For many, discussing death or funeral wishes remain taboo subjects. Recent research by Dying Matters Coalition indicates just 29% of people had let loved ones know of their funeral wishes and 51% said they had not made their partner aware of their end of life wishes.

It is only when arranging a funeral for a loved one that you realise, the hard way, how important it is to document your wishes and let your family know what you want and where your Will or letter of wishes are kept.

A funeral is an occasion to celebrate a person’s life and can take place anywhere and have any shape or form – provided it is within the law.

You may need to consider family tradition, religion as well as the wishes of the deceased.

Did the deceased leave any guidance?

The first thing is to check if the deceased left any specific arrangements regarding their funeral with a close member of the family or friend or in a Will or letter of wishes found with their Will or legal papers.

You may be aware the deceased wanted burial or cremation – but what about other matters such as the hymns or songs to be sung or played at the service, the readings at the service – will these be religious or non-religious? Are the ashes are to be scattered or interred?

Any guidance left by the deceased will relieve the stress and worry when making these last and very personal arrangements.

Did the deceased leave a funeral plan?

Funeral costs, like many things, are rising faster than inflation, and many people are now putting in place a funeral plan. Not only does this save your family and friends the stress of trying to guess what your wishes are, it also relieves them of the financial burden by ensuring there are sufficient funds to cover the cost of  your funeral.

What are the advantages of a funeral plan?

Having a funeral plan has the following advantages:

  • You pay your funeral at today’s prices; you beat inflation and avoid future rises which could result in significant savings.
  • You choose the funeral YOU want – traditional, modern, green, religious or humanist.
  • You can personalise the funeral by including your choice of hymns, music, reading, colour of the flowers on the coffin in the church/chapel.
  • You relieve the financial and emotional burden of organising your funeral from your family and friends, avoiding disputes and difficult decisions being made at such a sensitive raw time.
  • Whilst life insurance can meet the financial cost of your funeral it cannot provide for personal wishes or requests.
  • No medical or health checks are required.
  • You can make payment by a lump sum or monthly instalments.

Who can arrange a funeral?

Unless the deceased left instructions in a Will, letter of wishes, or a funeral bond – the responsibility for arranging a funeral will be left to the Executors if there is a Will or, if there is no Will, the Administrators or next of kin of the deceased.

If there is more than one Executor or Administrator they are all equal.

There is no legal requirement for a funeral but the body MUST be disposed of by “burial, cremation or any other means”.

The Coroner is the only person who has the right to take possession of a deceased body.

The person who makes the arrangements and signs the contract with the funeral directors will be responsible for paying the bill. The funeral director will only deal with this person and no-one else.

What if no-one takes responsibility for arranging a funeral?

If no-one accepts responsibility – then a funeral cannot take place. If an Executor or Administrator refuses to arrange a funeral there are no legal consequences. The deceased’s Local authority or the hospital in which they died has a legal duty to dispose of the body.

What if there is a family disagreement?

Sometimes families cannot agree about funeral arrangements. Whilst it is important to take everyone’s point of view, beliefs and their feelings into account, the Executor or Administrator has the difficult task of trying to reach a compromise. This must be achieved before the death is registered.

Where cremation is being organised, the form asks, “Has any near relative or executor expressed any objection to the proposed cremation?” If so the cremation cannot take place and any objector can seek an injunction to prevent cremation. The costs and time involved should be avoided.

The cremation form also asks, “Is there any near relative(s) or executor(s) who has not been informed of the proposed cremation?” This prevents cremation taking place without all interested parties being informed.

When do I instruct a funeral director?

If you decide not to arrange the funeral yourself then the usual path is to instruct a funeral director as soon as possible after the death has occurred.

The funeral cannot take place until the death has been registered, but arrangements can be put in place beforehand.

Choosing a funeral firm can be difficult and it is unusual to ask for a quote or ring round for quotes. If you have no guidance from the deceased as to which funeral director to use, you could ask relatives or friends for their recommendations or chose a funeral director who is a member of:

  • The National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD)
  • Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors

Funeral directors who are members of these organisations will have codes of practice and provide written quotes.

Do I have to instruct a funeral director?

No. It is an option but there is no legal requirement to instruct a funeral director. Most people do so because a funeral director can provide practical support and advice at such a difficult time.

Can I get assistance with the funeral costs?

The person who arranges the funeral will be responsible for paying the bill. That person can then be reimbursed from the estate if there are sufficient assets.

Banks and building societies will usually pay the funeral bill from the deceased’s estate prior to probate being granted, on production of the original funeral director’s bill – and will issue a cheque direct to the funeral firm or in the name of the funeral firm.

In certain circumstances a funeral payment can be made by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which covers the cost of a very basic funeral. The deceased and the person organising the funeral, have to satisfy certain criteria before a contribution will be given.

The Funeral Director will be able to advise whether the deceased satisfies the given criteria and the likely contribution available.

What are the next steps?

Everyone’s circumstances are different and this also applies to their funeral. MACKS strongly recommend a face-to-face meeting with one of our specialist solicitors who will be able to explain things in greater detail and advise you on your legal rights and responsibilities.

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