First Decisions

Practical advice on the first few decisions required when arranging a funeral.

Here, we outline some of the early decisions you will need to make. Until these are confirmed, booking the funeral will not be possible. The person who has died may have left instructions for their funeral in their Will or other document. They may also have paid for the funeral in advance, with a pre-paid funeral plan, in which case they will have made some of these early decisions in the course of making their purchase.

Burial or Cremation?

Most people have a preference as to burial or cremation, which could come from religious or family tradition, and it is usually one of the things the person arranging the funeral will know in advance. It is often expressed as a wish in a Will (although executors should not be concerned if this is not the case as it would not be legally binding; merely confirmation of a preference). If you are unsure what the person who has died would have preferred, some questions to help you decide would include:

 

  • Were other members of the family buried or cremated in the past?
  • Did anyone ever go to a funeral with the person who has died and did they make any comment as to preference for burial or cremation?
  • If the person might have liked to be buried, is there space in the place they would have wanted (see below)?
  • Would the person like to be buried with the hope that someone else may be buried with them one day?
  • Would you like to visit a burial place in the knowledge that the person is there (as opposed to their cremated remains)?
  • Would you like to be able to scatter cremated remains in a place where it would be hard to carry out a burial?

Where can a burial take place?

In a Churchyard

If the person who has died lived in the parish of an Anglican church that has space in the churchyard, and was a Christian of any denomination, they can be buried in the churchyard. Some ministers may also allow people who did not reside in the parish to be buried there if there is space and the person who has died has strong connections to the church (for example, family members are buried there, they were a member of the congregation, they only moved away for care purposes after residing locally for many years). If there is already a family grave in the churchyard with space for another interment, it can be used even if the person who has died did not live locally, however some churchyards in our local area are full and do not have any space for new graves.

Services before burials in churchyards can take place in the church, at the graveside or in another location. If the person who has died attended one church but is being buried in a different churchyard, the incumbent minister at the burial place may wish to be present or preside over the burial part of the service: this may be especially true if the person was of a non-Anglican denomination and their funeral service was carried out by a minister of that faith.

The type of memorial allowed in a churchyard depends on regulations imposed by the Diocese in which it is situated, and these can be quite restrictive: you may be limited in the choice of materials and writing styles on headstones. If you are considering a churchyard burial, you may like to discuss what will be permitted with the incumbent minister in case the regulations mean you need to reconsider or prefer the less-restrictive conditions in most cemeteries. Our sister company, J. Gumbrill Monumental Masons, can provide advice and guidance on the memorials currently permitted in any local setting.

Green Burial

There are several natural burial sites in the Sussex and Surrey area. Your funeral director will be able to tell you the costs associated with burial there and any other rules that apply to those that may be of interest. There are often permitted coffin types and many natural burial grounds do not allow the burial of bodies that have been embalmed, which can have implications for visiting the Chapel of Rest.

Many natural burial grounds operate in a similar way to cemeteries with plots available for purchase in advance (as well as at the time of death) and the ability to have a subsequent burial in the same plot. Most do not allow a headstone but some may permit a biodegradable marker, and there might also be rules about floral tributes.

As with other cemeteries and burial grounds, the service before a burial in a natural burial ground can be held in a place of worship or the on-site chapel (where this facility is available) as well as at the graveside or at another venue. Your funeral director can discuss the options available to you at your chosen site.

In a Cemetery or Burial Ground

Cemeteries and burial grounds are owned and operated by local authorities or parish councils. Often, rights of burial are sold for a number of years. It is usually the case that someone who resides outside the borough or district will have to pay substantially higher fees to purchase the plot, and sometimes for the burial itself to take place, although these may be waived in certain circumstances (such as when someone had only moved away from the area recently or to receive care). Plots can usually be purchased at any time – not just at the time of someone’s death – and it is quite normal for a family to purchase a plot or group of plots for their future use, which reduces costs at the time of burial.

Services before burials in cemeteries or burial grounds can be held in a place of worship or the on-site chapel (where this facility is available) as well as at the graveside or at another venue. Your funeral director can discuss the options available to you.

Most cemeteries and burial grounds allow a wide choice of memorial styles, although they will usually have some rules around sizes. You will usually have to pay a fee for the installation of the memorial (called a ‘Memorial Permit Fee’) to the burial authority when the headstone is first installed. For any subsequent burials, this will usually have to be removed and another Memorial Permit Fee paid when it is replaced. Our sister company, J. Gumbrill Monumental Masons, is happy to provide advice on the memorials currently permitted in any local setting and, where the rules of the burial place allow a wide choice, can provide guidance (including pricing information) on all the options to help you in making your selection.

