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How to plan a funeral

Last updated 17th January 2024

10 min read

Planning a funeral can be overwhelming and stressful at a time when emotions are already high. We’ve put together this step-by-step funeral planning guide to help make it that little bit easier.

Below you’ll 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'll find a helpful planning checklist for future reference.

What are the steps to planning
a funeral?

We've broken funeral planning down into these simple steps:

  1. Start planning
  2. Choose a funeral director
  3. Choose a burial or cremation
  4. Work out how much the funeral will cost
  5. Arrange the funeral service
  6. Plan the wake

You can help protect your loved ones from funeral costs with an over 50s life insurance plan.

About the over 50 plan

1. Start planning

When you're planning a funeral, it helps to answer these questions first:

  • Are there funeral instructions in the will?
  • Is there 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 in 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 can't afford them, don't worry. Just focus on what you can do with the budget you have.

Who can help?

Speak to family members and close friends about planning the funeral. While some people might not be able to help, others may want to be involved in the details of the funeral.

Whether you delegate different tasks to people, or just 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 whole process step by step.

Funeral planning tools

We also have some funeral planning tools to help you arrange the perfect send-off:

2. Choose a funeral director

When organising a funeral, the first decision to make is whether or not you’ll need a funeral director. As this is an incredibly difficult time, most people decide to leave the arrangements to a funeral director.

They can take care of the deceased, the proceedings and the organisation of any parties. Additionally, they can give you general guidance and support.

If your loved one had a funeral plan or a will, they may have already chosen a funeral director.

If not, ask around for recommendations or check the National Association of Funeral Directors.(opens in a new tab)

You don’t have to use a funeral director to plan all of the funeral, but 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 hard time, a funeral director could be good to lean on.

How a funeral director can help

  • 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

3. Choose a burial or cremation

The most common types of funeral are burials, cremations and direct cremations.

Prices can vary greatly between different options. A burial is generally 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 instead.

Choose a coffin

There are lots of different types of coffins to choose from. It can help to look at what’s available online before you make a decision.

Coffins are usually made of either solid wood, chipboard, metal, cardboard or other biodegradable materials. Sometimes coffins can also be personalised with images( opens in a new tab).

To make sure 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. You can get one online from in a new tab) or from an independent company to save money.

4. Work out how much the funeral will cost

It’s no secret that funerals can be expensive. In fact, the average UK funeral costs over £4,000.

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 of these 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 rather save costs by organising things yourself?

Who pays for a funeral?

If the person who has died has taken out a funeral plan or funeral cover, the funeral might be paid for by their policy.

They might also have had a life insurance policy in place 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.

To give you an idea of what a basic funeral might cost, use our free funeral costs calculator.

Below we’ve listed other things you can do to cut funeral costs.

How to 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 own 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's no need to get the body embalmed if you need to save money.
  • Don't splurge on flowers. Flowers are nice but not necessary. Lots of people ask for a donation to charity instead.
  • Get friends and relatives to carry the coffin. This means you won’t 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.

There are also charities that may be able to help, like The Bereavement Trust. And it’s worth checking if you’re eligible for government funeral support( opens in a new tab).

In very rare circumstances, your local council( opens in a new tab) may also be able to help with a Public Health Funeral.

Another option is to speak to the deceased’s bank or building society. They might be able to settle the funeral bill from their account.

Read our full guide to getting help with funeral costs.

5. 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 did they ask for certain songs to be played?

Remember, arranging a funeral can be an emotional time. Don’t rush yourself, and if possible get family and friends to help.

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’s 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:

The type of funeral service will probably determine what mourners need to wear. For example, it’s common for people to wear brighter colours at more modern funerals.

There are many different aspects that you can change within the service in order to make it more personal:

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 a cremation in its quickest and simplest 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.

They can help you decide when to have the service, depending on the venue’s availability.

Arrange the funeral transport

When organising a traditional funeral, the coffin is often taken to the service in a hearse. It’s then followed by friends and family in limousines. If you have a funeral director, they can help you arrange this.

However, you don’t have to book a hearse and limousines just because it’s traditional.

Lots of people are choosing 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 own 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’s usually a printed booklet that’s given to people when they arrive at the funeral and sent to those who can’t make it.

There are lots of online templates( opens in a new tab) to help make an order of service. They usually follow this format:

  • Front cover – include 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 that are in the service.
  • Final page – include another photo, list charities that were close to the deceased’s heart, say thank you to people who came to the funeral, and give warm regards to those who couldn’t make it. It’s also a chance to thank whoever provided the funeral services.
  • Finish with details of the burial and/or wake, so that people know where to go next.

It’s nice to include personal touches throughout the order of service, too, like family photos and quotes.

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 is 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 loved rock or pop music, you can go for something a bit less traditional.

Here are some resources to help you choose funeral music and poems:

6. Plan the wake

The reception, which is 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, but also to 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’s not, you can hire professional caterers or make the food yourselves, depending on your budget.

Once you have the venue booked, let people know when and where the wake is. You can choose to make it a private party, or leave it open to anyone who’d like to come.

Funeral arrangements checklist

You may find this funeral arrangements checklist helpful whilst you're planning:

  • Look for funeral instructions written in the deceased's will.
  • Check how the funeral will be paid for (whether by a funeral plan or other means).
  • Ask for support from family members.
  • Consider hiring a funeral director.
  • Choose a burial, cremation, or direct cremation.
  • Decide on the coffin.
  • Work out how much the funeral will cost.
  • Choose the type of funeral service.
  • Arrange a venue and date.
  • 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

Digital legacy

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 like to think about our own funeral. But the truth is, planning ahead can really ease the burden on your loved ones at a difficult time.

To help them when the time comes, it’s worth making financial plans. Taking out over 50s life insurance can be a simple, affordable way to cover some of the funeral costs.

It also helps to talk to your family and friends about what kind of funeral you’d like. Filling in our free My Perfect Send-Off tool will mean they know what to do when the time comes.

The thoughts and opinions expressed in the page are those of the authors, intended to be informative, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SunLife. See our Terms of Use for more info.