Arranging a funeral - a step by step guide
Updated: Nov 3, 2022
Kindly prepared by the Rev Dr Peter Jupp with professional advice from Caroline Peacock of Peterborough City Hospital Bereavement Care Centre, Tom Johnston of E. M. Dorman Funeral Directors and Dr Brian Parsons of Funeral Training (London).
Sooner or later, each one of us will die. Our own funeral will be the last occasion at which we will be physically present and when our relatives and friends will say their final ‘Farewell’ to us.
Whether we are facing our own death or of that of someone we love or respect, the funeral is a special occasion and needs to be organised with care.
This paper is addressed to anyone who is preparing ahead for their own funeral or who may be faced with the responsibility of arranging a funeral for someone else. The paper is prepared under these main headings:
· The purpose of a funeral
· Changes in British funerals
· When death occurs
· The Medical Certificate of Cause of Death
· The role of the Coroner
· Registering the death
· Arranging for the funeral
· Funeral choices and decisions
· Funeral costs
· The ‘Tell Us Once’ service
· Whom else to inform after a death
· Contact details: The Coroner, Registrars and Funeral Directors
The purpose of a funeral
The funeral has five main purposes:
(1) to dispose of a dead body in a way that shows respect for the person who has died;
(2) to address the facts of the particular death and the loss it has caused;
(3) to commemorate, with words and music, the life of the person who has died, giving thanks for their achievements, their character and their experiences.
(4) to symbolise the transition of the person who has died to a life beyond, according to their religious beliefs, or to symbolise the ending of a life for one who had no belief in life after death;
(5) to help the bereaved to come to terms with their loss and prepare for a future without the one they loved.
Changes in British funerals
Our funeral customs have changed in the last three generations.
(1) Where we die has changed considerably since the end of WW11, the advent of the Welfare State and the foundation of the National Health Service (NHS). At that time, the majority of people died at home whilst, today, we die in hospitals, in care homes or in hospices. Many of us still die at home and this is the preference of most people where possible (particularly now because of Covid-19 and the restrictions placed on numbers visiting hospitals). Support for the dying was formerly provided by families and neighbours; this role has now passed largely to professionals and institutions. Whilst Covid-19 is a present exception, chronic illness has replaced infectious diseases. As most of us now die in old age, the death of the young is seen as exceptional.
(2) We have become a more secular society. Humanist celebrants and civil celebrants are increasingly available to conduct funerals. In a process partly accelerated by the funeral rituals for Diana, Princess of Wales, our funerals are marked by popular music, by spoken tributes, family participation and more colourful clothes.
(3) Cremation has replaced burial as the UK’s major preference. In 1945, 91% of people were buried. Today, 78% are cremated. Meanwhile, environmental awareness has not only transformed the technology of crematoria but encouraged the rise of green or woodland burials. Ketton Park is Rutland’s first green burial site.
(4) Funeral costs have risen over the last thirty years and State benefits have reduced (see below). Funeral directors have also developed pre-paid funeral plans which enable families and individuals both to plan and pay for their funerals in advance and to economise on fees. The rising cost of funerals and the issues around ‘funeral poverty’ are growing public concerns.
(5) The funeral reform movement of the 1990s encouraged families to make informed choices in their funeral decisions. These include shopping around to compare funeral directors’ costs, choosing from a range of coffins and memorials, deciding between clergy and celebrants, a wider range of music and poetry, ‘direct cremation’, DIY and ‘green’ or environmentally conscious funerals.
This text is being written in a time of Covid-19. Preventing its spread has brought measures of social distancing and sanitary precautions. Covid-19 has affected our funeral choices and behaviour in at least three ways. At the time of writing, funerals are limited to thirty or fewer persons (excluding the funeral director and the celebrant). There is to be no singing but recorded music or organs may be played. There are also Government restrictions on attendance at post-funeral refreshments. There may also be restrictions on viewing the deceased and carrying out embalming.
