A complete guide to planning a funeral in the UK

A complete guide to planning a funeral in the UK

by Jon Crawford2023-05-230

Planning a funeral is an emotional and challenging experience. The death of a loved one may 

have been a sudden shock or come after a long period of illness and stress for the entire family. Regardless of the circumstances, arranging a funeral can seem daunting, with official paperwork to be completed and logistical choices to be made. All while experiencing profound grief and sadness.

Drawing upon our years of experience, we help lighten the emotional and logistical burden of bereavement, with our transparent, personal service that caters to all budgets, leaving you free to craft a perfect, unique funeral. 

Many of our customers are arranging a funeral for the first time and don’t know what to expect. This guide to arranging a funeral in the UK will cover every stage of the process, helping take away the anxieties and misunderstandings that can make planning a funeral seem so daunting at first. Knowledge is peace of mind.

Our mission at Fenix is to make arranging a funeral in the UK as simple and stress-free as possible. We have years of experience in funeral planning and legal services with a transparent, personal approach to suit all budgets. 

You can contact us any time for bereavement support and a no obligation quote for anything relating to funeral arrangements in the UK.

We believe death and funeral planning should not be shrouded in mystery, so we’ve put together this definitive 12-step guide to arranging a funeral in the UK to answer some of the most common questions our customers ask.

1: Registering the death and legal admin before a funeral

Before you make formal arrangements for a funeral in the UK, the death must be officially registered within 5 days (including weekends and bank holidays). After registration, you will receive two important documents: a death certificate and a certificate for burial or cremation, which is sometimes called the ‘green form’. 

The death certificate is needed to handle the legal and banking affairs of your loved one, and the green form must be given to your appointed funeral director before burial or cremation.

Without this first step being completed, a funeral cannot take place. The death of somebody close to you often comes as a shock, so we have more assistance on what to do when somebody dies in our other guidance pages. 

If your loved one died in circumstances that require an coroners inquest - in an accident, suicide or crime - you should unfortunately be prepared for a longer than usual wait before the funeral can take place.

If you need to arrange for repatriation of the body of somebody who died outside of the UK or somebody who died in the UK and wished to be buried abroad, there are certain legal procedures that must be followed. You can contact us at any time for assistance with any stage of the process.

Did the deceased leave a will and/or funeral plans?

Once the death has been registered and you have received the necessary certificate, you can proceed with your plans for the funeral. 

You may already know the deceased’s wishes for their farewell, or it may have been preplanned. In this case, all you need to do is contact the funeral director to work with them on putting the plan in action. 

Sometimes, you or somebody close to the deceased may have talked about their funeral wishes, or the plans may have been included in their will. If you think that a friend, family member, or legal representative might know of pre-arranged funeral plans or wishes, make sure you speak to them first. 

It’s also possible that the deceased had been making plans for their funeral in advance. If this is the case, they have hopefully alerted you to this and told you where the paperwork is stored.

Are you planning your own funeral in advance?

Although it’s sometimes hard to talk about the end of life, it can help to let those around you know what your wishes or direct plans are about your death. By removing the ambiguity around your funeral wishes, it can lift a lot of stress from all parties involved.

If they know what you think or believe, or where to find the important documents and plans you’ve created, then that will be a huge help to them after your death.

If you’re planning your own funeral, it can be a good idea to put all the documents that will be needed in one safe place, and to let someone close to you know where that is. These documents might include:

  • Your will, which might include all your funeral plans, and how to pay for it.
  • Your birth certificate (original needed).
  • Proof of ID and address, such as utility bills.
  • Mortgage or house-ownership papers, or your rental contract.
  • Details of any benefits you’re receiving, e.g. pension.
  • Details of all your financial institutions, e.g. your bank and credit cards, loans, etc.
  • Life insurance policy.
  • Information about your email and social media accounts, including passwords, and any instructions on what you want done with sensitive or personal information.

2. Find bereavement services

How are you feeling? Managing grief when somebody dies

No matter how well-planned for, or anticipated as the result of a long illness, the death of someone close to you will be upsetting and could leave you wondering how to cope. Whether you find yourself suffering from strong feelings of grief and bereavement, or you just need some advice on how to deal better with someone’s death, the UK government has a service to help you find support in your local area. 

