How to talk about death and funeral planning
Last updated 21st March 2023
9 min read
You might struggle to talk about death and dying, but it's important to discuss funeral planning with your loved ones.
Whether you're unsure of where to start or what to say, or you're looking for help with planning, this article covers everything you need to know.
On this page:
- Why is it important to talk about death and funerals?
- What can happen if you don't talk about death with loved ones?
- Tips for starting the conversation
- Talking about your own death or funeral wishes
- Talking to someone who is dying
- Talking to children about death
- Where to get help
Why is it important to talk about death and funerals?
Our recent report on funeral costs found that just 0.3% of people know all their loved one's funeral preferences.
Only 1 in 3 knew if their loved one had wanted a religious or non-religious ceremony, and just half knew if they'd want a burial or cremation.
We all think we know those closest to us. But in reality, most of us are unsure about the send-off our loved ones would really like. In fact, many of us haven't even considered what we'd like for our own send-off unless we've had to organise a funeral for someone else.
Talking about what sort of funeral you'd like is the only way to be sure your family and friends know what to plan. Whatever your age, it's never too early to start the conversation about death and funerals.
It might not be a comfortable topic of conversation, but it really will help to chat about what you or your loved ones want.
Whether you know exactly what kind of funeral you'd like, or you don't mind what happens, your loved ones will want to do right by you all the same.
But, if you're not ready to talk about it, why not write down your thoughts somewhere instead? Then when the time's right, our simple tips could help you start the difficult conversation.
What can happen if you don't talk about death with loved ones?
Talking about death with your loved ones can feel uncomfortable, especially if it feels too early. But avoiding these sensitive conversations for too long can lead to a rushed discussion during times of grief and distress.
When the time does come, if there's no will (known as dying intestate) or power of attorney authorised, it could cause more stress for loved ones at an already difficult time.
You may also find that talking about death can help open up more meaningful conversations within your family that may otherwise have gone unsaid.
Ultimately, avoiding talking about funeral arrangements and death can make things harder for loved ones in the future. So it's worth talking openly and honestly to help them prepare.
Tips for starting the difficult conversation
The thought of talking about your funeral (or a family member's funeral) can be scary and easy to avoid. Still, it's an important discussion you need to have with your family.
As it can be difficult to find the right moment, here are some suggestions to help you:
Talk it through over a cup of tea
While it's an important topic, discussing your funeral plans in a relaxed setting can make your loved ones more comfortable and open to asking questions.
Gather your adult children together
While it's a hard reality to face, talking openly about funeral planning will make things a lot easier for your family when the time comes.
Gather all your adult children so you can have the conversation with everyone's support. This means you'll only need to start the conversation once, too, which will make things easier for everyone.
Begin with your basic wishes
Start the conversation off with some simple preferences, such as whether you'd like a cremation or burial. Rather than giving your loved ones too much at once, ease into the talk and a discussion will follow.
Now we've given you some tips to start the conversation, let's explore what you might want to talk about.
Talking about your own death or funeral wishes
What you might want to talk about
When talking about or documenting your wishes with your family, make it a little easier by deciding what kind of funeral you'd like. This is important and gives your loved ones a starting point to work from.
- Would you like a burial, standard cremation, or direct cremation (no ceremony)?
- Do you want a religious or non-religious funeral?
- How do you feel about having a wake?
Once the most important aspects of your funeral are decided, it's up to you what happens next.
If you have no strong feelings, make it clear the rest of the ceremony is up to those planning and they're free to do what they feel is right at the time.
However, if you'd like to plan a funeral that reflects your character, consider:
- Do any funeral songs or hymns have special meaning to you? If not, you could draw inspiration from our funeral song generator.
- Are there any nice or funny stories or life events you'd like mentioning in your eulogy?
- Would you rather have a traditional funeral or a celebration of your life?
- Are there any words or funeral poems that you hold dear?
- Do you want to be remembered with a memorial?
- Where would you like your funeral to take place?
- Where would you like your ashes to be scattered?
How to approach the chat
There's no right or wrong way to talk about your funeral plans. Starting the conversation is probably the hardest part. Once it's been raised, your family may begin to feel comfortable talking about your death and funeral.
You should approach it in the way that's most comfortable for you and those around you, so find a moment free of stress or tension.
To ease your family into the conversation, try talking about the funeral of someone you know, a funeral you've been to, or one you've seen on TV or the news. Or, if you prefer a more straightforward approach, sit everyone down and explain the situation and its importance.
If you've been ill, your family may have been expecting the chat, and might even have wanted to bring it up themselves. If you're healthy, reassure your loved ones that planning your funeral now will make things easier for them down the line.
How to document your funeral requests
You might have decided on the kind of funeral you'd like and even discussed some plans with your family. But it's important to document your thinking. This will make it easier for everyone who's grieving when the time comes.
