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Our guide to funeral plans

Your step-by-step guide to funeral planning

Last updated 7th October 2019

Planning a funeral can be stressful. 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.

What are the steps to planning
a funeral?

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

  1. Start planning
  2. Choosing 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 rising funeral costs with over 50 life insurance or a funeral plan.

Get an over 50 plan quote Get a funeral plan quote

1. Start planning

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

    • Are there funeral instructions in the will?
    • Are there savings or a funeral plan to pay for the funeral
    • If not, how will you pay for the funeral?

Some people leave instructions or ideas on the kind of funeral they’d like. They might do this in their will, or make them known while they’re still alive.

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 and friends about planning the funeral. While some people might not be able to help, others may want to be involved.

Whether you delegate different tasks to people, or just ask for their opinion on something, having this support can make things less overwhelming.

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. Choosing a funeral director

The first decision to make is whether or not you’ll need a funeral director.

You may be going through a difficult time, so a funeral director could be a big support.

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

If your loved one had a funeral plan or will, they may 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 everything, either. It’s often cheaper to arrange some things yourself (for example, the coffin or transport).

But many prefer the peace of mind that comes with getting a funeral director to oversee everything.

3. Choose a burial or cremation

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

Prices vary quite a bit between these. 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 their 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. Lots of coffins can also be personalised with images.

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 comparethecoffin.com 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 cost £4,271 in 2018.

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?

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 be eligible for government funeral support.

In very rare 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. 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 funeral plan.

For example, did they want people to dress in colourful clothes, or did they ask for certain songs to be played?

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

You can also read our guide to making a funeral more personal to get some ideas.

Choose the type of funeral service

There are lots of different types of funeral service. 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.

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.

Read our guide on what to wear to a funeral for more advice.

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

For 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 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 on 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 tools to help you choose funeral music and poems:

6. Plan the wake

A wake is a chance for family and friends to celebrate the life of the deceased.

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.

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 or a funeral plan 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 smallest print

1. Source: SunLife Cost of Dying Report 2018.

2. For a 50 year old buying our most affordable plan. Premiums increase each year for a maximum of 20 years.

Here's the information that you need to know about who we are and the other companies that we work with in order to provide our products and services.

Who are SunLife?

Phoenix Life Limited trades as SunLife and is the provider of the Guaranteed Over 50 Plan, SunLife Insurance and the life insurance policy payment option for Funeral Plans. Phoenix Life Limited’s registered office is at 1 Wythall Green Way, Wythall, Birmingham, B47 6WG (registered in England, no. 1016269). 

SunLife Limited distributes financial products and services and is a company limited by shares, registered office: 1 Wythall Green Way, Wythall, Birmingham, B47 6WG (registered in England, no. 05460862). SunLife Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and is entered on the Financial Services Register (registration no. 769427).

You can contact us by post at SunLife, PO Box 1395, Peterborough, PE2 2TR or by phone on 0800 008 6060.

If you choose to add Funeral Benefit Option to your Guaranteed Over 50 Plan, Dignity Funerals Ltd arranges and provides the funeral services, registered office: 4 King Edwards Court, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, B73 6AP (registered in England and Wales, No. 00041598). Dignity Funerals Ltd is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors.

Who provides the Funeral Plans?

Dignity Funerals Ltd arranges and provides the funeral services, registered office: 4 King Edwards Court, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, B73 6AP (registered in England and Wales, No. 00041598). Dignity Funerals is not authorised or regulated for this activity by either the Financial Conduct Authority or the Prudential Regulation Authority. Dignity Funerals Ltd is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors.

The life insurance policy that pays for your funeral will be provided by Phoenix Life Limited, trading as SunLife.

Who provides My Smarter (ISA)?

My Smarter (ISA) is provided by Scottish Friendly Asset Managers Limited. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Details can be found on the Financial Services register, registration No. 188832. Member of The Investment Association. Registered Office: Scottish Friendly House, 16 Blythswood Square, Glasgow G2 4HJ.

Who provides the Will writing services?

Hugh James is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA Number:303202).

The information contained on this website is based on Hugh James' understanding of the law of intestacy in England and Wales only as at April 2014. The law in Scotland and Northern Ireland is significantly different. This is for information purposes and is not intended to be legal advice.

Who provides SunLife Pet Insurance

SunLife Pet Insurance is arranged and administered by BDML Connect Limited. BDML Connect Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (No. 309140). Registered in England and Wales Number 02785540. Registered Office: 45 Westerham Road, Bessels Green, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN13 2QB.

Who provides SunLife Home Insurance

SunLife Home Insurance is arranged and administered by BISL Limited and underwritten by a panel of insurers. BISL Limited are an intermediary authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered in England no. 03231094. Registered office Pegasus House, Bakewell Road, Orton Southgate, Peterborough PE2 6YS.

Who provides SunLife Car Insurance

SunLife Car Insurance is arranged and administered by BISL Limited and underwritten by a panel of insurers. BISL Limited are an intermediary authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered in England no. 03231094. Registered office Pegasus House, Bakewell Road, Orton Southgate, Peterborough PE2 6YS.