How to plan a funeral
Last updated 1st June 2022
Planning a funeral can be overwhelming and stressful when emotions are already high. We have put together this step-by-step funeral planning guide to help make it that little bit easier.
Below you will find advice on getting started, choosing a funeral director, finding help with the costs, and planning the wake – plus much more. At the end of the article, you will find a helpful planning checklist for future reference.
What are the steps to planning a funeral?
Organising a funeral can seem overwhelming, so it’s best to start with some planning.
You may be able to delegate some tasks to other family members to help you get organised.
Firstly, see if your loved one has left funeral instructions in their Will or if there are savings or a funeral plan to pay for the funeral.
Your loved one may have already specified a funeral director, but if not, ask for recommendations or check with the National Association of Funeral Directors.
A funeral director can also show you a range of suitable coffins. However, look at what’s available online before you decide.
Again, check if the deceased left any instructions for their funeral. If they are impractical or you can’t afford them, focus on what you can do with the budget you have.
Costs vary, but burial is the most expensive send-off, cremation is less costly and direct cremation is usually the least expensive.
The basic funeral costs should cover the funeral director’s fees, doctor’s fees, clergy or officiate fees and the coffin. Then there are optional extras like a memorial, flowers, and transport.
There are many funeral services to choose from; there’s something for everyone.
Select a date, arrange funeral transport and an order of service, and select music and readings. You will need to work out if flowers or donations are best.
Again, the deceased might have left specific instructions about the type of send-off they had in mind, or it could be up to you to decide.
A reception, or wake, is optional, but it is an opportunity for friends and family to get together and mourn the passing of their loved one and celebrate their life. Again, if possible, bring family and friends involved to help.
Don’t forget, having “the funeral chat” can be comforting for those coming to the end of their life, giving them and their loved ones peace of mind knowing plans are in place.
- Start planning
When you are planning a funeral, it helps to answer these questions first:
- Are there funeral instructions in the Will?
- Is any savings, life insurance or funeral cover in place to pay for the funeral?
- If not, how will you pay for the funeral?
Sometimes people leave instructions in their Will or a funeral plan, or they might have talked it through with someone close.
If the deceased did leave funeral instructions, but they are impractical, or you cannot afford them, don’t worry. Instead, focus on what you can do with your budget.
Who can help with the funeral arrangement?
Speak to family members and close friends about planning the funeral. While some people might be unable to help, others may want to be involved in the funeral details.
Whether you delegate different tasks to people or ask for their opinion on something, having this support can make things less overwhelming.
Don’t forget; you don’t need to wait until the person has died to start planning their funeral.
Having “the funeral chat” can be comforting for those coming to the end of their life, as they know plans are being put in place, giving them and their loved ones peace of mind.
You can also hire a funeral director to help you organise everything. They’ll take you through the entire process step-by-step.
- Choosing a funeral director
When organising a funeral, the first decision to make is whether or not you will need a funeral director. Unfortunately, as this is a tough time, most people decide to leave the arrangements to a funeral director.
They can care for the deceased, the proceedings, and any parties’ organisation. Additionally, they can give you general guidance and support.
If your loved one had a funeral plan, cover, or a Will, they might have already chosen a funeral director.
If not, ask around for recommendations or check the National Association of Funeral Directors.
You don’t have to use a funeral director to plan all of the funerals. Still, an important responsibility of theirs is to ensure that the person who has died is taken into their care and is treated with respect and dignity.
It can sometimes be more cost-effective to arrange certain aspects yourself, but at such a tough time, a funeral director could be good to lean on.
How can a funeral director help me?
- Collection and care of the person who has died
- Planning and overseeing proceedings
- Guidance and support with choices available to you
- Organisation and coordination of other parties involved in the funeral
The most common funerals are burials, cremations, and direct cremations.
Prices vary significantly between different options; for example, burial is the most expensive send-off, and direct cremation is usually the most affordable.
Your loved one may have asked for a specific type of service in a funeral plan or Will. But if you can’t afford it, don’t worry – choose one that suits your budget.
