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Planning a funeral: Answers for the bereaved

Planning a funeral: Answers for the bereaved

Planning a funeral can appear an intimidating prospect. It’s an event where a never-ending checklist of tasks looms large, all to be undertaken when you are in the midst of grief and the initial stages of mourning your loved one.

With this in mind we answer some of the key questions that are often asked by those who are bereaved, and who require a gentle helping hand to take care of what are essential arrangements.

What to do first when someone dies?

The first step to be taken is to collect a medical certificate from a GP or hospital doctor. You will then need to register the death within 5 days (or 8 days if in Scotland).

How you do so will depend upon the circumstances of the deceased’s death. If the deceased passed in hospital or in a hospice, then there will be a registry office within the vicinity. For those who have passed outside such establishments you will need to attend the deceased’s local registry office.

How can funeral directors help you?

A funeral director can serve as a vital source of support throughout the process of arranging a funeral. Not only will they guide you through the tasks ahead of you, but they can also provide a surprising pillar of comfort and assurance.

Beyond this there are very specific services that a funeral director will provide, including:

  • Helping with the selection of a suitable coffin
  • Transporting the deceased to the private chapel of rest
  • Taking care of the deceased (including washing and dressing for a final visit from friends and family)
  • The provision of a hearse
  • The provision of pallbearers
  • Organising the legalities.

How do you find a funeral director or undertaker - and how do you know they're the right one for you?

Funeral directors and undertakers are one and the same. They are simply two different titles for the same form of profession.

An important point to note is that this industry is unregulated, and as such it’s advisable that you select a funeral director that is signed up to one of the two voluntary industry bodies. These are The National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) and the National Society of Allied Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF). Each of these bodies lay out expectations of their members.

You should feel comfortable making initial enquiries and speaking without obligation to a funeral director. Often it is the way in which they handle that first call that can be a sign of how adept they are at their profession.

You could even utilise an online service like FuneralServicesGuide.com to help you find a funeral director in your area.

What choices do you need to make and is it important and OK to compare costs at a time like this?

The average funeral today costs £3,456, whilst the average costs for additional services, such as a memorial, flowers and catering is £2,006 (Daily Mail 2014). These costs are far from insignificant and while you will want to do your best by the deceased, it’s important that your budget and financial constraints form part of the choices you make.

However, ultimately the choices that you make for the service – such as poems, hymns, speeches, and music - are of far more personal significance than how many flowers, or what type of coffin, you may afford.

What’s more, selecting suppliers and making choices carefully is often not a matter of compromise. Instead it is simply a way of purchasing the same quality of service at a lower cost.

If you’re struggling to meet the costs of a funeral, you can seek help from the Social Fund.

Beyond the choices that will be made with the funeral director, you may also need to consider:

  • The choice of flowers
  • Whether you will request flowers from others or charitable donations
  • The venue for the service and the venue for following the service
  • The catering for the after-service event
  • The service’s contents, including those elements outlined above (e.g. poems, hymns, speeches, and music).

How do you find someone to take the service - religious or not?

A funeral director will speak with you about your options as to who may be suitable to lead the service. This may often be a vicar if the deceased is either Church of England or neither religious nor atheist.

However you are also free to arrange this of your own accord and can contact local religious establishments, as well as local crematoriums, to explore your options.

Should you wish to arrange a non-religious funeral then you could explore the potential of a civil funeral (which focuses on the wishes, beliefs and values of the deceased and their family - for which a Celebrant would lead the service) or a humanist funeral (which is, in effect, an event of celebration - for which a Life Celebrant would lead the service).

How do you find a venue for the service and for the after-service get together?

The service

Where the service is held will depend upon the deceased’s religious persuasion, or conversely, their atheistic beliefs. Potential options include a church or other religious establishment for those with a belief, or religion-neutral venues such as a crematorium. Neutral venues tend to provide both cremations and burials, although you will need to enquire to confirm this. Your funeral director will be able to inform you of your options as according to your locality.

After the service

Again, your funeral director will be able to provide guidance on what local venues may be suitable for your budget and party size. Potential venues include pubs, restaurants, social clubs, community halls and the home of someone who was a family member or friend.

What timescales do you need to work to?

Whilst there are legal timescales for registering a person’s death, there are no such strict guidelines for the planning of a funeral. However, funerals on average take between 7 and 10 days to organise, although certain religions, such as Islam and Judaism, command a strict timescale from death to burial of 24 hours.

How should you let people know about the funeral?

Informing others of a loved one’s passing can understandably be the most imposing task of all – not only emotionally, but also practically. For this task you may wish to ask others for their assistance.

Those with whom you are in contact with can be informed face-to-face, or by phone, whilst you may also post an announcement in the local newspaper for those who may be out of touch with the family. This can often by arranged online, via a newspapers’ website (look for a link entitled ‘Obituaries’).

Should you request flowers, donations or nothing at all?

There is no set presumptions when it comes to requests, although donations are becoming a more popular option as family members consider the raising of charitable money a touching tribute to their loved one.

Whatever your choice, you should supply the funeral director’s information and address on all funeral correspondence as there may still be those who wish to send flowers.

If you choose to collect funds in memorial, your funeral director can help arrange this element. You can also speak directly with a charity, and personally send the money thereafter. There’s also a service from the charitable donations website Just Giving, for those who wish to handle this element of the funeral online.

This article was written by Funeralservicesguide.com, a website offering expert guidance through the funeral planning process as well as a directory of local service providers.

Published in August 2016.

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