Planning a funeral can be a lot to take on, especially when suffering from feelings of loss and sadness, so it’s often a good idea to have someone to talk to about your feelings. It can help clear your mind ahead of a lot of logistical planning. 

We do not always make the best decisions when we are stressed, so if you can find a way to give yourself a bit more ‘headspace’ or serenity at this challenging time, it might help you make the best plan.

3. Notifying family and friends of the deceased when someone has died 

Now the legal essentials have been taken care of, the focus can turn to informing close family and friends of the sad news. It won’t necessarily be an easy job emotionally, but social media and the internet can be a big help if trying to track down relatives abroad or people that the deceased may have been fond of but lost touch with over the years. 

Some people also like to place a death announcement in local or national newspapers, and these will now normally offer a digital placement as well as in print.

Can you delay a funeral in the UK?

Sometimes, in extenuating circumstances, a funeral may need to be delayed. One example is if a coroner’s inquiry is ongoing to answer questions surrounding the death.

If it’s not possible for the arrangements to be made or for family from abroad to arrange travel during this timeframe, the best option could be a direct cremation followed by a service at a convenient time in the future.

4. Choosing between burial or cremation when arranging a funeral in the UK

If your loved one did not have a prepaid funeral plan or was undecided about their funeral wishes, one of the first decisions to be made will be if they will be buried or cremated.

In recent years in the UK, cremations and direct cremations have become more popular, with burials now only accounting for about a quarter of all funerals. This is due to a range of factors, from saving money to taking up less space. 

Something to consider that might help you to decide is whether you and others will want to visit a gravesite regularly, or whether you’d prefer to have the ashes scattered in a meaningful location. You can in fact have ashes buried in some cemeteries too for an additional fee.

If it looks like there may be a delay before the funeral can be held for logistical or legal reasons, or if family living overseas cannot travel back quickly, then a direct cremation with a service held after the event at a convenient time could be a good option.

Green funerals have also rocketed in popularity. In the UK, this can mean being buried in a meadow or woodland in a biodegrade coffin or even just a simple shroud. With eco-funerals or green burials, as they’re also known, no harmful chemicals are used in embalming the body, which helps protect the land. Rather than choosing a headstone, many people opt to plant a tree as a memorial.

5. Budgeting when planning a funeral in the UK

Costs for a basic funeral in the UK vary by region (being more expensive in London and neighbouring counties) and the options you choose. Burial is often the more expensive option, while cremation generally costs less, and direct cremation is even cheaper. 

At Fenix, we pride ourselves in being 100% transparent and fair. We always strive to present our customers with the best options for their individual needs -  and budgets. From a simple cremation delivered to an exacting budget, to a bespoke burial service with transport and flowers, we can help plan the funeral service that’s right for you - and as unique as the life you are celebrating.

Additional costs for burials 

There are more extra costs associated with a burial than a cremation. These can include:

  • Burial plot cost
  • Interment fee
  • Coffin cost - custom options can be expensive 
  • Ongoing graveside maintenance fees
  • Renewal of plot (after 50/100 years

The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to planning an affordable funeral – either for yourself or a loved one – is that you’re in control. You should never feel pressured to choose options you can’t afford. If you feel like you’re on the end of a ‘hard sell’ it may be a good idea to consider other funeral directors. 

This is a time of great stress and sadness, so it is often good to take a couple of days to think over what you can realistically afford and if it feels right. When arranging a funeral, you should always make sure that your funeral director is transparent about all the costs and what is included in their pricing. 

If a price seems particularly competitive, you should ask the funeral director to confirm specific details. For example, the time of the service if it is attended and how many people can attend it. Make sure each element of the package is compatible as a whole. It’s also common to shop around funeral directors these days to compare prices and services.

When budgeting for a funeral in the UK it’s useful to:

  • Make the funeral directors aware of your budget first, before any costs are discussed
  • Ask the funeral director for a written estimate of ALL costs (including third party costs)
  • Compare quotes for the same services from several funeral directors 
  • Ask the funeral director if any deposit is payable
  • Get a clear, written summary of all payment terms from the funeral director
  • Consider if you want to provide additional transport for guests
  • Ask yourself if you want floral tributes and displays
  • Consider costs for a wake with food and drink after the service

With the cost of living higher than it’s been in a long time in the UK, it can be a squeeze to find additional money for a funeral, especially if the death is unexpected. If you need support and advice on how to afford a funeral in the UK, then the impartial, government-provided service MoneyHelper also offers free, impartial advice.