If you're not sure where to start:
- Consider how your funeral might be paid for. Are you going to leave a contribution towards the cost yourself? For example, do you have over 50s life insurance in place?
- Record your funeral wishes, whether in your will or as part of a funeral plan. Our perfect send-off planner can be used to help you document your wishes and keep them safe, so they're ready for when they're needed.
- Make sure to store your requests somewhere safe and tell someone where they are. Then when it comes to arranging the funeral, your loved ones can find everything they need.
We've discussed talking about your own death and funeral, but how do you talk to someone who's dying? It's not always easy, so we're here to help you start that conversation.
Talking to someone who is dying
While it can be difficult and feel awkward, talking with a dying loved one about their funeral plans and finances is important. It can actually help to give them peace of mind during their final days – especially if they're worried about bringing up the conversation themselves.
If they're not worrying about their affairs, they'll be able to enjoy those last moments with loved ones even more. It can also help you to know you're following their final wishes.
How to make your loved one feel comfortable
Once you've sat down with your loved one to start a conversation, you can use the following tips to make it as easy as possible for both of you:
- Use open and gentle body language and don't be afraid to look your loved one in the eye to give them comfort
- Ask leading questions to encourage them to open up about uncomfortable topics
- Don't be afraid of silences, tears or emotion – let the conversation flow and pause naturally
- Be honest and open about your feelings. They'll appreciate you for it
- Reassure your loved one that you're there for them
What to say to someone who is dying?
When talking with an ill or dying loved one, the key is to be compassionate. As sad as it may be, and no matter how hard you're trying to avoid facing the reality, try to approach any conversations openly.
The funeral isn't the only thing you need to consider when someone dies. Here are some other important matters to discuss:
- Have you considered any future medical care and where it's going to take place?
- Are you going to pay for care or look after your loved one as a family?
- Have they set up a will or do they need to make any final changes?
It's also important to sort out any finances and unpaid bills, as well as any online accounts before your loved one passes away. The last thing you need when you're grieving is sorting out documents and settling unpaid bills.
Lastly, discuss setting up a lasting power of attorney with your loved one, which gives you authority to make decisions on their behalf. This lets you act in their interest when it comes to financial or welfare matters (if they're not able to make decisions themselves).
Asking about their funeral wishes
Discussing funeral wishes is even more difficult when you know it's in the near future. Be prepared that you may both become emotional and upset, which is normal and expected.
All you can do is try and make the conversation as comfortable as possible for your loved one. Gather their thoughts and gently ask simple questions that might help you do right by them.
Some things you might want to consider discussing are:
- Burial or cremation – some people can feel strongly about the type of funeral they'd like
- Whether it should be a traditional funeral or a celebration of life
- Funeral songs and/or hymns
- Any words or funeral poems they like
- What type of wake they might prefer
- Funeral location – for example, would they like a church service after the funeral?
- Location for burying or scattering ashes
- Dress code – traditional black, colourful or something else?
There are many ways a funeral can be made more personal to the individual. And it's quite common for someone who is dying to add a personal touch to their funeral.
Talking to children about death
Death and funerals are tricky topics to talk about with children. Explaining why they won't be able to see their loved one anymore can be difficult – especially if it's someone they were close to.
Many children won't have experienced anything like grief before, so it can be hard for them to understand. Be prepared to comfort their tears and spend time explaining why their loved one won't be coming back.
You may want to avoid using euphemisms or metaphors such as 'they've gone to sleep', as children may become confused and not fully understand or process the death. Instead, use clear, gentle and honest language when explaining death to children.
Should children go to a funeral?
Each situation is different, and a child's relationship with the deceased will vary, so unfortunately there's no right answer.
If you're not sure, it might be useful to talk to other family members to see what they think. You can also reach out to friends who have organised or been to funerals with children there.
When deciding whether to have children at the service, consider their age, maturity and understanding. Will they understand what's happening? Will you be able to help them if they get upset?
Whatever you decide, spend time explaining to the child what will happen at the funeral, so they know what to expect.
Where to get help talking about death or funeral planning?
Discussing your funeral wishes may feel daunting, but it's a kind and compassionate thing to do for your loved ones. Discover how you can start saving for your funeral or find out more about the steps to planning a funeral.
For more information and advice:
- Child Bereavement UK have advice about talking to a child about death(www.childbereavementuk.org opens in a new tab)
- Marie Curie have a confidential online chat line(www.mariecurie.org.uk opens in a new tab) if you want to talk about someone who is dying
- Independent Age have a guide on planning for end of life(www.independentage.org opens in a new tab)
It's not always easy to know how to talk about dying and funerals, but planning ahead will give you and your family one less thing to worry about.