There are many practicalities to consider for a funeral, in addition to the actual ceremony. If you are using the services of a funeral director, they will help you with many of these decisions.

On this page we give you information about:

1. Decisions ahead of the funeral service
2. Plans for the service itself
3. Plans for after the service
4. Humanist funerals

Decisions ahead of the funeral service

Who will conduct the funeral?

If the faith of your loved one or family doesn’t determine this, there are a number of choices:

  • Religious minister: many will be very flexible, but will not want to include elements that specifically contradict their faith.
  • Civil celebrant: civil celebrants will work with the family and can include prayers or religious music if wanted.
  • Humanist celebrant: humanist funerals include no reference to a god. The British Humanist Association (see our Useful websites page for arranging a funeral) will put you in touch with someone in your area who can do this for you.
  • Member of the family, or colleague or friend: this makes the funeral very personal, but it is also a considerable responsibility and everyone present may feel more comfortable if someone slightly distanced from the emotion of the event is in charge.

What types of coffin are there?

Coffins can be made from many materials including:

  • solid or recycled wood
  • cardboard (which can be decorated or covered by a shroud)
  • bamboo, woven willow, rattan, wool, and other natural fibres.

Other points to consider:

  • You can buy the coffin from the funeral director or the local council, cemetery or crematorium.
  • A carpenter can make one for you.
  • Caskets tend to be pricier as the lid is hinged.
  • There is a choice of fittings, such as the style of handle and lining.
  • The coffin for someone who is to be cremated will be completely destroyed, so the fittings must be combustible.
  • You can rent a wooden outer coffin to be used during the service, and buy a cardboard inner coffin for the burial or cremation.

What should I dress my loved one in?

Will your loved one wear a favourite outfit or something meaningful such as a walking outfit or fishing clothes? Remember that natural fibres are required for cremation, and many cemeteries prefer fabrics that are biodegradable.

Do I want the body embalmed?

Embalming delays decomposition and can improve the appearance of the body. It is sometimes, but not always, necessary if the body is to be viewed before or during the funeral, for example if the person has died after an accident or debilitating illness. However, funeral directors are also skilled at other methods of making the body look presentable. Bear in mind:

  • Natural burial grounds and some cemeteries won’t accept embalmed bodies because of the chemicals involved.
  • Before a body can be embalmed, the doctor must have completed the medical certificate of the cause of death, and the death must have been registered.

Is it possible to view the body?

In some cultures it is traditional to be able to see the deceased, including as part of the funeral ceremony. For others it is a very personal choice. Not all mourners want to see their loved one when they have passed away.

How do I place an announcement in newspapers?

This is a good way of making details of the funeral known to friends and acquaintances of the deceased who may not be known to the immediate family.

Announcements of deaths can be placed online and in local or national papers. The cost will depend on the length, but these are typical prices (2015/16):

  • Online only via a national newspaper: £30
  • Online and in the newspaper: £23.50 per line
  • In a local newspaper: from £50.

What you could include:

  • The full name of the deceased
  • The town or city (not the address) where they lived
  • Surviving family
  • Date, time, address of burial
  • Date, time, address of memorial service
  • Whether the funeral is private, for family only
  • Whether there are to be no flowers, family flowers only, or the option of a memorial donation
  • Memorial contributions, such as donations to a nominated charity in memory of the deceased, as well as, or in place of, flowers
  • Funeral director’s name and address.

Where will the ceremony take place?

Will the entire ceremony take place at the crematorium chapel, or in the cemetery chapel where there is one? Or will there be a main service at a place of worship or other venue, and just the committal at the cemetery or crematorium? A factor here is that cemeteries and crematoria have timed ceremonies and you may want a longer length of time for your service.

If you think there will be a lot of people attending the funeral, consider planning for the funeral service to be in a large church or auditorium followed by cremation or burial, which is attended only by the family and close friends. Or a private funeral for the family only may be followed by a memorial service some time later.

What transport needs to be arranged for the funeral?

You might want to use limousines provided by the funeral director for immediate family and close friends. This can relieve the anxiety around timekeeping, as the funeral firm will be familiar with all the possible routes and local traffic conditions. Decide if:

  • the funeral will start from the home of the deceased and follow a particular route, or
  • will everyone meet at the funeral venue?

Plans for the service itself

What happens at a funeral service?

If the church service is before a burial or cremation, the coffin is taken into the church by the bearers and placed on trestles or a trolley in front of the altar.

Most funeral services in church take about half an hour, although a requiem mass, or the funeral of a well-known member of the church congregation, may take longer.

Afterwards the bearers take the coffin either to the burial site or the crematorium and the mourners follow behind.

How formal do you want the funeral to be?

Is the tone to be one of sombre quiet reflection or a joyful celebration? This will be influenced by the wishes of the deceased, if known, but perhaps also the nature of the death and who will be present.

Do you want a printed order of service?

A good funeral director will be able to help with the design and printing of the order of service and they will be able to point you towards sources for poems, readings and hymns. You may also want to include one or two photos of your relative or friend.

What music will there be?

Hymns are traditionally sung at a funeral, but if the majority of the mourners are not regular churchgoers, this may not be practical. Many people do not sing regularly and may not wish to sing in a public setting. An alternative is to play recorded hymns, but many other styles of music have become popular, including classical music and modern songs. Most churches and crematoria have music systems, so you can also provide music to be played – label CDs or a music player carefully so the right track is played at the right time.

Will there be a sermon, tribute or eulogy?

A religious funeral might include a short sermon. But, in addition or instead, many funerals have a tribute or eulogy. It may be given by the person conducting the funeral, put together from information provided by the family, or there may be one or more contributions from family, friends and colleagues. Even if someone is a confident speaker normally, having written notes will be helpful, and they can also be read by someone else if the emotions become too much at the time.

What about prayers?

These can be a traditional prayers or written for the occasion. They can be replaced by or put together with a period of silence in which people are invited to reflect or pray – this makes the time inclusive for those who have no faith.

Will there be readings?

As well as religious texts there are many anthologies of poetry and readings collected specifically around the theme of bereavement that you can choose from.

Is the style of dress important?

The usual dress for funerals is darker colours, such as black, navy or grey, but it is helpful to mourners if they know that the funeral is formal and black is a definite requirement, or that the preference would be for people to wear bright or special colours.

Plans for after the service

Can mourners leave a personal message?

At some funerals a book of condolences or individual cards are  provided for mourners to sign and record a personal message. This can be extremely helpful for the bereaved, who may not know many of the people present. It also gives an alternative way for mourners to express condolences.

What about hospitality after the service?

Depending on the number expected, it may be possible to provide a buffet meal at home or use a local venue. There is then a choice of whether to call on friends and family to assist with catering or to use a professional service. You might choose to provide food at a local pub or wine bar, but mourners would purchase their own drinks at the bar.

What do mourners need to know?

It is helpful if the person conducting the funeral gives out instructions, if there are any, such as whether there is to be a collection for charity, whether everyone present is welcome to come to the committal, or if any refreshments are being offered. 

If there is a private committal followed by shared refreshments, mourners will value being told where to assemble and wait for immediate family to join them.

Do you want to hold a memorial ceremony?

A memorial will include most of the elements of a funeral but without the committal. It will often be held sometime after the funeral, making more detailed planning and preparation possible.

More information

Page first published: 31 December 2015
Next review due: 31 May 2017