This text is to encourage you to make informed funeral choices, preferably well in advance.
When death occurs
If the person has died in hospital, they will be taken to the hospital mortuary or chapel of rest. You can arrange to visit them there and a chaplain should be available to accompany you to see them. If the death has occurred in a Care Home or in a Hospice, they will contact your chosen funeral director who will transfer the body to their chapel of rest, or to your home if you prefer.
Whether the death takes place in a hospital or outside a hospital setting, you or your relatives may want to consider tissue or organ donation. The bodies of many who die, even those with medical problems, can provide heart valves, skin, bone, corneas and tendons for the use of living patients. You will need to contact the hospital’s Tissue Donor Coordinator or a member of the nursing staff within 24 hours of the death. Personal items including jewellery should be recovered.
The Medical Certificate of Cause of Death
If the death occurs at home, you should contact the family GP, nurse or on-call doctor. Once one of them has certified the death, you will need to collect the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death from the surgery.
If the death occurs in a hospital or in a care home, the management will arrange for a doctor who will certify death and provide the Certificate.
If the death is sudden, unexpected or the cause unknown, the doctor will refer the death to the Coroner.
The role of the Coroner
Over one third of all deaths are referred to the Coroner and there are three possible ways a death is dealt with. Firstly, discussion between the Coroner and the doctor may conclude that any further enquiry is unnecessary. The Coroner will either permit the doctor to issue the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death or send a form direct to the Registrar. This will enable the death to be registered. Secondly, if a post-mortem is required, this will be carried out by a pathologist appointed by the Coroner. The Coroner’s office will inform the family of the findings. If the post-mortem reveals natural causes, the officer will send a certificate to the Registrar and instruct the family to register the death. If the person is to be cremated the Coroner’s office will issue a certificate direct to the funeral director; if burial is to take place the Registrar will issue a green certificate. Thirdly, when a post-mortem is followed by an inquest, this will usually be opened and immediately adjourned to permit the burial or cremation. The inquest will then take place at a future date when the investigation has been completed. Only at the conclusion of the inquest can the death be registered.
Once you have the Certificate, the death must be registered as soon as possible but in any event within five days. Only certain people can register a death; the registrar’s website will give the list. A list of Registrars available in Rutland and in the neighbouring counties is provided below. You will need to make an appointment to visit a Registrar. Note that as this is different during Covid-19, where everything is arranged over the telephone, you will need to check.
For the visit to the Registrar, you will need to know the following information about the person who has died:
· Full name and address (plus maiden name, if applicable)
· Place and date of birth (given on their birth certificate)
· Their occupation
· The name, date of birth and occupation of their spouse (if applicable)
· The date of birth of a surviving spouse or civil partner.
If you are unsure of any of these details, it may be helpful if you can take with you their:
· Birth certificate
· Marriage certificate
· NHS medical card
The Registrar will give you:
· A certificate for Burial or Cremation (this is printed on a green sheet, which you will need to give to your funeral director) or it may be emailed.
· A white certificate (for any dealings with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
· A Certified Copy of an Entry of Death, usually known as the ‘death certificate’. Each certificate costs £11. You will need to send an original copy of the death certificate to each of the appropriate bodies dealing with:
· Bank Accounts
· Post Office Accounts
· Building Society Accounts
· Premium Bonds
· Life Insurance Policies
· Any additional Pension Scheme
· Any investments or shares.
If you buy several copies of the death certificate, this will enable you to submit a death certificate to more than one body at once and thus deal with matters more quickly.
A number of government departments and council services will often need to be told about a death. Up until now all departments have had to be notified individually. The ‘Tell Us Once’ service aims to reduce the number of local and central government departments that bereaved relatives have to contact. This service is offered by most Registrars in Rutland, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire. (See below and under ‘Contact details’.)
