, the order of service, a headstone.

Which funeral plan is best?

Deciding which funeral plan is best for you all depends on your budget for the funeral and what you can afford. Some funeral directors may allow you to schedule a payment plan to relieve the financial stress that a funeral can bring.

What is the cheapest funeral cost?

A funeral home’s least expensive option is a direct burial, in which the body is buried soon after death, with no embalming or visitation.

How do I make a funeral work without any money?

While the deceased of family or friends of the deceased are usually responsible for arranging the funeral, they have the option of either:

  1. Paying for the funeral with the funds from the deceased’s bank account. Some banks may issue up to £5,000 for funeral costs when a death certificate is shown and an invoice is presented.
  2. Acquire the money at a later time, after properties and assets have been sold.

However if the former is not applicable and family or friends are able to pay for the funeral, the local council will organise a public health funeral.

What is a public health funeral?

This is a modest funeral with a short service and is usually a cremation. Guests are permitted to come, but the council chooses when and where the service occurs and may also retain the ashes after the service.

This however is usually the last resort, in cases where no other alternative is available. 

What is a bereavement support payment?

This is a tax free payment given to the spouse or civil partner of someone that has died.

This is a one-off payment and has been put in place to assist widowed parents as they experience changes in household income. You can claim for this by calling the bereavement service helpline.

At this point, you should have chosen a funeral director, it is vital to ask whether or not they take government benefits or if they alternatively function alongside any charities that can assist with funeral costs.

If this is not the case, do not fret, some financial directors will offer an incentive of a longer term payment schedule – to spread out funeral costs, as opposed to paying them all at once.

What are the options available?

The other options available include checking whether or not you are eligible for financial assistance. You may be entitled to a funeral expenses payment or a bereavement support payment or alternatively you may be eligible to claim a budgeting loan.

Who can apply for a funeral expense grant?

If you are looking into a funeral expenses payment, you only eligible to get one if all of the following apply to you:

  1. You get tax credits or particular benefits
  2. You meet the requirements on your relationship with the deceased
  3. You are organising a funeral in the UK, Switzerland or Europeans Economic Area (EEA)

Tax credits and particular benefits

You or your partner must get at least one of the following:

  • 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

Some things to note about funeral expenses grant

If you are getting a support for marriage interest loan, you may be entitled to this payment. 

Secondly if you have applied for any of these benefits previously and are still waiting for a response about your claim, you can still apply for the funeral expenses payment.

In the circumstance where you were responsible for a deceased child (but were not their parent), the actual parent must be claiming at least one of the benefits mentioned above.

Lastly, if a close relative of the deceased is not receiving any of these benefits, you will not qualify for the funeral expenses payment.

Relationship with the deceased – requirements:

You are eligible for the funeral expenses payment if you are one of the following:

  • The partner of the deceased when they died
  • A close relative or friend of the deceased
  • The parent of a baby stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy
  • The parent or individual responsible for a deceased child who was under 16 (or under 20 and in approved education or training)

You may be able to get other forms of financial help if you do not meet the requirements for the funeral expenses payment.

Moreover, it is important to note that the funeral expenses payment will typically not encompass the total cost of the funeral. It will however, significantly be of help.

What other help can I get to pay for funeral expenses?

If you are not able to claim the above expenses, and your spouse or partner has died, you may be eligible to receive a bereavement support payment – depending on your condition.

This initiative is set up to help alleviate some of the financial burden that comes from losing a loved one. If, on the other hand, you don’t fit the former category and live in England, Wales or Scotland you may be entitled to a budgeting loan.

Preparing for the funeral

What type of funeral service can you have?

Burial service – this service most commonly occurs after a funeral ceremony.

Religious funeral services – different types of funeral services that cater to your religious beliefs and practices.

Cremation service – also sometimes not as a memorial service, where the life of the deceased is celebrated but their body isn’t present. However some bodies may be cremated during the actual service itself.

Direct cremation – this typically does not involve a formal funeral service of attendees. However, where family-led rules occur, mourners may be permitted to gather.

Woodlands burials – this is an environmentally friendly approach to a burial or cremation. Usually within the confinements of woodland or around the countryside.

How do I select a venue for a funeral?

The venue you select for a funeral service may typically be dependent on the type of ceremony that you have. For example, if you’re having a Christian funeral, the venue for burial or cremation service is more likely to be in a church.

Also if you are planning to have a wake after the service, a venue will be needed for that too. You may choose to have the service in a venue that was close to where the deceased lived.

If you have a funeral director, they are on hand to help you find and advise you on nearby venues. There are alternative funeral service venues, and you are not bound to a church or chapel.

For example you could hold a funeral service in your home, village hall, and hotel or make it extra unique by hosting it in a historic building of a museum, theatres or sports stadiums.

There are certain funeral firms that specialise in areas such as these.

If you already have a date and time in mind for the funeral, run it alongside your funeral director to check their availability. If this is not the case, do not feel pressured to accept the first date a funeral director proposes, especially if it coincides with a particular event like a family birthday, anniversary.

Your funeral director is there to support you and your family and to ensure you are okay with all aspects of the funeral process.

Who should you invite to a funeral?

The invitees will be a collection of the deceased’s friends and family, work colleagues, church friends, neighbours. Along with the individuals you would like to invite, think about what role you may want them to carry during the service.

Perhaps you may want them to say a tribute during the funeral service, read a poem, sing a song or be a pallbearer – let them know ahead of the funeral.

