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In Focus - What should you expect from your Funeral Director?
A funeral director has an important role in helping the bereaved to organise the funeral they want for their loved one. This includes arranging for transfer of the body to the place of rest before the funeral, advise on costs and arranging details of the funeral time, date and location as well as organising other services like flowers, transport and death notices.
So how do you go about organising a funeral and what should you look for when you choose a Funeral Director? We approached Tom Johnson who has gained a wealth of experience at E.M.Dorman in Uppingham, to ask his perspective on the subject;
Tom, firstly, what made you want to become a Funeral Director?
It was not something I had ever thought of until the deaths of both my grandfathers. I saw what the funeral directors did and what great care they took to ensure everything was perfect and just how my grandfathers would have wanted. Being a funeral director is, in many ways, like being an event organiser, but you are organising one of the most important events in people’s lives. You are also ensuring that the people left behind can give their loved one the goodbye they deserve, which will help them grieve. It is a very rewarding job, and I really wouldn’t want to do anything else.
What do you think people should look for when choosing a Funeral Director?
Personally, I would always look for an independent, as this usually means that you will be able to get a more personalised service and choose exactly what you want, even if it might be unusual. You would not be expected to go through a call centre to have your questions answered or go through some standard options, instead you will deal with one key person who will guide you through all the formalities and choices.
It is always good to go on recommendations from other people you know. Different Funeral Directors will manage funerals very differently. Little details really matter, for example, you don’t want to see the pull bearers smoking behind the church during the proceedings! You want to have the funeral director who ensures that everything is carried out respectfully and meticulously, someone who is passionate about the service they deliver.
It’s also important to trust your gut feel. When you meet a Funeral Director, you will quickly realise whether you can get on and whether he or she genuinely understands what you are looking for. You certainly do not want to feel as though you are just being to be sold to!
Make sure that the Funeral Director has clearly detailed all their prices, as they are supposed to by law. You should know exactly how much everything will cost before you agree to anything. There should never be any surprises or costs items which are unexplained. Also try and find out who owns the funeral company. You might think you are dealing with an independent company, but many seemingly ‘independent’ funeral directors are actually owned by a large chain who hide behind the name, in which case you could well end up with a much less personal service.
What is in a funeral plan and when should you put it in place?
A funeral plan is a detailed wish list of everything a person would like as part of their funeral. This includes the bigger questions of whether someone wishes to be cremated or buried (and where), the order of proceedings, what sort of service is to be held, (when and where) and the finer details such as the eulogy and music.
Some people will choose a finance plan as part of the funeral plan. However, you do not have to do this. You can go to any independent funeral director and ask them to help you put a funeral plan together without financing. They will then just keep the plan on file and will ensure that your loved ones are able to refer to it when the time comes to organise your funeral. A good Funeral Director should not charge for this service in advance.
It does make sense to have a plan (with or without finance) in place as it will help the people you leave behind who will organise your funeral. If you don’t have a plan in place, it is advisable to at least discuss your wishes with your family and/ or friends, as you will make it so much easier for them to ensure they do the right thing by you, which will be important to them.
If you are organising a funeral for someone who has not put a plan in place, your Funeral Director should be able to help you choose what is right, in memory of the person who has died. A good funeral director will take the time to really understand what you would like and what the person who has died would have wanted. There is no ‘normal’ and no right or wrong thing to do.
What about a finance plan? When should you consider one?
You do not have to have a finance plan, but funerals can be expensive and that is why it often helps to plan ahead. It is estimated that the average cost of a basic funeral in 2020 was £4,184*, a staggering £2,349 increase since 2004.
If you are organising a funeral for someone who has not put in place any finance to pay for their funeral, there are several things that may happen. If the deceased person has an account with sufficient funds in, even when the account is frozen, the bank will normally still release the funds to pay the funeral directors invoice. In some cases, people choose to initially pay for the funeral of their loved one themselves or take out a loan, whilst the deceased person’s estate goes through probate, and before any of their money can be released as inheritance. This can often take 6 months or more.
Many people however, will put a finance plan in place so that their loved ones do not have to worry about organising any finances to pay for their funeral.
If you are thinking about organising finance for your own funeral, I would recommend you speak to the Funeral Director of your choice about the different financing options available rather than just going ahead with a finance plan with one of the insurance companies that offer this. There are many different options and most independent Funeral Directors will also offer a service where you can pay money in advance into a Trust, where the funds can grow over time (with the benefit of accrued interest). This means that your money is always secure, regardless of what happens to the funeral organisation.
What should I prepare before I meet a funeral director to discuss a funeral plan?
I usually take my clients through a list of questions to help identify exactly what the client would like. Going through this list of questions before you meet your funeral director can be very useful, as it will give you time to think through some of the choices available to you and it will also give you the opportunity to discuss this with other members of the family.
What if the person who has died didn’t actually want a funeral?
No one should feel obliged to have a funeral. It’s not compulsory! Some people just prefer to have a private family occasion, particularly if the person who has died was very elderly and not many people could be expected to attend a funeral.
However, what I would say to people who don’t feel they want a funeral to be held when they die, is that it is important to consider the people you leave behind. It can be a key part of their bereavement process and it may be very difficult for them if they don’t feel they have had a chance to say goodbye to the person they love.
The industry has recently been regulated. Why is this and how would this affect clients?
All funeral directors are now expected to display a standardised price list produced by the Financial Conduct Authority both on their website and within their business premises. This is to enable the public to have a greater understanding of the differing costs involved and compare what each funeral company will charge for certain types of funerals. Funeral companies are also now expected to declare ownership of the business. This is a way of making it clear to people if a once independent business is now owned and run by a large corporate firm and prevents large corporate companies ‘hiding’ behind once family names. It is a way of offering greater transparency in an industry which has, at times, had very little known or understood about it. These regulations were introduced after the FCO looked into the rising costs of funerals and what factors caused this.
With thanks to Tom Johnson of E.M.Dorman in Uppingham