Arranging for the funeral
Most people seek the help of a funeral director. You do not have to wait until you have registered the death before you contact the funeral home. The funeral director will take care of all the practical arrangements for the funeral, from arranging the transfer of the body from the hospital to the funeral home or to your own home if you prefer. There, if you wish, relatives and friends may be invited to pay their respects to the deceased.
You do not have to use a funeral director, nor a minister of religion, nor to have a formal service in a crematorium or place of worship, if that is your preference. (For Civil Celebrant and Humanist funerals, see below.)
The option of a ‘direct cremation’ has become more attractive recently because of the Covid -19 restrictions. It is also less expensive than a normal funeral. If you would prefer not to accompany the coffin to the crematorium and want to dispense with any ceremony there, you may ask your funeral director to take the coffin directly to the crematorium. The cremation will take place at a time of the crematorium’s choice but you will be informed when the cremation will take place so that you may, if you wish, mark the moment wherever you are. The ashes can be returned to you if you wish to bury or scatter them elsewhere. Otherwise they will be scattered at the crematorium. You can organise hospitality for friends and relatives at a time of your choosing, subject to complying with current Covid legislation and guidance.
You may prefer a DIY funeral. These are uncommon but, again, less expensive than a normal funeral. In addition to the normal paperwork (as above), you (or the person responsible for arranging the funeral) will need to contact the hospital or care home to arrange to collect the body and have it driven home. You will need to buy a suitable coffin and look after it until the funeral. You will need to contact your chosen burial ground or crematorium and, if you wish, arrange for a minister or celebrant. More information can be found from the Natural Death Centre (details below).
Funeral choices and decisions
Several types of funeral are now available. Formerly, nearly all funerals were religious ceremonies. Nowadays you can choose, for example, between religious or non-religious funerals, a ‘green’ or woodland burial and a ‘direct’ cremation. Today, more than three-quarters of families ask for the ashes to be collected from the crematorium and buried or scattered at a place of their own choosing, on a separate occasion, in formal or informal ceremonies. Some people may wish to be buried beside or near a predeceased spouse, partner or other relation.
If you have a connection with a church or any other religious organisation, ask what services and facilities can be offered by your clergy. The funeral director will be ready to discuss all the choices with you and help you to make decisions. It is likely that both clergy and funeral directors will be willing to visit you at home.
The funeral is not only for the person who has died but for the survivors, so family preferences may need to be taken into account in the decisions you make
Often, the person who has died will have provided some wishes before their death: as to burial or cremation, which church, churchyard, cemetery or crematorium, which friends should take part or give a tribute, what selection of music and readings, the final resting place for their ashes.
These wishes may have been set down formally in a will or in ‘a declaration of wishes’, so these need to be checked first. Note that you can leave a request about the funeral in your will but it is not binding on the executors and there may be a problem if no-one looks at the will before the funeral.
The major choices are:
Whether burial or cremation?
Which church, crematorium or burial ground?
Whom do you wish to lead the ceremony, and whom would you invite to take part?
Which hymns, songs and instrumental music?
What is to be done with the ashes?
Is there to be a memorial service at another time to enable people who were unable to attend the funeral to take part.
At the crematorium,
Would you like to book ‘a double slot’ (for an additional fee), giving you more time for the ceremony and avoid overlapping with previous or following funeral parties?
Whether the coffin should be placed on the catafalque before the mourners enter or after the congregation has assembled inside the chapel?
Would you prefer the curtains to close after the words of committal have been spoken by the minister/celebrant, or kept open until all have left the chapel?
At a churchyard, burial ground or cemetery, decisions to be made willi include:
Choosing the location for the grave (this will be subject to local conditions or the advice of the clergy or cemetery manager).
Deciding whether flowers are to be distributed for mourners to place in the grave.
Deciding whether and what sort of memorial you would like to choose. (This paper does not address internet memorials.)
Pre-paid funeral plans have already been mentioned. State death and funeral benefits are summarised below.
You might wish to go on-line to compare the costs between different funeral and crematoria. A number of online comparison websites exist.
