How to Plan a Funeral: Complete Guide & Checklist
When someone dies, their loved ones have to make a lot of difficult decisions in a short amount of time. One of the most important decisions is how to plan the funeral. This can be a daunting task, but with careful preparation, it can be much easier.
Funerals aren’t a particularly common occurrence, so you’d be forgiven for not having much experience in this field. And those tasked with organising the funeral are dealing with grief, which can make it more difficult to manage.
Thankfully, there are places you can turn to for support during difficult times. The funeral home you choose will likely have advice on how to plan a funeral. You might also have close friends who have recently planned a funeral and can offer their support.
This guide will provide you with all the information you need to plan a funeral that honours your loved one's memory and traditions. Remember that every funeral is different and there isn’t a one size fits all approach to planning one. What is important is that you consider the wishes of the deceased and also think about how those left behind would want to honour their memory.
How long does it take to plan a funeral?
Some people plan their funerals in advance, so all you need to do is notify the funeral home that the person has passed away, and then the process of putting everything in place is triggered for you. Often, the only thing you will need to arrange is the date of the funeral.
In other cases, you will be planning the funeral from scratch. A funeral can be very quick to organise if you want to keep things simple. The only delay to planning will usually be demand for the funeral home and availability at the cemetery or crematorium.
You should also consider the religious wishes of the person who has passed away. There may be rules about how quickly they should be buried, or when they can be buried. For example, most religions don’t allow individuals to be buried on important holidays.
And finally, you may need to coordinate with individuals to make sure everyone can attend the funeral. This could extend the amount of time it takes to plan a funeral simply because you need to make sure people can travel to attend. It could take a while for everyone to be able to confirm their travel plans.
In general, most funerals take place between one and two weeks after death. This doesn’t give you very much time to bring all of the components together, which is why it’s important to be organised.
Creating a checklist of everything that needs to happen will help to ensure that you don’t miss anything. It’s also a good idea to delegate tasks to individuals that you trust. This can help to relieve the pressure on you to make sure that everything is done.
What are the main components of a funeral?
The components of every funeral will be different, but there are some common themes that are present in most memorial arrangements. Running through this list and deciding which ones are relevant to you is a great place to start as it will help you to formulate your own checklist.
Where will the main funeral take place? This would typically be a religious building, a crematorium, or in a funeral home. Unless you own the property you’ll be hosting the funeral in, chances are it will need to be booked in advance. There may also be rules about what is and isn’t allowed during the funeral that you will need to observe. Religious buildings will also have rules about who can hold their funeral there based on their faith.
The time after big holidays will typically be the busiest for all of these locations, as there will be a backlog of funerals to get through. If you can be flexible on the time or day of the week, there is a better chance of being able to book your funeral quickly.
The funeral type
Will the individual be buried or cremated? You may already know the individual’s wishes, or you may need to make this decision with your loved ones. If they will be buried, you will need to find a plot if you don’t already have one reserved. If they will be cremated, you need to arrange when this will happen with the crematorium.
Both types of funerals will require a casket, so this is another thing you need to consider. Your funeral home should be able to advise on the right casket for your needs and budget. The funeral home will then store and prepare the body. If you are planning an open-casket viewing, this will need to take place soon after the death. The longer you leave it, the less likely you will be able to have an open-casket viewing.
Many funerals have a large central wreath for the coffin. You might also decorate the graveside or crematorium with flowers that other people have contributed. You will need to contact a florist as soon as possible to arrange for the flowers to be delivered to the funeral home.
Florists can be very busy in the summer months when they will also be arranging flowers for weddings. You may need to call around a few florists before you can find one that can accommodate your needs. You’ll also need to think about what will happen to the flowers after the funeral. While some sites will allow you to leave the flowers, others will ask you to take them away with you.
You need to establish a way to let people know the funeral is happening. Invites is the wrong word, but someone needs to be responsible for letting people know the date and time. You may also want to publish a notice in the newspaper or online to make people aware of when the funeral is taking place.