Green Burial

There are several natural burial sites in the Sussex and Surrey area. Your funeral director will be able to tell you the costs associated with burial there and any other rules that apply to those that may be of interest. There are often permitted coffin types and many natural burial grounds do not allow the burial of bodies that have been embalmed, which can have implications for visiting the Chapel of Rest.

Many natural burial grounds operate in a similar way to cemeteries with plots available for purchase in advance (as well as at the time of death) and the ability to have a subsequent burial in the same plot. Most do not allow a headstone but some may permit a biodegradable marker, and there might also be rules about floral tributes.

As with other cemeteries and burial grounds, the service before a burial in a natural burial ground can be held in a place of worship or the on-site chapel (where this facility is available) as well as at the graveside or at another venue. Your funeral director can discuss the options available to you at your chosen site.

Burial at Sea

Burial at sea can be complicated and costly, and is only allowed in limited circumstances where the person who has died has a strong connection to the sea: often, in practice, this means they will have led a seafaring life. There are few places in the UK where it is permitted, however Newhaven (off the Sussex coast) is one of these. If this is of interest, please enquire with your funeral director.

Burial elsewhere

Burying someone who has died on private land (such as in your garden) is perfectly legal, however consideration should be given to the implications of this for the future: the burial must be declared to the Land Registry so may disincentivise future buyers, and it may be that future owners might not be willing to accommodate visits to the place of burial, which might cause distress.

It may be that someone dies in one part of the country and is to be buried in another (for example, they may have relocated to be close to family after the death of their partner, who was buried in their home town). In such instances, it may be practical to use the services of a funeral director near to the place of burial and arrange for the person who has died to be taken into their care in due course. This is perfectly normal; a funeral director near to the place of death will be able to facilitate this and look after the body until this journey can be arranged.

Cremation.

There are several crematoria in West Sussex and south Surrey. These include Worthing Crematorium, north of Findon just off the A24; The Surrey and Sussex Crematorium on Balcombe Road in Crawley, just off the A23 (this is often referred to as ‘Worth Crematorium’, but we avoid this to prevent confusion with Worthing Crematorium); Guildford Crematorium in Godalming; Randalls Park Crematorium in Leatherhead; Chichester Crematorium; and The Downs and Woodvale crematoria, which both sit on the same site at the corner of Lewes Road and Bear Road in Brighton.

Cremation can take place at any crematorium of your choosing. It may be that someone dies in one part of the country and is to be cremated in another (for example, they may have moved away from their home town, but most acquaintances still reside where they grew up). In this instance, it may be practical to use the services of a funeral director near to the crematorium and arrange for the person who has died to be taken into their care in due course. This is perfectly normal; a funeral director near to the place of death will be able to facilitate this and look after the body until this journey can be arranged.

Every crematorium requires statutory paperwork to be completed before the cremation can take place. The Application for Cremation is usually signed by a near relative or executor, and gives permission for the person who has died to be cremated. The funeral director helps with the completion of this and usually delivers it to the crematorium for you. It is a requirement that this form must be at the crematorium three working days before the funeral service takes place: this is why it is often hard to arrange a cremation at short notice. This form confirms the personal details of the person who has died, describes the relationship between them and the person signing the form, and gives brief instructions for the cremated remains (amongst other information).

If the person who has died was not a Coroner’s case, a doctor will complete the Medical Certificate with a second doctor verifying this form, which outlines the circumstances leading up to the death from a medical perspective. For Coroner’s cases, the Coroner’s office completes what is called a Form 6 in lieu of this form. The completion of either of these is arranged by your funeral director.

Some crematoria will have a separate Cremated Remains Instruction Form and some will also have their own forms for music and other requirements, but your funeral director will take care of these once the correct information has been obtained from you.

Some crematoria have two chapels but all of them will have designated times for services of a particular length, which usually vary between 30 and 60 minutes. You may be able to book a double slot if you do not feel the service length is sufficient. The duration for the service should include everything required in the funeral, including the entry of the coffin and congregation and time for people to disperse.

Crematoria usually have an organ available, but will often charge extra for an organist. There will be facilities for recorded music to be played, usually included within the crematorium’s fee. Your funeral director will be responsible for communicating your choices to the crematorium and will tell you when this needs to be done. Many chapels also have facilities for services to be broadcast over the internet: sometimes live and sometimes to be re-watched later. If a live broadcast is important to you, please advise your funeral director who will ensure that your chosen crematorium offers this service. There are often extra costs for this and for Visual Tributes, whereby a selection of photos can be displayed on a screen to a chosen piece of music.

