Arranging a funeral and how to pay for it

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If a family member or friend has died you may have to arrange their funeral. Find out what’s involved in arranging a funeral and what a funeral costs.

Arranging a funeral – first steps

The person who died may have left instructions about what kind of funeral they wanted (for example, whether they wanted a burial or cremation). If they left a will, this may be included.

SAVVY TIP: It’s worth telling loved ones where to find copies of your will – or to leave a separate note about what you’d like for your funeral.  Your executors will need the original of the will in order to get probate, but getting the original will take some time and could hold up the funeral and its planning. If no-one knows where your will is stored, it could delay things even further.

If the person who died had a prepaid funeral plan, contact the company before you arrange the funeral. You’ll need to find out how the company will pay for the funeral and how much they’ll pay. If you don’t do this, you may find that they won’t pay for certain costs you’ve already incurred.

SAVVY TIP: A funeral cannot be held until the person’s death has been registered. The death should be registered within five days of the death (eight days in Scotland). There’s information on the Gov.uk website about registering a death.

Choosing a funeral director

You don’t have to use a funeral director to arrange a funeral, it’s perfectly legal for you to arrange it yourself. If you do want to use a funeral director, then unless the person who’s died had left instructions for a particular director to be used, or the director is specified by the funeral plan, it’s worth doing some research before you choose.

Not only do some directors charge different amounts for the same service but, more importantly, their approach varies quite widely. Some are simply more empathetic and care about their customers more than others and some are better at arranging non-traditional funerals.

SAVVY TIP: The Good Funeral Guide, About the Funeral, the National Association of Funeral Directors, Funeralzone and Beyond are all worth a look if you’re trying to find a funeral director (there are links to their websites at the end of this guide). There’s an increasing number of directors offering non-traditional and more personalised options. I’ve included some links to funeral directors that offer something a little different and where the firms are led by women at the end of the guide.

Cremation or burial?

The cost of a funeral (either a burial or a cremation) varies widely.

If you want to use a funeral director, the cheapest option is a direct cremation, which can cost less than £2,000. A simple cremation can cost from £2,500, with the average cost being over £3,000. A funeral with a burial can cost several thousand pounds – more if you want an elaborate ceremony.

The three main options are:

  • Direct cremation: This involves the funeral director collecting the body of the person who died, a basic coffin, the cremation and returning the ashes. You can’t normally view the body before the cremation and you may have to pick up the ashes afterwards. Not all funeral directors offer direct cremations.
  • Cremation: Here the funeral director will collect and keep the body until the cremation. You will be able to visit the deceased (although you will normally have to arrange when you do this in advance).
  • Burial: The cost of a burial varies widely depending on the type of coffin, headstone, service and hearse you want. If you opt for a natural burial, the costs will be much lower.

Personalising the funeral

There’s lots of information on various websites to help you to plan a funeral and the funeral director can also help you to pick the music etc. Here are some of my tips:

  • The eulogy: The eulogy is a chance for someone who knew the person who’s died to talk about them and their life. Speaking in public can be daunting, especially at a funeral which is bound to be very emotional. If you don’t like speaking in public, don’t put yourself under pressure to deliver the eulogy. You can always write the eulogy, but not read it or get someone else to do both.
  • Flowers: Don’t feel like you have to have white or pale flowers for a funeral. If the person who’s died liked certain flowers, incorporate those into the funeral flowers.
  • Music: You don’t have to have traditional hymns or classical music. Lots of funerals have contemporary music or you could include birdsong, if the person who died was a nature lover.
  • The type of service or ceremony and who leads it: If religion or faith was important to the person who died, you will probably want to reflect that in the service. But if they were not religious, you may prefer to have a non-religious celebrant to lead it. The Humanist Society has information on finding funeral celebrants.

Paying for the funeral

There is limited government help with funeral costs (basically, it’s up to £700 towards the funeral itself, plus burial or cremation costs and costs towards things like transport). This payment is means tested. You can find out more about help with funeral costs on the Gov.uk website.

SAVVY TIP: If the person who died had a prepaid funeral plan, contact the company before you arrange the funeral. They will tell you how to claim.

If you don’t qualify for government help and the person who died didn’t have a funeral plan, then as long as they had some savings, the bank should be happy to pay the funeral bill direct, even if probate hasn’t been granted. However, the funeral director may ask for an upfront deposit for the cost of using the crematorium or for the burial plot (these are called third party fees as they’re not charged by the funeral director).

Useful links:

The Natural Death Centre: Lots of information about arranging a funeral

Good Funeral Guide: Has a find a funeral director section of its website

The Money Advice Service has an article called arranging a funeral yourself.

About the Funeral has information about arranging a funeral and lets you compare the costs of funeral directors and prepaid funeral plans.

Funeralzone has a compare funeral directors section on its website.

Beyond is another website that lets you compare funeral directors 

Fair Funerals is a campaigning organisation but it also has information on organising a funeral

National Association of Funeral Directors 

National Federation of Funeral Directors

Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors

Female-led funeral directors

I’ve included a selection of female-led funeral directors. All have 4.9 or 5 star reviews – either on Google or Facebook. Several have won or been shortlisted for awards.

A Natural Undertaking – based in Birmingham

Arka Original Funerals – based in Brighton

Compassionate Funerals – based in London

Dandelion Farewells– based near Guildford

Natural Endings– based in Manchester

Poetic Endings – based in London

Poppy’s Funerals – based in London

Related articles:

When do you need to get probate

Prepaid funeral plans – are they worth it?

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