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How to arrange a funeral

A simple guide to organising a funeral

A lot of people see funerals as a way to gather with friends and family, celebrating the life of the person who has died with those who cared about them most.

And although this can help with the mourning process, the arranging of a funeral can be overwhelming and stressful at a time when emotions are already high.

Use our simple guide to help you prepare for the future and to get your head around everything that comes with organising a funeral.

two people looking at a lake view

Where do I start?

Before you start organising a funeral, it’s best to check whether the person who died has left any funeral wishes or made any funeral arrangements of their own.

Sometimes people leave instructions in their will or with their funeral plan, or they might have talked it through with someone close.

Checking their wishes can inform the type of funeral that they wanted. For example either a burial or a cremation. There might be a specific place where they want their funeral, or other requests that will make it more personal to them.

If no instructions have been left, you might want to talk through the options as a family and decide the funeral plans together.

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.

Choosing a funeral director

The first decision to make will be to choose a funeral director. As this is an incredibly difficult time, most people decide to leave the arrangements to a funeral director.

If your loved one had a specific funeral plan in place, this might have already been chosen.

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

What should the funeral include?

You might think that a funeral is a one size fits all kind of deal, but that’s not true. You can choose to keep it very traditional, or add personal touches where you want.

The cost of the funeral can vary greatly depending on the type of service and the chosen extras.

Average cost of a basic funeral includes

  • Fees for the funeral director’s services
  • Fees for the crematorium, whether traditional or direct cremation
  • Burial costs including purchasing and preparing the burial plot
  • Any medical ceritifcation fees
  • The minister, officiant or celebrant fees
  • The coffin
  • The hearse that transports the deceased from funeral directors to service

Extra costs

  • The memorial
  • Death and funeral notices
  • Flowers
  • Order sheets
  • Limousines or cars
  • The venue for the wake
  • Catering
  • Hiring a professional to look after the estate or the person who died
purple flower

Paying for a funeral

Recent figures show that a funeral arranged using a funeral director costs on average £4,078*. This can change depending on the cost of a funeral in your local area, and any extra options that you decide to go for.

Who pays for a funeral?

If the person who has died has taken out a funeral plan, the cost of their funeral might be covered.

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.

The funeral service

Before planning the service, be sure to check if your loved one had any specific wishes. Perhaps they don’t want a traditional funeral with hymns and prayers, but were hoping for more of a celebration of life.

Types of funeral services

  • Traditional funeral
  • Cremation
  • Green and woodland funerals
  • Humanist and civic funerals
  • Burial at sea

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

Some people have more weird and wonderful funeral requests. For example asking people to wear bright colours or the colours of their favourite sports team.

a pile of black and white photos tied with a yellow ribbon

The reception after the funeral

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.

The wake can take many forms, it all depends on the wishes of the person who has died or what’s right for their family.

Things to think about

  • Where to hold it – is there a place special to the person?
  • If you want to arrange catering
  • Special touches – some people like to include an arrangement of photographs or a different choice of music

Remember, a service isn’t compulsory

You can 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 it’s quickest and simplest form, with no funeral service.

The deceased will be cremated in a very simple, plain coffin.

After the cremation, the ashes are returned to the loved ones to be kept or sometimes scattered in a garden of rememberance by the funeral director.

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.

Your own funeral plans

Most of us don’t like talking about death and it’s a conversation we’ll put off, often until it’s too late.

If you want a funeral personal to you, make your wishes known with our My Perfect Send-Off planner or use our funeral planning guide to help you start thinking about your own funeral arrangements.

* SunLife Cost of Dying Report 2017

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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 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.