You should feel free to discuss costs with your funeral director. When you have made your decisions, ask for a written estimate. Note that the written estimate will have two parts: (1) the funeral director’s professional fees and (2) the disbursements.
(1) the funeral director’s professional fees. These normally include the use of the hearse and limousines, the cost of the selected coffin, the care and preparation of the body, attendance of bearers and all the preparations necessary for the funeral service.
(2) the disbursements. These will always include the items paid by the funeral director to others on your behalf: the fee for the cremation medical certificate, a minister or celebrant’s fee; the cemetery, churchyard or crematorium fee. Other, optional, items may include flowers, newspaper notices, catering, the printing of orders of service and of acknowledgement cards. Funeral directors may ask for payment of the disbursements in advance of the funeral.
If you receive State benefits, such as Housing or Council Tax benefit, you may be eligible for a funeral payment from the Government’s Social Fund to help payment towards the funeral. This will contribute towards the costs of a simple but respectful, low-cost funeral, but there will always be a shortfall between the total cost of the funeral and how much the DWP will pay. A claims form (SF200) must be completed within 3 months of the person’s death and can be obtained online at www.gov.uk or from your local Citizens Advice.
If the person who has died was under state pension age, you may qualify for the Bereavement Support Payment. This is a tax-free payment of £2,500 or £3,500 depending on whether there are children. To be eligible, the person who has died must have been the husband, wife or civil partner of the applicant and must have paid enough National Insurance contributions whilst they were working. You can check your eligibility by visiting www.gov.uk, by visiting your local Jobcentre Plus or by calling the Bereavement Service on 0845 606 0265.
The ‘Tell Us Once’ service
Tell Us Once is offered by most Registrars (but not all) to those registering a death. It is an optional service, but most people choose to use this service as it saves them time at a stage in their lives when they are dealing with the emotional difficulties that come with bereavement. Typically, those who need to know about a death are:
Department for Work and Pensions
The Pension, Disability and Carers Service
Overseas Health Team
HM Revenue and Customs
Child tax credit and working tax credit
Identity and Passport Service
Housing Benefit Office
Council tax Benefit Office
Tell Us Once can also contact the following services and organisations if requested:
· Council Housing
· Council Tax
· Blue Badge parking permit
· Adult Services
· Children’s Services
· Collection of payment for council services
· Electoral Registration
· Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)
Tell Us Once needs the following information about the deceased:
· National Insurance number
· Date of birth
· Details of any benefits they were receiving
· Driving license or driving license number
· Passport or passport number.
Tell Us Once may also ask about:
· The next of kin
· Any surviving husband, wife or civil partner
· Anybody who is getting Child Benefit on their behalf
· The person dealing with their estate.
Tell Us Once can also be dealt with on the phone by calling the DWP on 0800 085 7308 and online at www.direct.gov.uk/death-tellusonce and click on “Tell Us Once – long into the online service”
Tell Us Once cannot contact banks, building societies, insurance companies or any commercial, non-governmental organisation.
Whom else to inform after a death
There are many other practical matters to deal with after a death. Here is a short list of domestic, financial and health matters where you will need to inform contact suppliers and organisations about the death:
· Council tax
· Credit cards
· Dentist and opticians
· Food deliveries
· Insurance – car, house, contents, etc
· Library books
· Medical equipment on loan
· Pre-booked holidays
· Professional memberships
· Redirection of mail
· Social membership
· TV licence
· Utility providers
· Voluntary services
Of necessity, this is a brief introduction to some of the aspects involved in a funeral. Hopefully it will help you to take the next steps.
