Arranging the funeral
The only legal requirements for a funeral are that the death must be registered, you must have a certificate authorising it and it must involve burial or cremation. Although you can start planning the funeral immediately, for instance by choosing a funeral director, you cannot make any firm arrangements until the death has been registered. If the death has been reported to the coroner the funeral may be delayed.
The responsibility for paying for the funeral lies with the person making the arrangements; after all, someone who has died cannot enter into a contract. Many funeral directors will require some advance payment to cover disbursements, and some may expect their final bill to be settled reasonably promptly. Funeral expenses have the first priority for payment after any debts of the estate that are secured on assets owned by the deceased, for the very reason that someone else has to take responsibility for them. You should check whether the deceased had a pre-paid funeral plan which will cover the cost of the funeral. Some life insurance policies will pay the undertakers direct and also some banks will be willing to release funds even on accounts that were frozen on death.
Most funerals are arranged by commercial funeral directors, but you are entitled to make all the arrangements yourself if you wish. You are free to choose which firm of undertakers you wish to use and do not have to use the firm that has taken away the body of the deceased. The wishes of the deceased may be taken into account when considering whether a burial or a cremation is to take place and the other arrangements for the funeral but it is not a legal requirement to do so. . A funeral director will usually:
- Move the body of the deceased to the funeral directors’ chapel of rest
- Arrange transportation elsewhere (including repatriation) if required
- Insert notices in the newspapers
- Attend to the deceased prior to the funeral and provide facilities for viewing the body
- Make the arrangements with the church or crematorium and arrange a suitable date
- Organise floral tributes and special music requests at the funeral
- Arrange Order of Service sheets at the funeral
- Provide the coffin, staff and transportation to the funeral service
- Arrange catering after the funeral
- Arrange a headstone (most cemeteries will want you to wait 6 months before placing it)
They will also be willing to undertake other duties such as:
- Advise on registering the death (although they cannot do this for you) and supply transport
- Accept charitable donations on your behalf and provide a list of donors
- Provide a list of people attending the funeral
- Supply obituary or Thank You cards
- Place Thank You notices in local newspapers following the funeral
Remember that at all times the funeral directors are acting on your instructions and should want the funeral to comply with your wishes. The undertaker will normally provide you with a written quotation which should include the disbursements that they will incur and you should make sure that the cost of the funeral is known in advance. Charges can vary widely. Even though it is a difficult time it is a good idea to ask for a written price list before choosing which funeral director to use. Most are members of NAFD (National Association of Funeral Directors) or SAIF (Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors). These members are obliged to provide a price list on request. Factors that will significantly affect the cost of the funeral are the choice of coffin, the number of funeral cars that are ordered and the extent of any post funeral wake that is planned to take place. Funeral directors are unregulated and inevitably some will provide a better service than others. A recent report by Which? rated a number of directors very poorly so you may wish to consider recommendations from friends and discussing your requirements with more than one company.
Arranging without a Funeral Director
There are many reasons you might want to make the arrangements yourself. You may feel a sense of duty, you may want to keep costs down or you may want a very personalised funeral. Your local council will have a Bereavement Service who will advise you. If you can find a funeral director willing to provide just the services you want this can make the job easier. For instance, buying a coffin or hiring a hearse can be difficult. You may want the body stored in a chapel of rest or help in lowering the coffin.