6. Choosing a funeral director in the UK

Fenix can act directly as your funeral director. We have many years’ experience, and our warm, caring advisers are always there for you, whenever you need them.

By now, you should have a clearer idea of the type of funeral you would like to arrange, how much you want to spend and how many guests might be coming. It’s time to find a funeral director to help get everything arranged.

Although a funeral director is not required by law in the UK, they can make planning a funeral much easier. Their expertise, contacts and support can make every step of the process as smooth as possible.

From dealing with paperwork to choosing between burial, cremation, or ‘green’ funerals, looking after and transporting the body, to arranging flowers, we can help you handle just about everything. Remember, you can contact us anytime for free impartial advice and no obligation quotes.

Do your research and check out reviews for funeral directors

There is now more choice than ever when it comes to funeral options, and as such, funeral directors’ services have become more competitive as people ‘shop around’ for services to suit their circumstances and budgets.

It’s important to remember that most funeral directors are members of one of these two bodies, which regulate their work and protect everyone who uses them:

  • National Association of Funeral Directors
  • The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF)

Check out online reviews of funeral directors in your area to see what other peoples’ experience of them is. 

Personal recommendations from family and friends who have found a particular funeral director to offer a great service and be compassionate and kind can also go a long way. 

There’s also a lot to be said for trusting your intuition and instinct. Perhaps there is a funeral director you have spoken to who you felt a stronger personal connection with? 

How long will it be before the funeral takes place?

The funeral service will usually take place around two weeks after confirming details with the funeral director. Services that need to take place in less than seven days could be considered ‘fast tracked’ and might come at an additional cost.  

This gives time for the necessary arrangements to be made, but of course, it can take longer if there are legal or logistical questions that must be addressed. Some religious services need to be held much sooner than this, and Fenix can accommodate any religious or cultural traditions with our network of funeral directors.

Questions to ask the funeral director when arranging a funeral

  • Do they offer cremation, burial and green burials?
  • How long before the service is held, and is it possible to have a weekend funeral?
  • Are they sensitive/knowledgeable about your particular religion? This may be important if the service is to follow a particular faith or cultural tradition.
  • What do their charges include?
  • When is the payment for funeral services due?
  • Is there a deposit to pay?
  • Do you sell a range of coffins, and could I supply one from another source?
  • Can I provide transport, or must it be through their company?
  • Can friends or family members be pallbearers?

Remember, Fenix can act as your funeral director, arrange every aspect of the service and answer all your questions. We provide a transparent service and clear, no obligation quotes, so there are no surprises when it comes to cost.

7. Personalising a funeral with extra touches 

Alongside the standard services offered by funeral directors, there are various options that can be added to your funeral plan to make the service unique. Of course, these all come at a cost, so it is wise to anticipate some of these potential upcharges before agreeing to them with a funeral director.

Although simple funeral services and direct cremations are becoming popular in the UK, it is still natural for some people to want to honour the deceased with a bit of spectacle - be it with floral tributes, a horse-drawn carriage or a large wake which can unite a lifetime of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

Of course, all of these extras add up and will have an effect on your budget, so there is no set rule of what you should and should not have at a funeral. Here at Fenix, we pride ourselves on working to accommodate the unique requests of our customers, to make each final send off an unforgettable, emotional experience. From bespoke floral arrangements on horse drawn carriages, to releasing a flock of doves at the graveside, we go the extra mile to help our customers build their perfect farewell.

8. Floral tributes - what are the options when planning a funeral?

Flowers at a funeral take many forms. From a simple bouquet or wreath to an impressive lettered tribute, they act as a captivating visual expression of emotion. 

Floral tributes spelling names on coffins are often seen at traditional burials, particularly when there is a long funeral procession.

Funeral directors can supply a variety of flower displays for funerals and will have various different packages to suit your budget. Alternatively, you could visit a local independent florist to see what they can offer. If the deceased had a favourite flower, then this could feature prominently in the display.

It should also be possible to supply floral tributes and flowers for the service yourself if you have a talent for flower arranging. Your funeral director and service venue will advise.