The following contact details for the Coroner, Registrars and Funeral Directors in Rutland and in our area will help you:
HM Coroner for Rutland and North Leicestershire
HM Coroner’s Office, Southfield Road, Loughborough, Leicestershire LE11 2TR
Tel 0116 305 7732
REGISTRARS (and for Tell Us Once)
Corby Registration Office, Level 2, The Corby Cube, Parkland Gateway, George Street, Corby NN17 1QG
Tel 0300 126 1000
Oakham Registry Office
County Hall, Leicester Road, Glenfield, Leicester LE3 8RN
Tel 0116 305 6565
Totemic House, Caunt Road (off Springfield Road), Grantham, Lincolnshire NG31 7FZ
Tel 01522 782 244
The Register Office, Town Hall, Town Hall Square, Leicester LE1 9BG
Tel: 0116 454 1000
Market Harborough Registrar
Market Harborough Registration Service,
42, Coventry Road, Market Harborough, Leicestershire LE16 9BZ
Tel 0116 305 6565
Melton Mowbray Registrar
Parkside, Civic Offices, Station Approach, Burton Street, Melton Mowbray LE13 1GH
Tel 0116 305 6565
Municipal Buildings, 2, St Mary’s Hill, Stamford, Lincolnshire PE9 2DR
Tel 01522 782 244
60, High Street, Oakham LE15 6AS
E. M. Dorman,
Beechcroft, 69 High Street East, Uppingham LE15 9PY
Fords of Oakham,
10 Church Street, Oakham LE15 6AS
1, Darley Dale Road, Corby NN17 2DE
15, New Post Office Square, Corby NN17 1PB
H. J. Phillips (Dignity PLC),
Old Cemetery Chapel, Rockingham Road, Corby NN17 2AD
Margaret Rose Funerals,
43a, High Street, Corby NN17 1UU
David Holland Funeral Director (Dignity PLC)
Grantham Café, 29, London Road, Grantham NG31 6LY
Geeson Funeral Directors
32, Westgate, Grantham NG31 6LY
Grantham Co-operative Funeralcare
Bridge End Road, Grantham NG31 6JN
Price & Son Independent Family Funeral Directors
70, Castlegate, Grantham NG31 6SH
Robert Holland Funeral Directors Ltd,
14, St Catherine’s Road, Grantham NG31 6TS
Simplicity Cremations in Grantham,
Harrowby Road, Grantham, NG31 9DT
Townsend Moore Funeral Services
23-24 Wharf Road, Grantham NG31 6BG
IN MARKET HARBOROUGH
Coventry Road, Market Harborough LE16 9BX
J. Stamp & Sons,
The Chestnuts, 15, Kettering Road, Market Harborough, Leics LE16 8AN
IN MELTON MOWBRAY
33, Scalford Road, Melton Mowbray, LE13 1JY
Melton & The Vale Independent Funeral Directors,
44, Mill Street, Melton Mowbray LE13 1AY
Shane Mousley & Son Ltd.,
34, Cranmere Road, Melton Mowbray LE13 1TB
Andrew Woodhouse Independent Funeral Director,
Sandon Barn, Casterton Road, Stamford PE9 4BP
R. J. Scholes Funeralcare
St George’s Street, Stamford, Lincs PE9 2BJ
HUMANISTS UK (formerly THE BRITISH HUMANIST ASSOCIATION
For advice on secular funerals
Humanists UK, 39 Moreland Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 8BB
020 7324 3060
THE INSTITUTE OF CIVIL FUNERALS
For advice on funerals purely led by the wishes of the family
Lytchett House, 13, Freeland Park, Wareham Road, Poole, Dorset BH16 6FA
THE NATURAL DEATH CENTRE
For advice on DIY funerals and green funerals
The Hill House, Watley Lane, Twyford, Winchester S021 1QX
Biography . Revd Dr Peter Jupp, MA(Oxon), MTh(Lond), PhD(Lond), FRSA
Dr Peter Jupp is a United Reformed Church minister. Specialising in death studies, his books includeFrom Dust to Ashes: cremation and the British way of death(2006) and, as co-author,Cremation in modern Scotland (2017).Co-founder of the quarterly journalMortalityand of the international conference onDeath, Dying and Disposal, he is a former Chair of the Cremation Society of Great Britain and a non-executive director of the London Cremation Co plc.