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Planning a Funeral

The Funeral Service is our final opportunity to gather together with Family and Friends and publicly celebrate and reflect on the life of a loved one. It is often very emotional and yet comforting, as we draw strength and support from each other.

Choose a Funeral Director

One of the first things you will need to do is contact a Funeral Director. They are skilled professionals, who can guide you through the process of planning your loved one’s funeral at what is likely to be a very emotional time.

It may be useful to consider if your loved one expressed any particular preferences for the type of service they wanted and whether they wanted to be cremated or buried. You should also check if a Funeral Plan is already in place or if there are any “Special Requests” (perhaps in a will, if they have one). Your Funeral Director will know what options are available, the choices that have to be made, and the formalities that need to be completed to ensure that the service reflects your wishes and complies with the law.

Your choice of Funeral Director may be influenced by who operates in your area, you or your Family’s past experience or indeed the wishes of the deceased.

You should contact them as soon as the death is confirmed.

Medical Certificate of Death

The first formality after a death is the doctor's certificate. If the death occurs at home, or at a nursing home, a doctor must be called. If it occurs in a hospital, nursing staff will call the next-of-kin and make arrangements for the certificate.

Obtaining a Medical Certificate of Death should not present a problem if the cause of death is clear. For a sudden and unexpected death, however, the cause of death may be more difficult to establish. It may require an investigation by a coroner (in Scotland, a procurator fiscal) and possibly a post-mortem, these are standard procedures, and you will be guided through the process by the authorities.

What happens to the Body?

Once the Medical Certificate of Death has been issued, the body of the deceased can be transferred by the funeral directors to their premises.

If relatives wish to view the body at the funeral parlour, undertakers can prepare the body and arrange for it to viewed in their chapel of rest.

Relatives can, if they wish, keep the body at home prior to the funeral. This was the practice in the past, but has become far less common today.

Registering a Death

All deaths have to be formally registered with a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. The local authority can tell you where to find your local registrar, or you can consult

Certain documents will be required for this registration, the most important of which is the Medical Certificate of Death. Also helpful (if available) are the deceased's birth certificate and marriage certificate.

On completion of the formalities, the registrar will issue a Death Certificate. This is required to allow the Funeral to take place and as proof of death for legal and financial purposes.

Burial or Cremation?

You need to establish whether the deceased is to be buried or cremated. This choice may or may not have been made by the deceased. If not, the next of kin, or the executor of the will, have to make that decision.

Many People and Families have their own preference. Some prefer to be buried, and their relatives take comfort from having a place to visit where they feel they can be close to the deceased. Others prefer to be cremated, which gives them and their families the opportunity to have their ashes scattered near their favourite place, or interred in a family grave, or to keep their ashes at home.

Another option, which is becoming increasingly popular, is the ecologically friendly 'Natural or "green" burial' and your Funeral Director will be able to give you some guidance on this.

The Funeral Ceremony

The next major consideration is the Funeral Service itself and is dependent upon your Religious Beliefs, and whether the deceased is to be Cremated or Buried.

Your Funeral Director will be able to contact the Minister or Priest or other official on your behalf and arrange the time of the funeral.

There may be an opportunity to personalise the service by becoming involved in selecting the readings and music and in preparing an Order of Service.

Other Considerations

There are many more decisions that have to be made and once again your Funeral Director will be able to guide you through these.

You need to select a Coffin or Casket, decide how the deceased should be dressed and arrange floral tributes. You also need to decide on the vehicles required on the day of the funeral and whether or not to put an announcement in the papers.

You may also wish to organise a meal for the funeral party. This can be anything from tea and sandwiches at home, to a light meal in a local restaurant or hotel.

Finally, if the deceased was buried, you may wish to arrange to have a headstone erected or to have their name added if there is an existing headstone. Your Funeral Director will be able to advise you or you can check out the local press or Cemetery.

A Death Abroad

When someone dies in a foreign country, the first thing to do is to contact the Foreign Office in the UK, or consular officials in the country in question (see They will be able to guide you through the procedures, and most importantly, ensure that the death is registered in the country in which the death has occurred.

If the deceased was covered by travel insurance, the insurance company will also be able to help and can make the appropriate arrangements for the repatriation of the body. Alternatively, you can make arrangements through UK funeral directors.

Many people will now consider the environment and may wish to plan a carbon neutral funeral...