Choosing a coffin
There are lots of diverse types of coffins to choose from. For example, it can help to look at what’s available online before deciding.
Coffins are usually solid wood, chipboard, metal, cardboard, or other biodegradable materials. Sometimes coffins can also be personalised with images.
To ensure you get the right-sized coffin, you’ll need to know the deceased’s height and weight.
If you have a funeral director, they can show you their range of coffins. However, you don’t have to buy the coffin through them. Instead, you can get one online from comparethecoffin.com or an independent company to save money.
Work out how much the funeral
- will cost
It’s no secret that funerals can be expensive. The average UK funeral cost £4,096 in 2021.
That price doesn’t even include the optional extras, like a memorial, flowers, or transport.
The basic funeral costs should cover:
- Funeral director’s fees
- Doctor’s fees
- Clergy or officiate fees
- The coffin
You can decide which services you think are essential and which are unnecessary. For example, would you like to pay for a funeral director to help you, or would you instead save costs by organising things yourself?
Who pays for a funeral?
If the person who died has taken out a funeral plan or cover, the funeral might be paid for by their policy.
They might also have had a life insurance policy, which could help towards funeral costs.
Or they might’ve held some money in their estate to cover it. If so, the executor of the estate will take care of paying the funeral bill.
Otherwise, a relative or friend usually pays for the funeral. If this happens, the friend or relative might be able to get the costs for the funeral back from the estate if there is enough to cover it.
Use our free funeral costs calculator to give you an idea of what a basic funeral might cost.
Below we’ve listed other things you can do to cut funeral costs.
How can I cut funeral costs
- Choose a direct cremation. This could save you thousands of pounds
- Pick a cheaper coffin. Cardboard coffins start from around £150 and are better for the environment.
- Don’t hire limousines. Ask people to make their way to the funeral if they can
- Have the wake at home. This means you can avoid expensive venue hire.
- Make the food yourself. Getting family and friends to make food for the wake saves the cost of hiring a caterer.
- Skip embalming. It may be traditional, but there is no need to get the body embalmed if you need to save money.
- Don’t splurge on flowers. Flowers are lovely but not necessary. Lots of people ask for a donation to charity instead.
- Get friends and relatives to carry the coffin. This means you will not have to pay for pallbearers.
Getting help with funeral costs
There are a few ways you can get help with funeral costs.
Ask your funeral director for advice. See if they have any options or accept any benefits that could help you.
Some charities may be able to help, like The Bereavement Trust. And it’s worth checking if you’re eligible for government funeral support.
In scarce circumstances, your local council may also be able to help with a Public Health Funeral.
Another option is to speak to the deceased’s bank or building society. For example, they might be able to settle the funeral bill from their account.
Please read our complete guide to getting help with funeral costs.
- Arrange the funeral service
Before you plan the funeral service, check if your loved one had any wishes. They may have left instructions in their Will or a funeral plan.
For example, did they want people to dress in colourful clothes or ask for specific songs to be played?
Remember, arranging a funeral can be an emotional time. Do not rush yourself; get family and friends to help if possible.
Choose the type of funeral service.
There are many types of funeral services to choose from. From a traditional church ceremony or cremation to woodland celebrations and sea burials, there is something for everyone. Alternative funerals are also becoming popular in the UK.
Your loved one may have asked for a specific service. If not, you can choose whichever you feel is most appropriate. Here are some examples:
- Religious funeral
- Green and woodland funerals
- Humanist and civic funerals
- Burial at sea
The type of funeral service will determine what mourners need to wear. For example, it is common for people to wear brighter colours at more modern funerals.
There are many distinct aspects that you can change within the service to make it more personal:
- Choose the music to go out to
- Write a personal eulogy
- Funeral flowers and arrangements
- Poems for the funeral
You can also choose to have a funeral without a service, such as a direct cremation.
A direct cremation is often cited as a no-fuss farewell; it is cremation in its quickest and most straightforward form, with no funeral service.
Pick a funeral venue and date.