These days it’s common for funeral invitations to state ‘donations in lieu of flowers to … charity’ as it saves families from being overwhelmed with large amounts of flowers from well-meaning mourners. Many people who have lost a loved one to a disease like cancer, would rather think of money being spent on the future quest to cure such illnesses than floral tributes.

9. Choosing a coffin when planning a funeral 

The deceased may have had their choice of coffin decided long ago, but it’s more likely that whoever is planning the funeral will be left to decide. There is more choice than ever when picking a coffin for a funeral in the UK now - from simple coffins made from cardboard to sustainable wicker and deluxe hardwood coffins with custom painted finishes.

A basic funeral package will usually include a cardboard or a simple wood-effect coffin, and the other options will be available as an optional extra - for an additional cost.

The different types of coffins commonly available in the UK are:

  • Budget coffins -  cardboard, woven shroud made from a natural fibre like linen, hemp or cotton
  • Mid-range coffins - veneered MDF for a wooden effect, natural materials like willow or bamboo
  • Deluxe coffins - solid hardwoods like mahogany or oak, metal

10. Transport costs when planning a funeral

Most funeral directors’ packages will include transport of the deceased, but it’s wise to check the specifics here. All of our packages at Fenix - from direct cremation to a full burial service -  include a traditional hearse as standard. 

However, some ‘low cost cremation’ packages from other providers use an ambulance in place of a hearse to keep costs down. If this is important to you, make sure you check with the funeral director to avoid upset and disappointment on the day of the funeral.

Extra services like a traditional horse-drawn carriage and additional limousines for mourners will of course incur an additional charge. 

It’s a good idea to consider how many people you need to transport to the cemetery service in the funeral procession before starting to speak to the funeral director about transport. Ask yourself:

  • Who will be travelling in the official funeral procession?
  • Are additional limousines etc, needed for these people?
  • Will the body be coming from the funeral parlour or home/another address?
  • Are there any mobility and accessibility considerations for key mourners who are elderly or disabled?

If you have a clear idea of whether you need additional transport before speaking to a funeral director, it may help you stick to your budget better.

If you are planning a large funeral service and are expecting many guests to arrive in their own cars, it pays to check out parking available in advance. Most cemeteries should have ample space, but if it’s a smaller venue or you are expecting a large amount of mourners, there could be a shortage of spots. Making attendees aware of extra parking in the area will help them arrive on time - and less flustered - for the service, as will clear directions to the service.

11. Planning the format of the funeral service itself

Not all funerals have an official service, but if you do want to mark the passing this way, it’s a good idea to get this planned and invitations sent out as soon as possible. If the deceased followed a certain religion, then this will most likely dictate the type of service and where it is held.

The occasion could be a traditional funeral service, with hymns, a sombre tone and mourning attire, or perhaps your loved one left instructions that people should wear bright colours and dance in a joyous celebration.

Standard format of a funeral service in the UK

People begin to arrive at the service venue before the service is due to start

Funeral procession to the service venue (less common these days)

The coffin is moved from hearse to funeral service room (if there has been a procession)

Funeral service - usually in blocks of 30-60 minutes

Longer services will have to be booked in advance and cost more

The committal - the body is buried or cremated

The wake - social gathering afterwards with refreshments

Some more points to consider when planning a funeral order of service include:

  • Who will officiate the ceremony (leading everyone through the service)?
  • Who will deliver the eulogy (the speech that pays tribute to the deceased)?
  • Will other people be invited to speak, or make readings?
  • What music should be used during the service?
  • Does extra provision need to be made for graveside music?
  • Did the deceased have a favourite song that could be played?

How long do funerals last in the UK?

Every funeral is of course different and the length of each depends on many factors: how many guests there are, the religion of the deceased and whether it was a burial or a cremation. 

For example, a simple cremation service may include only a short reading and be over in 30 minutes, but a Roman Catholic funeral could last longer than one hour if it includes a Requiem Mass. 

Generally speaking though, the average funeral service in the UK lasts between 30 minutes and an hour. It is not out of the question to have a service that is longer than this, but it would need to be negotiated with the venue and will involve an extra fee.

Planning a funeral service for exceptional circumstances with sensitivity

Every funeral is a sombre occasion, marking the passing of someone who was dear to many. Some circumstances of death, however, call for an even more sensitive approach. 

