Before you can start making arrangements for a funeral, or begin sorting out the estate and affairs of the deceased, you will need to register the death. You can find a guide to registering a death here.
|Who can arrange the funeral?
Do I know what the person wanted?
Arranging the funeral
|Paying for the Funeral
Who can arrange the funeral?
A funeral can be arranged any time after someone has died but you will need to have registered the death before a funeral can proceed.
Usually the closest relatives will make any funeral arrangements, but if there is no close family or anyone able to deal with the funeral, anyone can make the necessary arrangements.
The person may have purchased a specific plot, for example in a specific cemetery or a woodland burial plot or a particular place where their ashes are to be scattered. If this is the case, there should also be documentation for this in their paperwork.
Do check whether the person had taken out a funeral plan. If they did they should have paperwork somewhere, confirming who should be contacted when they die. If they took out a plan then they will have already advised the funeral director of their wishes and effectively pre-paid for the funeral. It may still be necessary to make some decisions, such as any music that should be played, but the main decisions will already have been decided. Hopefully, a close friend or relative will be aware of any plan in place and can assist locating the paperwork.
If there is no-one able to arrange the funeral in England and Wales then the Local Authority or Health Authority will arrange a simple funeral. The cost of this will be taken from the person’s estate or from a spouse or civil partner.
Do I know what the person wanted?
It is sensible to check whether the person left any instructions for their funeral wishes. These may be part of their Will if they had one or just written down somewhere. Any instructions are not legally binding but if possible, it would be morally right to follow wishes the person had, if you know what they were or if they took the time to leave instructions.
If the person was religious they may want the funeral to be carried out in a specific way according to their beliefs. There may be religious procedures for the funeral that should be followed. If the person’s body is to be taken to another country for the funeral then you must obtain permission for this from the coroner.
The rules governing taking a body out of the country will vary depending on the country they are being taken to. This can be complicated and the services of a specialist funeral director may be needed.
Arranging the funeral
Most funerals are arranged by funeral directors. It is important to find a funeral director who belongs to a professional organisation, either National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) or the Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIFD). These organisations have codes of practice and also a complaints process, should things not go to plan.
You can organise a funeral yourself. Information can be found at local crematoria or cemeteries or through the Natural Death Centre
Paying for a Funeral
The cost of a funeral is usually paid from a person’s estate but it can take time for any money to be released particularly when a Grant of Probate is needed or the estate is complicated. Funeral costs must be paid from a person’s estate before any other items such as debts and legacies. If there is not enough money in the person’s estate then the person organising the funeral will be responsible for the costs.
If the person organising the funeral is in receipt of a means tested benefit they may be able to apply for assistance from the Social Fund to pay for a simple funeral. This will often not be sufficient to cover the whole costs however and the person will still be responsible for any shortfall. Further information and how to apply can be found on the Gov.uk website.
Funeral directors will often require a deposit when the funeral is booked, with the final amount due shortly after the funeral has taken place.
If there is an executor of the person’s Will, and they did not arrange the funeral, then the invoice should be passed to them to deal with.
Fortunately, many banks and building societies will agree to pay funeral directors from the person’s account, provided there are sufficient funds available. They will usually request that the full invoice for the funeral be sent to them and they will then settle the account directly with the funeral director.
The costs of a wake, or the deposit paid to the funeral directors, can also be requested from the bank or building society. They will generally refund the amounts paid to the individual, provided there are valid receipts.
Further information of paying for funerals can be found on the Money Advice Service website.
Most churchyards and cemeteries have strict rules about the size and type of memorial that is allowed. Even the design of any memorial may be subject to approval.
The funeral director can assist with applying for permission to put up a memorial and explain the fees. You will be responsible for the memorials upkeep once it is in place. You can locate monumental masons at NAMM.
There may be a request for a person’s ashes to be scattered in a specific place. Depending where the ashes are to be scattered it may be necessary to get permission first. Some countries are very strict about bring ashes into their country. Do check the rules for the country you are travelling to, before going.
In England and Wales, you do not need permission to scatter ashes on your own land. It is probably worth considering whether other family or friends would like to visit the site in the future and whether this would be possible, before deciding this to be the final resting place.
If the land is owned by someone else, you may need permission. Beauty spots, sports venues and common land are often places people wish to scatter someone’s ashes. Aside from the logistics of getting Great Aunty Mabel, the oldest surviving relative up the side of a mountain for the scattering, you may also need to consider who else will be at the location when you scatter the ashes and how easy it would be for people to return to the area, if they wished to.
Many historic sites will consider requests to scatter ashes such as National Trust properties and English Heritage. Generally, if the scattering will not cause any environmental impact and the donor of the property has not requested scattering are not to be performed then provided you are discreet it is likely your request would be allowed.
Rivers and the sea are also popular. No permission is required to scatter on the sea in the UK, but it is worth checking the times of the tides.
The Environment Agency has prepared a leaflet (PDF) which may be useful if you are considering a river scattering.
Further information about common land and rights over the land can be found on the Gov.uk website.
Legally the ashes are considered the whole body and therefore should not be divided. This means that no-one’s ashes should be dispersed in several different locations.
You can of course opt for something completely different, such as jewellery and fireworks which can be made with the ashes. Memorial trees can also be arranged, all at a fee of course.
If you have recently lost someone and believe that you are the person who needs to deal with their estate, these guides may help you. The guides will assist you in all the steps necessary to deal with a simple estate, that is below the threshold to pay any Inheritance Tax, from registering the death to distributing the estate.Citizens Advice or National Debtline. Or for informal help and support you can visit the Forum
We now feature a number of specialist Probate solicitors on our sister site, JustBeagle.com