Most funeral services are held in chapels, places of worship, homes, or local venues like village halls.
Wherever the funeral is held, the service will usually be led by a minister, the funeral director, a relative or a friend.
Depending on the venue’s availability, they can help you decide when to have the service.
Arrange the funeral transport
When organising a traditional funeral, the coffin is often taken to the service in a hearse. Friends and family then follow it in limousines. If you have a funeral director, they can help you arrange this.
However, you do not have to book a hearse and limousines just because it’s traditional.
Instead, many people choose more personal funeral transport – like tractors, fire engines and milk floats!
Or you can opt for something a bit less extravagant for funeral transport. Asking everyone to make their way to the service can help cut back on costs.
Put together an order of service.
An order of service is a programme of the funeral service. It is usually a printed booklet given to people when they arrive at the funeral and sent to those who cannot make it.
There are lots of online templates to help make an order of service. They usually follow this format:
- Front cover – includes a photo, their full name, date of birth, date of death, and a quote or message.
- Inside – outline the funeral service, so people know what to expect. List the speakers and include any songs, hymns, readings, poems, and prayers in the service.
- Final page – include another photo, list charities close to the deceased’s heart, thank people who came to the funeral, and give warm regards to those who could not make it. It’s also a chance to thank whoever provided the funeral services.
- Finish with details of the burial and wake so that people know where to go next.
It’s nice to include personal touches, like family photos and quotes, throughout the service order. Choose flowers or donations.
Flowers for the funeral service can be a lovely tribute to your loved one.
Their friends and family might also want to send flowers to pay their respects.
However, you can ask people to donate to charity instead of giving flowers. This was quite a common choice when the deceased had a cause that meant a lot to them.
Pick the funeral music and readings.
Funeral music and readings are a chance to make the service more personal.
If your loved one was religious, why not choose their favourite hymns and bible passages?
Or if they love rock or pop music, you can go for something less traditional.
Here are some resources to help you choose funeral music and poems:
- Funeral song generator
- Funeral songs to go out to
- Funeral bereavement poems & non-religious readings
- Funeral hymns
- Bible readings & Christian songs
- Plan the wake
The reception often called the wake, is an opportunity for friends and family of the person who has died to get together and mourn the passing of their loved one and celebrate their life.
You can have the wake in all kinds of venues.
Some people host it in their own home, some in a village hall, pub, social club, or hotel.
Catering is often included in the venue hire. If it is not, you can hire professional caterers or make the food, depending on your budget.
Once the venue is booked, let people know when and where the wake is. You can make it a private party or leave it open to anyone who wants to come.
Funeral arrangements checklist
You may find these funeral arrangements checklist helpful whilst you’re planning:
- Look for funeral instructions written in the Will of the deceased.
- Check how the funeral will be paid for (whether by a funeral plan or other means).
- Ask for support and advice from family members.
- Consider hiring a local funeral director.
- Choose a burial, cremation, or direct cremation.
- Decide on the coffin you would like.
- Work out how much the funeral will cost.
- Choose the type of funeral service you would like.
- Arrange a venue and date that is best for all concerned.
- Organise funeral transport.
- Create an order of service.
- Consider whether to opt for flowers or donations.
- Pick the funeral music and readings.
- Book a venue for the wake.
- Decide on catering for the wake.
- Invite those who will be attending.
Revisit the relevant sections in this guide if you’re stuck on any of the steps in this checklist.
Other things to think about
You might want to check if the person who has died left any wishes to do with their digital legacy.
This will include any digital wishes or instructions they have left outlining what should happen to their social media and other online accounts when they die.
Plan your own funeral
None of us likes to think about our funeral. But the truth is, planning can ease the burden on your loved ones at a tough time.
To help them when the time comes, it is worth making financial plans. For example, taking out over 50s life insurance or funeral cover can be a simple, affordable way to cover some funeral costs.
It also helps to talk to your friends and family about what kind of funeral you would like. Filling in our free My perfect send-off tool will mean they know what to do when it comes.