For example, planning a funeral service for somebody who has taken their own life can be an extremely emotionally challenging task. When suicide is suspected as the cause of death, there is always an inquest, and the funeral cannot take place until after this has taken place, meaning there can be a longer gap between death and funeral.

Despite society becoming more progressive and accepting, there is still a stigma attached to suicide and some families prefer not to mention it at the funeral or thanksgiving service. Speculation and gossip before or at the funeral service are also a huge cause of anxiety for the immediate family and closest friends of the deceased. It is entirely up to the members of the family whether they do so or not.

However you decide to guide the order and feeling of the service, the emphasis should always be on celebrating the life of the deceased - how they lived, their strengths and achievements. Hopefully, the mourners present will pick up on this sentiment and respond with sensitivity and tact.

12. After the service - planning the funeral wake

At Fenix, we don’t just organise funerals. If you need assistance arranging any elements of the wake, we can help. Our advisers will be able to tailor the whole day to your exact specification.

A social gathering after a cremation or funeral service is often referred to as the wake. In many ways, it’s become an integral part of the grieving process - a chance to share memories of the departed that unites family and friends in a more relaxed context than the funeral service.

The wake can also be thought of as a kind of ‘pressure release valve’ from the preceding weeks of stress, planning and sadness in the build up to the funeral. 

As services like direct cremation become more popular in the UK, more people are opting for a simpler ceremony with a social gathering after, focussing on celebrating their loved ones lives in a joyous way. 

There are no rules when it comes to choosing a venue for the wake. If it’s a smaller service, it’s not unusual for the wake to be at a member of the family’s home, if they can accommodate the mourners. This is the most affordable option if on a limited budget as it cuts out costs for venue hire and caterers. 

Similarly, if it has been a religious funeral at a church or temple, then perhaps that venue has a social area attached to it which can be hired for such events. Church halls, for example, can often supply tea, coffee and other soft drinks, and you are usually free to provide your own food if the venue cannot.Alternatively, if your loved one had a favourite restaurant or pub or social club that they visited regularly, this could be a good choice for the wake. For larger wakes - obviously with a higher budget - hotels and bigger venues are popular.

Planning a wake checklist:

  • Venue - where and when? What are the payment terms? 
  • Will the wake be public or private?
  • Get the invitations sent in good time
  • Use a newspaper/social media announcement if needs be
  • Can the venue provide catering, or will you provide food/external caterer?
  • Do you need RSVPs for numbers/food?
  • Do you need to be aware of dietary requirements/allergies?

13. After the funeral and wake

After what will have been an intense couple of weeks, it’s natural to feel like you may need a few days to decompress and try to ‘get back to normal’.

It could be a good idea to book a few extra days off work and be kind to yourself - rest, relax and recharge.

Remember, the grief may hit you harder after all the logistical challenges and business of the funeral wake are over. Don’t worry - it’s normal to feel exhausted - both emotionally and physically - after the funeral. 

There will probably be legal business to attend to in terms of managing the deceased’s estate. Remember that Fenix can help with all legal matters like this as well as funeral arrangements, and that you can contact us at any time.

One positive that can follow the challenging runup to the funeral, is the chance to reconnect with friends and family that you had not seen for a long time before the service. 

Some people may choose to organise a further memorial event, scattering of ashes or thanksgiving gathering after the funeral and wake. It is usually a more social and relaxed meetup than the funeral and is another chance for friends to reunite and remember the special person they have lost. 

Once you feel rested, getting back to work, socialising, and other ‘normal’ activities can help you level out. And, although you will not forget the pain of losing your loved one and will keep their memory to heart, day by day, life should seem a little easier.

We hope this definitive guide to planning a funeral has been useful. Remember, you can contact us at any time to get assistance with any aspect of arranging a funeral and legal queries and a free, no obligation quote for our services.

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Frequently asked questions

Initially, you must register the death and receive the necessary legal documents before any arrangements can be made.
Consider personal, cultural, or religious preferences and think about whether you want a gravesite to visit or prefer scattering ashes.
Consider all costs including the funeral director's fees, transport, coffin and the type of service you want to arrange.
Personal touches can include floral tributes, the type of coffin, or unique elements like a horse-drawn carriage.
Decide on the service format, who will officiate, the music and any readings or eulogies.
Choose a venue, decide on catering, and consider whether it will be a public or private gathering.

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