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Money & Rights

Choice guide to Arranging a Funeral

When we lose someone we love, we may be at our most vulnerable and least effective, yet we have to step up and make funeral arrangements and organise a fitting memorial. So, even though no one likes to contemplate the death of a loved one, it is sensible to be aware of the practical considerations so we make the right decisions.

Our guide looks at what to do when someone dies and how to organise and pay for a fine send off.

First Steps

What had to be done in the immediate aftermath of a death in the family depends to some extent on where it occurred. 

If someone dies at home, you should call the family doctor and nearest relative immediately.  If the death was expected the doctor will give you a medical certificate showing the cause of death. You'll also be given a formal notice stating that they have signed the medical certificate and telling you how to get the death registered.

If the person is to be cremated, you will need two certificated signed by different doctors.

If the person dies in hospital, then the hospital staff will inform the person named by the deceased as heir next of kin, which is probably, but not necessarily, a close relative. A medical certificate and formal notice will be issued by the hospital. The hospital will keep the body and its mortuary until the executor of the deceased's Will- or a family member of friend if there is no Will- arranged for an undertaker to collect it. If the death is sudden or unexpected, or the family doctor had not seen the person within 14 days of death (28 in Northern Ireland). the death must be reported to the coroner (the Procurator Fiscal in Scotland), who is responsible for investigating unexpected deaths. They may call for a post mortem or inquest, and this could result in a delay to the funeral.

You must register the death with the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths, and this must be done within five days (eight in Scotland), unless it has been referred to the coroner. You can go to any register office, but if you use the one in the area where the person died you'll be given the documents you'll need on the day.

If you use a different register office, the documents will be sent to the office in the area where the person died before they are issued to you, this means you'll usually wait a few days.

The deceased's GP should be able to give you the address of the local registrar, or look in the phone book or online:, where you can enter the postcode to find the relevant office.

It is a good idea to ask the registrar for multiple copies of the death certificate as you will need to send originals to certain organisations, such as banks or building societies. Rather than having to get certified copies done at a solicitor's, it's easier to just buy extra from the registrar. Experts recommend five copies should be enough.

The registrar will give you a unique reference number which will enable you to use the government's 'Tell Us Once' service, provided it's available in your area. You can either access this online or by phone and the service will inform the tax office the Department for Work and Pensions, the Passport Office, DVLA and local council. If the deceased has a public sector company, or armed forces, pension, it will also arrange for those payments to be stopped.

You will also need to contact the person's bank, credit card and insurance companies, and any private pension provider.

If you are the executor of the Will, you will also need to apply for probate (Choice, March).


Royal London estimated the average cost of a burial funeral is now £4136, made up of £1785 for the actual burial, £143 for the minister and £2208 for the funeral director, which is the most expensive part of a funeral, accounting for more than half the total cost.

The average cremation funeral is £3214, which includes £716 for the cremation, £143 for a minister, £2208 for the funeral director and £164 for two doctors to confirm there is no pacemaker or other implant left in the body. (This fee is not paiid in Scotland.)

There are wide regional variations, but according to insurer Sun Life, overall, funerals are one of the UK's fastest rising costs, outstripping inflation, wages and pensions, and the cost of an average funeral nationwide has doubled since 2004.

Less than 10 percent of families visit more than one funeral director, according to research. in the highly charged emotional state following the death of a loved one, shopping around to save money is probably not your first priority.

You'd also be forgiven for thinking one funeral director will charge much the same as another, but you'd be wrong. Last year the Guardian carried out 'mystery shopping' exercises among funeral directors in Glasgow and London, and found that for the same service, prices varied by up to £1500 and £1200 respectively. In both cities independent funeral directors, rather than chains, were the cheapest. A website compares funeral directors' prices.

Alison Crake says: "We encourage all our members to put their prices on their websites, which gives families the opportunity to compare prices in the comfort of their own homes, although we also recommend people to speak to funeral directors to discuss details."

