Planning a Funeral

Factual information and guidance regarding arranging a funeral and any relevant legal matters.

The arrangements and decisions required.

The first few days after someone dies can seem to consist of an endless succession of decisions along with a large quantity of paperwork. This section of our website is intended to help you through some of the practicalities. It contains factual information and guidance for registering the death, arranging the funeral, remembering the person who has died in various ways and any relevant legal matters. It is Freeman Brothers’ experience that, while everyone is different, many people find that these initial processes can help them through the early stage of being bereaved. Many people tell us that they find being busy helps them, especially soon after the death has taken place, however there is no right or wrong way to grieve.

As funeral directors, our primary responsibility is to assist those who are arranging the funeral as well as the wider circle of friends and family. We will help guide you through the initial tasks and do everything we can to ensure that the funeral is a fitting occasion.

We have tried to make this guidance as comprehensive as possible whilst acknowledging that every funeral is different and it is sometimes difficult to cover all of the alternatives. We aim to provide as many options as we can, or advise what considerations might help you in making decisions.

If you have any further queries about this content, or anything that is not covered, please feel free to contact us. Alternatively, you can email us at mail@freemanbrothers.co.uk.

We arrange funerals in one of two ways, depending on your preference: we will either obtain some basic information from you via phone and then arrange an appointment for you to come and see us to discuss the remainder of the details, or we will obtain all of the information from you by phone or email and arrange a brief appointment for you to come and sign any paperwork, once the arrangements are finalised. This second option – our remote arranging service – carries a discount on our standard service charge.

In either case, we request that an appointment is made prior to your visit to our offices: this ensures that someone is available to see you. Also, we will sometimes need to start various processes before the funeral arrangements can be made in full and would not like for you to have a wasted journey.

Where the Death Takes Place.

In Hospital

When somebody dies in hospital, a doctor will usually issue a Medical Certificate of the Cause of Death (MCCD, and sometimes referred to as the death certificate). Staff from the hospital – sometimes from Patient Affairs or a specialist bereavement team – will advise you on the next steps, which can vary. There is more information about registering the death on our website here.

The hospital will probably want to know about your choice of funeral director so it’s useful to tell them once this has been decided. The hospital will usually inform your chosen funeral director once the person who has died is able to be released into their care, and they will then be collected and brought to the funeral director’s Chapel of Rest until the funeral.

Sometimes, a doctor at the hospital is not able to issue the MCCD. This could be for a variety of reasons, for example if the person was in hospital for only a short time. In this case, the Coroner will be informed. Please see the section below on ‘When a death is referred to the Coroner’ for more information.

Sometimes, the person who has died may have asked that their organs or body be donated. Please see the section below on ‘Organ or whole body donation’ for information on how this affects the processes around the funeral.

In a care, nursing, or residential home

The staff of the home should speak to the resident’s family or representatives about their wishes, in respect of a funeral director and funeral arrangements, in the course of their care: when the person takes up residence or as part of a change in their care pathway, depending on the circumstances.

When the death takes place, the staff at the home will usually call a funeral director relatively quickly so that the person who has died can be brought into their care. If the funeral is not taking place locally, and the chosen funeral director is not able to attend, most homes will be able to recommend a local funeral director to care for the person in the short term until a journey to the area can be arranged.

Most homes will have all their patients registered with one doctors’ surgery. A GP usually visits regularly and this doctor will complete the Medical Certificate for the Cause of Death (MCCD). Your funeral director will be able to give advice on registering the death and there is also information on our website here.

Sometimes, the GP is not able to issue the MCCD. This could be for a variety of reasons, for example if the person was not expected to die as quickly or in the prevailing circumstances. In this case, the Coroner will be informed. Please see the section below on ‘When a death is referred to the Coroner’ for more information.

Sometimes, the person who has died may have asked that their organs or body be donated; the home should be made aware of this upon the resident’s admission. Please see the section below on ‘Organ or whole body donation’ for information on how this affects the processes around the funeral.

In a Hospice

Procedures vary across hospices, but they will be broadly similar to a hospital or care home. The main difference between them will be how quickly they require the person who has died to be collected by the funeral director, which depends on their own facilities. Some hospices use a local funeral director to care for all people who die there in the short term while some have the ability to care for people on site for a period of time; the relevant hospice will be able to advise you of their own procedures. A doctor from the hospice will usually issue the Medical Certificate of the Cause of Death (MCCD) and the funeral director will give you information about registering the death.

Sometimes, a doctor at the hospice is not able to issue the MCCD. This could be for a variety of reasons, for example if the person was not expected to die as quickly or in the prevailing circumstances. In this case, the Coroner will be informed. Please see the section below on ‘When a death is referred to the Coroner’ for more information.

Sometimes, the person who has died may have asked that their organs or body to be donated; the hospice should be made aware of this upon the patient’s admission. Please see the section below on ‘Organ or whole body donation’ for information on how this affects the processes around the funeral.

A planned death at home

When someone has been cared for at home during an illness, and is expected to die there, their GP or other medical practitioner will usually have discussed what should happen when death occurs. They may wish to attend in order to confirm the death before your funeral director is contacted or they may choose to be contacted as soon as you are ready. In due course, the GP will issue the Medical Certificate of the Cause of Death (MCCD) and the funeral director will advise you on how the death can be registered.

Sometimes, the GP is not able to issue the MCCD. This could be for a variety of reasons, for example if the person was not expected to die as quickly or in the prevailing circumstances. In this case, the Coroner will be informed. Please see the section below on ‘When a death is referred to the Coroner’ for more information.

Sometimes, the person who has died may have requested for their organs or body to be donated. Please see the section below on ‘Organ or whole body donation’ for information on how this affects the processes around the funeral.