You need to think about all aspects of your loved one’s life so that you don’t miss anyone out. Getting help from different people and allowing people to spread the word themselves will help to make sure that everyone who needs to know about the funeral is aware it is taking place.
The service will be different for every funeral, but someone needs to take responsibility for planning it. The person leading the memorial service or funeral is likely to have templates you can follow and personalise.
If you are working with a religious leader, they will provide guidance on the structure and format of the funeral. If you are planning your own service, you can find templates and examples online to help guide you. You don’t have to copy and paste, but it’s helpful to have a format to follow.
Once you have decided on the order of service, you’ll then need to think about printing this for the attendees. This can be a touching keepsake for many people and it’s worthwhile to spend some time getting this right.
Printing the order of service is another time consideration you will need to think about. If you choose to have this done professionally, make sure that the printers can also deliver it to the location of the funeral in time. Printers might be able to print it in time, but they might then struggle to get it delivered in the required timescale. An alternative would be to task someone with access to a high-quality printer to create these for you.
The wake or gathering
After the funeral, many people like to gather together so they can say goodbye, enjoy some light food and pay their respects to the family. This might be called a vigil, a service, a wake or a gathering, among other names.
This is often the most difficult part to plan as it requires a venue and refreshments. Many hotels and function suites will have packages you can choose from to take the stress out of planning. They will often serve a cold buffet and tea or coffee to your guests. You don’t need to decorate the venue, but it is often a nice touch to include a photo of the deceased and some flowers from the service.
How to plan a funeral
Planning a funeral is often stressful if the individual left no instructions for what they want. This will mean it is down to the family to decide what to do, and this can lead to conflict and disagreements.
When planning a funeral, you need to think about the following factors:
- Who will be attending the funeral? You need to know how many guests to expect so that you can choose a space that is big enough to accommodate everyone.
- What religious factors do you need to consider? In some religions, the funeral has to take place in a specific time frame. There are also requirements for the service. Think about how you can accommodate these into the funeral planning.
- Will you choose burial or cremation? If you choose cremation, you may also have to pick an urn for the ashes to be delivered in. You may then want to think about whether you will scatter the ashes, bury them or keep them in your home.
- How will you delegate the tasks? Asking for help with organising everything can lighten your load, or it can make things more stressful. For example, if someone isn’t very reliable, you might be hesitant to allow them to take a key role in the planning.
- Will you be having an open casket viewing? With an open casket viewing, the funeral needs to take place in the days following the death rather than weeks after the death. A funeral director will be able to guide you on this aspect.
- Have you informed the correct authorities? When someone dies, you need to register the death with a coroner within 5 days. If the person was in receipt of benefits, or if it will impact your own benefits, you’ll also need to inform the Department for Work and Pensions. You also need to inform the government of the death. You can use the Tell Us Once service to inform all relevant departments.
What to do when someone dies
When someone dies, it can be overwhelming and difficult to know what to do. It’s important that you take certain actions to legally register the death.
You need to inform a coroner within 5 days of the death. If the death is declared in a hospital, then this step will be completed for you. If the death occurs at home, you will need to inform their GP or another doctor. Most people will phone an ambulance and attempt resuscitation.
If the death is ruled suspicious, you may need to wait for the results of the autopsy before you can begin planning the funeral. The body will not be released to the family until the police are satisfied with the cause of death.
You will also need to inform the department for work and pensions about the death. This will stop their benefits from being paid. After that, you then need to inform the relevant government departments. You can use a service called Tell Us Once to register the death once and have this information fed to the relevant agencies.
Next, you need to start planning the funeral. It is typically the next of kin that would take responsibility for this. If there is no family, a close friend may volunteer for the role. If no one steps forward, then the local authority will organise a simple funeral.
Funeral services explained
There are many different types of funeral services. The right one for you and your loved ones will all depend on how you want to say goodbye. The main types of funerals are outlined below:
77% of all funerals in the UK are cremations. This is a cost-effective and dignified way to say goodbye to your loved one.
Before you can arrange a cremation, you need to get something known as a green form. This is provided when you register a death. You submit this alongside a cremation application to your chosen crematorium. These important steps authorise the cremation to take place.