Most people will choose a reasonable priced and sympathetic funeral director, but it is perfectly possible to organise a funeral without one. There is no legal requirement to use a funeral without one. There is no legal requirement to use a funeral director and there a several websites, including the Government-backed, which have a wealth of advice on how to do-it-yourself. When you read the assertation, made on another helpful website, that funeral directors typically make between 300 percent and 600 percent mark up on the price of the coffin, you might feel inclined to go down the DIY route! The website claims you can save up to 50 percent on the price of a coffin by buying direct from them.

A lasting memorial

If you have opted for a burial, you will probably want to ass a headstone to commemorate your loved one. Most commonly made from granite or marble, gravestones come in all shapes and sizes. Typically, small slant markers can be purchased for as little as £400, but the average ocost of an upright gravestone is usually between £800 and £1200.

If your loved one has been cremated, you must decide what to do with their ashes. You can bury ashes in your local cemetery or in your local cemetery or in a natural burial ground (see 'Green or woodland burials' below). You can scatter them, or ask the crematorium to do so. You can even divide em up among members of the family, provided everyone agrees, and/or keep them in a suitable receptacle.

You can be creative, if you think it would be a fitting end for the individual concerned. Rolling Stone Keith Richard snorted some of his father's ashes (presumable mixed with something more intoxicating), while Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, was shot into space...

UK law on scattering ashes is fairly relaxed but so many people have wanted to scatter ashes in beauty spots that the Government has stepped in with anti-pollution rules. There is still nothing in legislation to stop you scattering ashes over land or water (although you need the landowner's permission) but you should first consult the Environment Agencies guide so that you know what steps to take to avoid polluting the environment.

The scattering of ashes is discouraged by the Cremation Society:

1) On mountain tops, where ashes can affect plant life.

2) In rivers, near places where people bathe or fish

3) Less that a kilometre upstream of where water is taken for drinking

4) If plastic wreaths are thrown into the water or left on river banks.

5) On windy days, when ashes affect people living and working nearby.

Sports grounds are anoehr favourite place for people to scatter their loved ones ashes, but many professional clubs (for example, Manchester Unites) no longer allow his. Instead, many offer memorial gardens or walls where fans can be commemorated.

Green or woodland burials

One way to keep costs down and be kind to the environment is to opt for a 'green burial' on a woodland site.

However, Jo Derbyshire, commercial director or funeral plan provider Avalon- which has a partnership with woodland burial park owner GreenAcres- says: "For most people opting for a woodland burial, the motivation is concern for the environment.

"Traditional burial sites in cemeteries are at a premium, too, so anyone who wants to be buried should consider a woodland site."

Coffins are generally made from cardboard or soft wood. A tree may be planted in memory of the deceased, but Ms Derbyshire says as a general rule nothing that is not bio-degradable can be used. Sites are often very beautiful, she says; "many have tees, wild flowers and lovely views across open countryside, and they are lovely palaces for family and friends to return to."

There are more than 300 woodland burial sites all over the UK. The Natural Death Centre charity has a list of its members on its website, as well as advice on how to arrange a woodland burial. However, woodland sites area also operated bu local authorities alongside their more traditional cemeteries. Others are owned and run by landowners, while some are owned bu large corporate companies and are run in partnership with the landowner. 

The Woodland Burial Trust also has a list and information on its website or tel: 01234 342613.

Prices again vary depending on location but can be less that £1000, making woodland burials potentially much more affordable than traditional funerals. You don't have to organise a woodland burial yourself; if you prefer to use a funeral director, many will offer this option too.

Direct cremations

In what was a virtually unknown concept in the UK just five years aho, an estimated 14,000 people annually are now opting for a so called direct cremations. Pioneered in the US (both David Bowie and Prince had one), direct cremations do not involve a funeral service, but proponents say the same standards of respect and dignity are applied o the person who has died.

The cost, at around £1000, is up to 60 percent cheaper than a traditional funeral. For more information, contact Pure Cremation, which claims to be the K's only dedicated direct cremation service provider,

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