Sometimes, the service at the crematorium will be a short service of committal following a service elsewhere, including in a place of worship. It is not uncommon for the committal to be limited to those closest to the person who has died. Sometimes, there may be a small, private service at the crematorium before a larger thanksgiving or memorial service held later, or sometime after the cremation.

Date and time.

One of the most important considerations will be when the funeral is to take place. The availability of a place of worship, minister or chosen officiant, crematorium or place of burial are all outside of the funeral director’s control. The funeral director is usually able to be most flexible in accommodating the desired date and time. We suggest that any dates or times that do not suit the most important attendees are collated and the booking is made taking that availability into account. The funeral director should be made aware, at the earliest opportunity, of any unsuitable times as well as any preferences. We suggest travel arrangements – especially flights – are not made before the date and time is confirmed because alterations can be complicated (and costly) and exacerbate what can already be a stressful time.

For some, the primary concern is to have the funeral take place as soon as possible (within constraints of practicalities such as cremation paperwork). It should be remembered that greater flexibility over the time of day is likely to mean that it can take place sooner: funerals in the middle of the day are generally preferred so these slots tend to be booked more quickly. Funerals on Fridays and Mondays also tend to be popular so avoiding these may enable the funeral to happen sooner if that is wanted.

Cremation only.

Cremation-only funerals, where the coffin is taken to the crematorium unaccompanied and there is no service in the chapel, are increasing in popularity, either instead of a congregation travelling for a committal or in lieu of a funeral. Some crematoria offer a reduced rate for this type of funeral, which is also called a ‘direct cremation’.

In response to the increased demand for this type of funeral, Freeman Brothers has introduced a cremation-only package. We start with the simplest arrangements possible (which involve the use of a hearsette instead of a hearse and only a pair of staff) and can customise this to include enhancements such as visiting the Chapel of Rest or management of donations, if required.

We would, however, respectfully offer the following advice: a cremation-only funeral is not for everyone and it should be considered carefully. Many people find that the funeral is an essential part of the grieving process as it may help to close the chapter in which one is recently bereaved and start the new phase of life during which we gradually get used to the person who has died no longer being part of our lives in the same way. In some senses, the funeral is as much for those close to the person who has died as it is for that person themselves.

If you do wish to arrange a cremation-only funeral, you may like to consider another way of remembering the person who has died or commemorating their life: perhaps a get-together with friends and family to share memories might be appropriate? This could happen at any time and doesn’t have to be on the day of the cremation: it could encompass a ceremony for interment or scattering of the cremated remains.

We always suggest that everyone discusses funeral arrangements long in advance of their death, so it is known what is wanted, and in these types of conversations there should be no fear about expressing thoughts about those plans. It might be that having a cremation-only funeral would be difficult for friends and family, but that a compromise could be reached.

Some people may say they do not want a funeral as they think this will reduce the distress of those they are closest to, but it is important to understand that many people are upset by the death of someone and that a lack of funeral does not prevent this. Some may also say they do not want a funeral but may mean they don’t want a ceremony they consider traditional. Perhaps they think a very small gathering of the closest family to listen to some favourite music is more appropriate than a large service with many attendees, for example? These types of funeral are more common than might be expected and your funeral director can help with arranging one.

Sometimes, the person arranging the funeral may feel that a cremation-only is the only option if there are not many people able to attend or if there is a wish to keep the costs low, or they may feel that the set service times and other funerals taking place at the crematorium are not conducive to their preferences. Your funeral director can always discuss the options that enable you to have a service if you want one but aren’t sure how to fit it in. For example, Freeman Brothers operates the Chapel at Hills Cemetery on behalf of Horsham District Council and has created a bespoke package that includes a service there, ideal for intimate funerals or where there is a wish to take the service at a slower pace or over a longer period of time.

For more information on how to plan a funeral, please continue to Other Decisions to Make.

Call us at any time on 01403 254590 or email mail@freemanbrothers.co.uk

How much does a funeral cost?

It can be hard to know how much a funeral might cost, especially as third-party fees can vary considerably and are sometimes not included in our competitors' quotes. Our easy-to-use estimation tool takes all aspects of the arrangement into account, giving you a realistic view right from the outset, so there are no surprises. Additionally, our statutory information page offers further detail regarding our standardised pricing.