In addition to this, you’ll also need to provide two medical certificates confirming the cause of death. You will need to have one signed by a doctor who has viewed the deceased and another by an independent doctor that can confirm the cause of death is accurate. If a coroner is involved, you won’t need to complete these steps.
Before the cremation service takes place, a hearse will bring the casket to the crematorium and it will be brought into the chapel for the service. The service can be religious or non-religious. At the end of the service, the casket is either lowered or removed from its place. The cremation usually takes place on the same day as the service.
A burial service can take place in a chapel or by the graveside. Mourners are typically invited to the graveside to see the coffin lowered into the plot.
To organise a burial, you will need a burial certificate and a burial plot application form. You will either need to purchase a grave or apply for permission from the local council to open an existing family plot. If a coroner is involved, you won’t need to provide the burial certificate.
Before the burial takes place, the casket will be brought to the cemetery. You can then decide if you would like the hold a separate service in a place of worship. You could also choose an unconventional location such as a woodland burial site.
After the service, it’s common for mourners to scatter soil on the coffin after it has been lowered and then the ceremony concludes.
Religious or non-religious
Religious services have unique traditions that must be observed, while a non-traditional funeral will have more flexibility and freedom. Many funeral directors will be accommodating to a wide range of religious requirements, including ritual ashing before the ceremony.
When choosing a religious funeral, it’s important to consider the wishes of the deceased and also of their closest family and friends.
Many people are opting for less traditional ceremonies to say goodbye to their loved ones. This could be through unusual burial options, such as a woodland burial or eco burials. It could also b non-traditional in the use of bright colours and ignoring funeral trends such as dressing in black.
A funeral should be a reflection of a person’s life and a chance to say goodbye. If this means choosing a less traditional option for your funeral, then you should be supported to make this happen.
After the funeral
Once the funeral is over, there is still work to be done. Some people hold a wake or memorial on the same day as the funeral, but some people prefer to organise this for a different day. It allows individuals to separate saying goodbye from fondly remembering the person’s life, so it can make the wake a more joyous occasion.
Holding it on a different day may also allow more people to attend. For example, if you have a mid-week funeral, you might consider having the wake at a weekend. You can then give individuals the option to attend one or the other. This can help alleviate any guilt associated with not being able to attend the main funeral.
You might also have to consider what to do with the ashes. There are many options for storing or scattering ashes, including:
- Storing them in your home in an urn
- Turning the ashes into jewellery or artwork
- Burying the ashes in your own garden
- Burying the ashes in a public place
- Scattering the ashes in a park, lake or on the beach
- Planting the ashes in a tree urn
In addition to this, you might also want to think about memorial ideas, such as memorial benches or plaques. In lieu of a graveside to visit it can be nice to have a place that has some significance to you.
If you choose a burial, you will then have to think about how you will mark the grave. A headstone or gravestone takes a long time to order and produce, so you can expect to have a delay between the funeral and the arrival of the headstone.
Common mistakes in funeral planning
To help avoid turning funeral planning into a stressful experience, try to avoid these common pitfalls:
- Getting in debt while funeral planning. The costs can quickly add up, and you might not be aware of how much the entire thing has cost until after the fact. Set a budget that you can afford and then work with your funeral director to make sure that you don’t exceed it.
- Delegating tasks to the wrong people. Some people will lighten your load during funeral planning and some people will make everything more stressful. Try to find reliable people to delegate tasks to and don’t feel obliged to give someone an important task just because they have volunteered.
- Failing to find time to grieve. It can be easy to get caught up in the planning and admin that you set aside your own feelings. Once everything is in place, it’s important to give yourself time and space to grieve your loss. Otherwise, you might be left feeling like you’re the only person who didn’t have a chance to say goodbye.
- Not setting aside differences. A funeral can bring people together, or it can drive them apart. It is often a conscious decision to use the occasion to bring people together, so try to make the effort where you can. Setting aside differences and choosing to come together with family will leave you feeling a lot more at peace than if you use the occasion to spark up old conflicts.