Coming to terms with the death of somebody close can be a very difficult time. On top of that, the thought of planning a funeral ‘the celebration of somebody’s life’ probably seems like a really daunting task. But planning a funeral doesn’t need to be stressful. You will have to make some decisions, and hopefully this post will assist you to help make sure everything is perfect on the day.

Who should organise the funeral?
Depending on how involved you wish to be with the preparations alters the Funeral Directors role. Funeral Directors can be responsible for all aspects of organising and managing the funeral, but can also just provide the services required. Reading through this post should help you decide which parts you feel up to organising (if any). Please note that Funeral Directors are the experts in this field, planning and managing funerals daily. Their involvement not only makes life easier for you, but allows you to focus on personalising the day.

These websites will help you find an affiliated Funeral Director in your area:

National Association of Funeral Directors
The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors

Personal involvement
Personal involvement in funerals can help with the grieving process. However if planning isn’t one of your strengths then there are several other ways to be involved in the funeral:

– A Pallbearer
– Give a reading or poem during the service
– Write an eulogy for the service
– Choose a song for the service
– Find and put together a selection of photos for the funeral
– Help the organiser contact family, friends and colleagues about the death and funeral details
– Organise the flowers

Where to start?
The following tasks need to be completed by either the Funeral Director or yourself when organising the funeral:

Medical certificate
You’ll need to get the medical certificate showing the cause of death, signed and issued by the doctor. The medical certificate will be required when registering the death and if planning a cremation you’ll need to submit the certificate to the crematorium.

Registering the death
The date for the funeral can’t be finalised until after the death has been registered. Normally a death should be registered within five days. Click here to locate your local register office.

When registering a death the medical certificate will be required. And, if available the following documents will help with the process:
– Birth certificate
– Marriage or civil partnership certificate
– N.I. number
– NHS medical card
– Driving licence

Special requests
Check the will for any special requests or instructions regarding the funeral. If there are no clear wishes – decisions will have to made.

Coffins can be sourced from specialist shops, the Funeral Director or one of their suppliers. If planning a cremation you will need to ensure that the coffin is constructed from suitable materials that conforms to the necessary requirements, which should be printed on the crematorium’s application forms. This needs to be checked otherwise you may be refused permission to cremate.

Anybody planning to build a coffin, must have the expertise to build one properly. The coffin needs to be strong enough to cope with the weight of the body and the stress of being carried and lowered by inexpert bearers.

Body before the funeral
The coffined body needs to be stored somewhere cool until the funeral takes place, such as at the Funeral Directors or if the death happened in hospital they may be able to store the body in the hospital mortuary.

Transport for the coffin and close family will need to be organised. Hearses or horse pulled hearses can be hired. Alternatively the coffin should fit in the back of a large estate car, land-rover or on a horse and cart.

It is quite common for the Funeral Director to walk in front of the hearse as it leaves the deceased’s house. Not only is this as a mark of respect, but to direct the traffic to keep everybody together. A route will need to be planned from the house to the service.

If you have concerns about burglars of the house – ask someone to house sit whilst the funeral is taking place.

You’ll need to liaise with the church, chapel, cemetery or crematorium and minister to come up with a set date and time for the service and for a place to bury the coffin (if organising a burial).

If planning a cremation, at the end of the service the coffin usually moves out of sight; either sinking into a recess, pass through a door or a curtain is closed in front of it. The coffin is taken to the committal room where the coffined body will be loaded into the cremator. Once the cremation process has finished the ashes are carefully collected and will be available from the crematorium from the following day.

Please note that there is no law regulating the disposal of ashes providing the scattering is done respectfully and with the owners permission if on privately owned land. If a decision is taken to scatter the ashes, it is important to ensure that mourners stand with the wind blowing away from them.

After the service, guests often gather for refreshments at a venue near by. Traditionally at the decease’s house, the home of a family member, local pub, hotel or restaurant. You’ll need to think about whether to provide refreshments and catering.

If you don’t know the area very well it’s worth looking online for a venue with a function room/area to hire or having a scout for venues near the service. Somewhere To Go is a good website for locating local hotels and restaurants around the country.

Timing is really important. The organiser should work out a clear plan of the day to ensure that you don’t interfere with other funerals taking place before or after the service.

Contacting guests
You’ll need to contact relatives, friends and colleagues about the death and funeral. Knowing the following information before making the calls will help: the name and addresses of the service and reception, a date and time of the service.

The coffin is normally carried into the venue on the shoulder’s of either four of the funeral directors staff or members of the family and friends led by the Minister and Funeral Director. The coffin is carried and placed at the front of the service (on the catafalque if planning a cremation). In Roman Catholic and some other churches the coffin can be taken to the church the night before.

You’ll need to organise flowers, floral tributes and/or donations.

If you order flowers, you’ll need to think about what to do with them after the service, for example you could display them by the grave or make arrangements to give the flowers to a hospital or local nursing home.

Grave digger
If there is to be a burial you’ll need to hire a grave digger (cemeteries and churchyards may have their own). If the grave is to be on private land – you’ll need to inform the local planning authorities.

Many places have quite rigid restrictions, which will need checking before making an order with the Stone Mason. Find out about size, design, stone allowed, text styles and whether the wording needs to be approved, kerbs. Timescales, insurance and maintenance cover should also be thought about.


Michael Chidzey is the chief juicer of eventjuice and runs Event Organiser, an event company based in London, UK. He also founded the digital marketing agency Good Signals, blogs on several websites and is a visiting lecturer in events management at London Metropolitan University.Follow Michael on Twitter @michaelchidzey
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