Planning ahead for your funeral

Thinking about and planning your funeral can feel very difficult, and some people prefer not to talk about it. Letting people know about any wishes can relieve your friends and family of some of the stress of organising your funeral, and can provide reassurance to those close to you that they are celebrating your life in the way you wanted.

Image of a person with a rose stood next to a coffin

Do I need to plan a funeral?

You can think about it in as much or as little detail as you like, from planning every aspect to just letting people know a favourite song or hymn you would like. Some people choose to leave funeral instructions in their will (although this is the only part of a will that is not legally binding). Even if you don’t talk to anyone about it, make sure you write down anything that is important to you, and tell someone close to you where you have put it, so that your friends and family will be able to follow your wishes when the time comes.

Is there anything a funeral must include?

A funeral is an opportunity for your family and friends to express their grief and celebrate your life. There are no rules about what it needs to look like or include – it is entirely personal to you and those who are close to you.

People often worry about their funeral being ‘a fuss’. But your funeral can be as simple and as low-key as you want – it doesn’t need to be large or grand. In fact, you don’t have to have a formal funeral service at all if you don’t want one – although friends and family normally value the chance to come together and celebrate the life of the person they love.

People also think that they have to choose between a very religious service in a church or something with no spiritual element at all. A service at a church or other place of worship service will generally be religious, but at other places (crematorium or local venue) you can chose a celebrant who will include some religious content, or none, depending on your preference. There is no wrong or right way to do any of these things, it is about having the funeral that is right for you and the people who are important to you.

What kind of things can I choose?

These are some suggestions of things you may want to think about for your funeral.

Burial or cremation?

Sometimes people who want to be buried know that they would like to be buried in a certain cemetery, or want to name the people who will carry their coffin. If you choose to be cremated, there may be somewhere you want your ashes to be scattered.

A religious or non-religious service?

Lots of people feel that they don’t want a very religious service, but they do want their service to include a spiritual element and some sense that there is something beyond our journey through this life. If you feel like this, you may have a faith leader who can tailor a service in church to your needs, or you can have a service at a crematorium that is held by someone from your faith, such as a chaplain or vicar. If you choose a Humanist ceremony, it will focus on celebrating your life and will not include a spiritual element as humanists don’t believe there is anything beyond this life.

Where should it be held?

You may want to have the funeral at a specific church and, if you are being cremated, to be taken to the crematorium afterwards. Or you may choose to have the service at the crematorium itself or another local venue.

What do you want the service to include?

There may be certain music, songs, poems or prayers that you would like to have. For example: You can have a story read out about your life. You can have people who know you speak about you, or someone, like a minister, read out what someone has written about you You can choose any particular poems, readings or prayers that you would like included. You can have music that you like played. You can include quiet time for people to reflect or say their own personal prayers. You may want to think about whether there is a specific faith leader or other celebrant you would like to conduct the service and whether there are any specific people you would like to do readings.

Do you have any other requests?

Some of the other things you may like to think about are:

  • Do you have any wishes about how your body should be prepared for burial or cremation – for example, are there any special clothes you would like to wear?
  • Would you like people going to your funeral to wear black or something special, like a favourite colour?
  • Would you like people to send flowers or would you prefer them to make a donation to a charity of your choice?
  • Would you like people to gather together for a social event or party (sometimes called a wake) afterwards?
  • Are there people in particular you would like your family to invite?

Who can help?

It may help to talk through what you might like and your options with someone. If you feel able to talk about it with friends and family, they may have ideas about things to include that will help them to celebrate your life and say goodbye. If you would like to talk to a faith leader about your funeral, most clergy will be happy to come and see you.

Alternatively, you may want to choose a funeral director, who will come and see you and talk about what you might want.

Community nurses and hospice staff will also have a very good understanding of funeral planning and can also help you think through what you might like.

Will it be expensive?

Funerals can be expensive, and the Money Advice Service provides information about the typical things you will need to pay for and the average costs of these as well as making some suggestions about ways you could try to reduce the bill. You may also be able to reduce the cost by taking out a funeral pre-payment plan, which you can find out more about from your local funeral director.

You can also speak to the bank or building society of the person who has died to see if they might be willing to release funds to help pay for the funeral. Larger banks nearly always agree to this and building societies and NS&I may also agree and pay the funeral director direct.

Don’t feel that you or your family need to spend more than you want to or can afford. A simple funeral can be as dignified and fitting as one which costs a lot more money.

John and I discussed the funeral with our parish priest. He said the bonus of knowing in advance was that it gave him a chance to write goodbye letters to everyone. I distributed these before the funeral.

'Discussing wish plans' - a quote from our Online Community