However, as of 2021 and with the Covid-19 pandemic funeral attendees are limited and may fluctuate in accordance with government guidelines. So this is also an important factor to bear in mind when creating a list of invites to a funeral.

How do I personalise a funeral ceremony?

You want to add a personal touch to the service and below are some suggestions:

  • Photo display wall
  • An ongoing pictorial or written presentation during service
  • Asking guests to share their favourite memory of the deceased
  • Decorate the coffin 
  • Relatives as the pallbearers
  • Guests come in wearing a piece of clothing of the deceased’s favourite colour
  • Personalised flowers
  • An obituary notice ahead of the funeral
  • An order of service; readings, poems and eulogies – Music
  • The deceased’s favourite sang or Bible verses (if it is a Christian funeral service)
  • Charitable donations –for example, you can make a donation to Balanced Wheel, a charity which

    You want to add a personal touch to the service and below are some suggestions:

    • Photo display wall
    • An ongoing pictorial or written presentation during service
    • Asking guests to share their favourite memory of the deceased
    • Decorate the coffin 
    • Relatives as the pallbearers
    • Guests come in wearing a piece of clothing of the deceased’s favourite colour
    • Personalised flowers
    • An obituary notice ahead of the funeral
    • An order of service; readings, poems and eulogies – Music
    • The deceased’s favourite sang or Bible verses (if it is a Christian funeral service)
    • Charitable donations –for example, you can make a donation to Balanced Wheel, a charity that supports the bereaved in finding a new and balanced state of well-being to heal, rebalance and thrive after the loss of a loved one.

The funeral day

What happens on a funeral day?

The funeral day is typically split up into 4 stages (depending on the type of service that you choose to incorporate).
Nevertheless, do not feel alarmed or overwhelmed, we are here to break down these 4 stages for you:
  • Funeral procession
  • Funeral ceremony
  • Cremation or burial
  • Reception (wake)
Your funeral director will consult with you and work ahead to ensure that everything runs smoothly on the day.

What is a funeral procession?

A funeral procession is usually followed by a small group of mourners in cars, these individuals can be anything from the deceased’s immediate family, other relatives or friends.

Before a funeral your loved one will carefully be placed in their coffin and then in a hearse. The first stop in a funeral procession is usually picking up the coffin from a funeral home and then slowly driving to the place where the mourners reside – which could be the next of kin’s home.

The mourners are then transported to the crematorium or church for the funeral service. On these occasions funeral directors tend to lead the procession by foot at the beginning and upon arrival to the church or crematorium.

What happens at a funeral ceremony?

Upon arrival at a church, the coffin is taken out of the hearse and carried by pallbearers. These pallbearers can be arranged by your funeral director, or you can alternatively ask family or friends of the loved one to carry out this role.

The coffin may be placed on a catafalque – a raised box or platform that is used to support the casket, coffin, or body of the deceased during a Christian funeral or memorial service.

Alternatively the coffin may be carried into the crematorium if the body is due to be cremated. 

The funeral service is most times conducted by a minister, a family member or someone who was close to the deceased.  

The funeral service is very personal but also emotional but also a chance for you to see how much the deceased was loved by others. 

An order of service will be included along with entities such as funeral hymns, poems, readings, prayers, scriptural readings or acknowledgments. 

What happens after the funeral service?

The events that proceed after the ceremony will be dependent on whether the deceased will be cremated or buried.

You also have the option of cremating your loved one after a service in a church or alternative religious services, or secular ceremonies.

If the deceased love one is to buried, the funeral procession will arrive at the burial ground, and what is known as a committal service might take place at the graveside where your loved one resides.

The coffin will be gently removed from the hearse and positioned on planks above the grave. During this time, family are friends of the deceased gather around and prayers and readings may be said.

You, your family and the deceased’s friends are left to say their farewells as the casket or coffin is lowered into the ground. At this stage, you can distribute soil on the coffin or flowers into the grave as the coffin is lowered.

You have the option of choosing a crematorium, or you can leave it to your funeral director to handle. Funeral ceremonies within a crematorium or church usually range between 30-45 minutes.

You now have the option to broadcast the crematorium ceremony to mourners outside the chapel or alternatively record them for those that are not able to attend.

Funeral reception/wake

This stage is usually an opportunity for everyone to celebrate the life of the deceased. This event is organised by yourself, family or friends of the deceased.

The venue for the wake can be held in any location from a hotel, church hall, social club, a local pub or restaurant or simply your house (to save money), where catering is usually organised and provided.

During this event, individuals can share their favourite moments with the deceased. If the family of the deceased Perrin to a certain religion prayers may be said for the departed and their family.

The wake is also a good moment yourself and family to thank individuals for coming and for their support during this time.


We really do hope that this resource has put you at ease from what may initially appear to be a very daunting and overwhelming experience.

Remember to also not neglect the help of friends during this process – they may be able to provide you with very significant support during the funeral planning stages, most especially if you are not using a funeral director.

Secondly, work according to your budget, especially as funerals can be incredibly costly. Also don’t forget to check whether or not you’re eligible for certain funeral or bereavement expenses – every little helps.

Lastly and most importantly, don’t forget to take some time out to recuperate after the funeral considering the events leading up to and after the loss of your loved one.

Even if it’s a short break out of your city, take time to process everything that has happened and look after yourself and mental well-being.

Stages of Grief