Elsewhere

Abroad
Procedures will vary depending on the country in which the person died and the circumstances surrounding the death. If the person is to be brought home for their funeral, we recommend contacting a specialist repatriation service who will be familiar with all the procedures required by the country concerned (although your travel insurer may have a preferred supplier they will instruct you to use). If the funeral is to take place abroad, the British Consulate will be able to assist. Note that rules about funerals are different in Scotland to the rest of the UK.

Accidents, sudden deaths, and deaths by suicide
The Coroner’s service will investigate the death: please see the section below that outlines the procedure when the death is referred to the Coroner.

NOTE: it is very normal for funeral directors’ employees to travel across the country to collect someone who has died away from home and bring them into care for a funeral in a different part of the country, or bring them home if they have died away from home. The only restriction in this respect is the travel cost incurred for the vehicle and staff. Otherwise, there is no constraint to this.

When a death is referred to the Coroner.

A death could be referred to the Coroner for a variety of reasons. It may be that the person has died unexpectedly or a doctor is unable to determine why they died – even if they were ill – and so cannot sign the Medical Certificate of the Cause of Death (MCCD). They may have had an accident, or died by suicide, or there may be a suspicion of criminal activity. The Coroner will take responsibility for establishing the cause of death and the person who has died will be taken to the designated mortuary while this takes place. This is sometimes a local hospital but, sometimes, the Coroner will have their own mortuary facility, depending on the area.

A Coroner’s Officer will investigate the death and seek to establish whether or not it was of natural causes, or if there are suspicious circumstances. It may be that this investigation leads to the conclusion that there is a doctor who can complete the MCCD and, if this is the case, the procedure reverts to that outlined above. If this is not the case, the investigation will continue and the person who has died may require a post-mortem where samples of their blood and tissue (haematology and histology) may be taken. Some people do not like the idea of the person having such work but it is a legal requirement in the UK that a cause of death is found, and this is sometimes the only method that can be used.

If it is established that the death is of natural causes, the Coroner’s officer will advise the next of kin, or representatives, that the death can be registered. If it is decided that the death was not natural, there will need to be an inquest. This has to be opened before a funeral can take place; it is normally opened as a formality and immediately adjourned until a future date so that the funeral can happen.

The Coroner’s office will always try to carry out their procedures as quickly as possible and will try to keep everyone informed. The body of the person who has died will not be released to the funeral director until the investigation is completed. Unfortunately, there are occasions when this cannot happen for a period of time, especially if there is a suspicion of criminal activity, as there may be need for a second post mortem. In such cases, it is not usually sensible to start making the funeral arrangements in full (and certainly not to confirm a day and time for the funeral) until the Coroner’s office has confirmed this is possible.

Organ or whole body donation.

Organ donation and donation of a whole body to medical science are often thought of as being similar, but are in fact very different. A person may express a wish to donate his or her organs after they have died (corneas are very commonly donated, for example) but, in England, it is now assumed that all adults are eligible to donate their organs unless they have opted out. This does not happen in all circumstances: organ donation is only appropriate in certain circumstances and this will be discussed at the time the person is expected to die. There is no truth in the once commonly-held belief that being a registered organ donor would mean receiving less-favourable treatment in hospital.

By contrast, the donation of a person’s whole body to medical science is something that they can only arrange themself, in advance of their death, by filling out the designated forms for the nominated medical school. If someone has not carried out this process, their body will not be accepted for donation, regardless of how much they may have expressed this wish: even writing it into a will is not an acceptable alternative.

When organs are donated, the body is eventually released and a funeral can take place as it normally would. One of the main differences between this and a body being  donated to medical science is that the school in question would usually arrange for a cremation to take place once the work they wish to do to the body is completed.

It is important to understand that planning for your body to be donated to medical science is not a guarantee of it being accepted: you may die of a cause that means your body is not able to be used in this way or the medical school may not be able to accommodate you at the time you die, for example. It is for this reason we always recommend that you express wishes for a funeral too so that, if your body cannot be donated, your family or representatives are able to arrange something appropriate to your wishes.

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

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.

Checklist for Arranging the Funeral.

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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.

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Will a particular Officiant be required?

The choice of who to officiate at the service is an important one as it will have a decisive effect on the service itself. In some cases, the location of the funeral will determine who officiates (for example, it would be usual for the incumbent minister to officiate in a Church of England church) however it may be a choice that can be made.

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Transport arrangements for your journey(s)

A means of transporting the coffin to the funeral will always be required, and a hearse is the usual method, although your funeral director will be able to work with you to discuss the alternatives that are available. You may wish to meet the hearse at the funeral venue or to follow it for all or part of its journey.

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Chapel visiting

People may wish to come and pay a last visit to the person who has died in the days before the funeral. Most Funeral Directors have a Chapel of Rest for this purpose, where visitors may come for a private spell to use as they feel they need to.

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During the service

You may have set ideas about your choice of music at the funeral but, if not, your officiant can guide you. A printed Order of Service is becoming increasingly popular both as a memento of the funeral and to help guide attendees through the service. Similarly, a Book of Condolence can help to collect memories and messages of support all in one place. These are just some of the options you may choose to consider.

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Flowers, donations, and newspaper announcements

Many newspapers still print funeral notices, advising readers that a death has taken place and giving details of the funeral and/or funeral director together with wishes for flowers and donations. Even if you do not wish to place a formal notice, you will still need to decide on your wishes for flowers and donations.

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Arrangements afterwards

Once a cremation has taken place, there are a number of options regarding the cremated remains. Similarly, if a person is buried or their ashes are interred, you may feel a permanent memorial is necessary; many people consider the funeral to be incomplete until this has been put in place. There are several decisions to be made in every case.

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