17 November 2018

A guide to making funeral arrangements

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What will it cost and who chooses the readings? Here are things to think about when organising a farewell ceremony.

When someone dies, dozens of decisions must be made in a short time. What type of funeral service do you want? How do you let people know about the death and the ceremony? Commemorating a life demands time and respect.

Select a funeral director

Most people ask friends or family to recommend a funeral director they have used. You can also search online with either the trade National Association of Funeral Directors (nafd.org.uk) or the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (saif.org.uk) - selecting an company accredited with these trade organisations could give more peace of mind. You can change funeral directors but might incur extra costs.

You could also decide to organise the funeral yourself – there’s no legal requirement to use an undertaker or hold a funeral. A DIY funeral might feel more personal and cost less, but planning it can be time-consuming. The Natural Death Centre charity can give advice and guidance in arranging and conducting a funeral independent of a funeral director.

Discover costs and set a budget

On average a funeral and traditional burial costs £4,257, while a funeral with cremation costs an average of £3,311 according to the Royal London National Funeral Cost Index 2017. Costs will vary according to where you live though, and it’s worth inquiring for quotes and details of services provided. These prices typically include funeral directors, cremation or burial costs and fees for doctors and the minister or celebrant. Some people have an insurance policy to cover the cost and prepaid funerals are becoming common. You might also have to pay for a memorial plaque, hiring a venue and catering, flowers, limousines, printing costs, death and funeral notices, copies of the death certificate and a funeral urn. 

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Meet your funeral director

First you meet the funeral director to discuss the options. They’ll ask about your choice of coffin, music and readings. Funeral directors have lists of suitable readings and poems, hymns and music, or you can pick your own. If you prefer, the funeral director might offer to visit you at home.

Make arrangements for the body

Once a death is registered, funeral directors collect the body from your home or the mortuary and keep it in a chapel of rest. You can select the clothes in which to bury your loved one and specify how the body is prepared. You can see the body privately before the funeral – some find this a comfort, others prefer not to.

Inform family and friends

Many families send printed announcement cards, others prefer to phone or write personally or put a notice in a local or national newspaper. Friends can also help spread the word.

Decide order and content of the service

Talk through options with the funeral director, family and close friends. Whether it’s a humanist or religious ceremony, the vicar or celebrant will usually talk to family and friends to prepare a eulogy (commemorative speech). Friends and family might also want to speak or give a reading. Think about music for the beginning and end of the service. Families often use photographs on the order of service. 

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Decide about flowers or charity donations

Flowers can be placed on the coffin. Some families may ask for donations to charity rather than flowers.

Consider what to do with the ashes

You can scatter them at a meaningful place later or inter them in a family grave or at a crematorium memorial site. Churchyard burials are rare nowadays but it’s possible to be buried in a family grave.

Opt for a dress code if appropriate

Fewer people wear traditional mourning clothes these days, though some see sombre attire as a mark of respect. Many choose smart clothes suitable for a celebration. It’s your choice.

Funeral services are a way of saying goodbye; a personal tribute to a beloved friend or relative. Families face many choices around the type of ceremony, from music to readings, eulogies and structure of the service. By talking these through in advance, you will be able to arrange a funeral which is in keeping with a loved one’s personal wishes.