How to Make Arranging a Funeral Less Stressful and Distressing

27 October 2021

How to Make Arranging a Funeral Less Stressful and Distressing

Following the death of a loved one, arranging the funeral can be a rewarding task, gathering memories to share with family and friends.  For others, it may be highly  stressful, trying to balance the differing opinions of other family members on what to include and how much to spend. Difficulty sleeping may be worsened about concerns how the funeral will be paid for.  The death of someone close brings new and unwelcome responsibilities of practical tasks including registering the death, informing numerous organisations and sorting through personal belongings.

Coping  with all of this while experiencing  your own grief and supporting family and friends is often very challenging. Lack of familiarity can make it hard to decide which funeral director to choose. The choices they offer to you about coffins and types of ceremony can seem overwhelming and if what you had in mind is not offered you may lack the confidence to ask for it.

Making Arrangements in Advance

Many people say how helpful it is when the person who has died had arranged and paid for their funeral in advance.

Buying a funeral plan, if we can afford to do so, ensures that the main decisions to be made about our funeral are resolved. These include whether we want burial or cremation, what type of coffin we want and whether we want to provide limousines for mourners. Plans can be bought online or through a local funeral director. Check whether the plan allows you to specify the funeral director you want. Take time to read all of the small print before signing the contract, especially as not all plans offer protection against rises in costs that are not controlled by the funeral director. These are called disbursements and include the cemetery or crematorium fees and the cost of the minister or celebrant. Ensure the plan is voluntarily registered with the Funeral Planning Authority as statutory regulation of funeral plans does not begin until 2022.

‘Funeral wishes’ is the term generally used to describe what we would prefer for the content of the funeral, such as music,  readings and whether we want a ceremony based on our faith or a humanist or civil celebrant. Our musical tastes change over the years, so it is a  good idea to review this document on a regular basis and update as necessary. Families who haven’t known what someone wanted for their funeral have been known to spend hours listening to different tracks and debating what to choose. It is also a good idea to give your family permission to decide on their own contributions to the funeral if they wish to do so.

It is important to keep these important documents, your funeral plan and funeral wishes, together with other essential paperwork such as your Will and any Lasting Powers of Attorney. Even more essential is to ensure your close family or friends know where these documents are kept in case something happens to you suddenly and unexpectedly.

It is also a good idea to have conversations with your loved ones about your funeral even if you have left written instructions.  This can help them come to terms with decisions you have made in advance, particularly if your choices are different from family tradition or what they might expect. It also allows you to indicate who you would like to be in charge of organising your funeral and make sure they’re happy to take on the role.

Sadly, family disputes often occur over funeral arrangements because of the heightened emotions at these times.  If not paid for in advance, the costs of the funeral will be met from the money left by the person who has died. Some people may resent how much is being spent on the funeral if it will reduce what they receive from the estate.

A funeral director will take their instructions from whoever contacts them first and pays the bill (which usually includes a deposit to cover the cost of the disbursements which the funeral director pays on your behalf) so having a  conversation in advance with everyone who might want to be involved in planning your funeral can help avoid arguments over who is in charge, what will be arranged and how it will all be paid for.


Making the Right Choices with your Funeral Director

When it comes to choosing a funeral director, a company close to where the funeral will be held is usually best as they know all their local venues. Personal recommendation from someone you trust is very helpful. Always ensure the funeral director is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors or the National Society  for Independent and Allied Funeral Directors. These are usually abbreviated to NAFD and SAIF and the logos will be displayed in the premises, on stationery and on the website. Funeral directing is not regulated, and these membership organisations have Codes of Practice and inspect premises.  Restrictions on funerals imposed by covid regulations has led to a rise in the number of ‘direct cremations’ where the body is cremated with no-one in attendance with a memorial  event held separately.  This is usually the least expensive option with an additional charge if the family choose to have the Ashes delivered to them.

For people with the responsibility for arranging a funeral when there has  been no conversation in advance nor clear instructions, the first step is to consider how much money is available to pay for the funeral and where the funds will come from although this is not usually the first thing people think of. Instead of a funeral plan, there may be life insurance or enough money in a bank account of the person who died. Most life insurances and banks and building societies will make a payment directly to the funeral director even when accounts are frozen for other purposes. .  Before visiting the funeral director discuss  within the family what the budget for the funeral will be. It is a good idea to  list what  those closest to the deceased person want to include, so that you have a clear outline before discussing your requirements with the funeral director.

A good funeral director will be sensitive to your situation and experienced in talking you through your preferences to ensure the funeral is as close as possible to what you have asked for.  A reputable company will be transparent about costs, but you should ensure that every cost is itemised, explained and quoted in writing in advance of the funeral to avoid any surprise hidden extras on the final bill. For example, embalming and out-of-hours viewing options will often incur additional charges and may not be necessary. Do not feel at all embarrassed to ask about pricing or to cut items on the basis of cost. It is possible to fall into debt for the first time by feeling pressure from others to give someone ‘a good send-off’. The words and music of a funeral are what make it unique to the person who has died and what mourners appreciate far more than elaborate flowers.  It is important to keep within your budget and ensure you arrange a funeral that’s affordable.   If you receive income-based benefits you may qualify for help with funeral costs from the DWP but a grant NEVER covers the whole cost of the funeral so you will still have to find some money. If there is no money to pay for a funeral, as upsetting as it may be, you can turn to the local authority and ask them to arrange the funeral (in some cases this may be the hospital where someone died).


Compromise and Collaboration

Most people feel that a funeral is an essential  staging post on the journey of grief and bereavement. Sadly they can be a source of discord too, so approaching the task of making arrangements with a willingness to compromise and collaborate is essential As difficult as the funeral may be, it is an opportunity to say goodbye to someone, celebrate their life and share  memories of the person. Use  the expertise of your funeral director and  family and friends who are supportive can help you arrange a funeral which everyone agrees is a fitting tribute to the person being remembered.