What is a funeral plan?
A Funeral plan is a document that lets you set out your funeral arrangements in advance. By adopting a funeral plan, you save your family from worrying about arranging your funeral. A funeral plan also helps you clarify any particular wishes you may have in relation to your funeral.
Assisting your loved ones after your death
Your funeral plan should contain preliminary details about you, to assist your loved ones after your passing. These details may include information about:
Your last will and testament
An important aspect of your funeral plan is setting out whether you have a last will and testament in place and, if so, where it is stored. It should also set out whether you have any codicils. Note that your funeral plan and last will and testament may contain some overlapping or similar provisions. Your funeral plan should typically expand on the wishes expressed in your will. If any provisions conflict, your will takes precedence over the funeral plan.
Your next of kin
Your funeral plan should also provide the details of your next of kin.
In the UK, the term ’next of kin’ has no legal definition. The exception to this is in relation to any children under the age of 18, where a next of kin is someone who has the legal authority to make decisions on their behalf (eg a parent or guardian). In other situations, next of kin typically refers to the nearest blood relative. For married couples or those in civil partnerships, it will usually be their spouse or civil partner. However, next of kin can also be used to refer to any relative you are close to or even a friend.
Registering your death
Funeral plans should provide certain personal details to assist the person registering your death. These details include:
where your birth certificate (or information about it) can be found
where your NHS number (or information about it) can be found
where details about your state pension (or information about it) can be found
By providing this information (or clearly setting out where this information can be found), you support your loved ones. They do not have to search for the information necessary to register your death without knowing where to look.
You should also provide clear details on whether you are or aren’t an organ donor. In England, Wales and Scotland you are presumed to be an organ donor unless you have specified otherwise. This means that, if you don’t want to donate your organs after your death, you should opt-out of organ donation by recording this on the NHS Organ Donor Register. By recording your decision on the Register, you help ensure that your wishes are adhered to.
For more information, read the NHS’ guidance.
Your funeral plan should also set out whether you wish to be embalmed. This is the process of preserving a body to delay the natural breakdown of cells after death. You may wish to be embalmed:
if you want an open-casket funeral
for religious reasons
if your body needs to be transported
to give your family and friends more time to travel to attend your funeral
If your body needs to be transported internationally (ie if you die in a country other than where you wish to be buried) it will typically need to be embalmed. Embalming may not be suitable in certain circumstances, for example, if you want a woodland or natural burial.
Your funeral plan should set out who should arrange your funeral. This may be a family member or a friend or a specific funeral director. While engaging a funeral director to arrange your funeral may cost more money, it helps support your loved ones during a difficult time. Not only do funeral directors help ensure that your funeral is handled professionally and according to your wishes, but they also provide compassionate support and assistance for your loved ones.
You should consider whether you wish to make any pre-paid funeral arrangements. For example, choosing and paying for your coffin and buying a funeral plot in advance of your death. By doing this, you save your loved ones time and money and ensure that your funeral proceeds according to your wishes. If you do make pre-paid funeral arrangements, these should be clearly identified in your funeral plan (eg by attaching them to the plan).
Burial or cremation
Your funeral plan should detail whether you wish to be buried or cremated and whether you wish to have a funeral service or a direct burial or cremation (ie without a service). You should also set out how you wish to be buried or cremated (eg in a coffin, casket or shroud) and, if you are being cremated, how you want your ashes to be handled (eg stored in an urn or turned into a memorial ring).
If you wish to be buried or cremated, your funeral plan should also set out where you would like to be placed. For example, you may wish:
to be buried in a cemetery or under a tree
to have your ashes scattered in a particular place (eg at sea)
to have your ashes placed in a columbarium (ie a room or building with niches for urns to be stored in)
If you want a specific burial marker (eg a headstone, plaque or memorial bench), you should include this in your plan, along with any specific inscriptions.
Your funeral plan can also name any specific pallbearers you want. Pallbearers carry a casket or coffin to the funeral venue and (if someone is being buried) to the gravesite. You will typically need between 4 and 8 pallbearers.
A funeral service is a personal service and ceremony following someone’s death. It is used to honour, memorialise and celebrate the deceased individual. If you want a funeral service, your funeral plan should indicate whether you want a religious or civil service. A civil funeral service may also be referred to as a ‘memorial service’. If relevant, your funeral plan should also provide details of:
which religion’s rites should govern your service
who should lead the service (eg a named minister or humanist officiant)
where the service should take place
who can attend the service
any specific wishes you have for the service (eg specific music or hymns to be played, specific readings, and details of those who should speak at the service)
If you would like a eulogy, your funeral plan should include details of who you’d like to deliver your eulogy. A eulogy is a speech given at a funeral service which says goodbye to the deceased individual and helps those present remember them.
By providing a clear plan for your ideal funeral service you not only support your loved ones but also ensure your wishes are expressly recorded.
Wakes and receptions
You should consider whether you want a wake, also known as a funeral reception. This is a gathering of family and friends to remember a deceased loved one and pay their respects to them. While wakes were traditionally held before a funeral, they are now often held after the funeral or memorial service. While a funeral service is more formal, often following set stages led by a funeral celebrant or religious figure, a wake is a more casual gathering allowing mourners to come together and remember their loved one.
Similarly to the funeral service, your funeral plan should outline any specific wishes you have for your funeral reception. These may include:
who should attend the reception
any food or drinks you’d like to have served
any specific music you’d like played
An obituary is an article about a recently deceased person offering an account of their life and details of their upcoming funeral. It is not necessary to have an obituary, but it is a good way to inform family members, friends and the deceased’s community about their death. If you’d like to have an obituary published, your funeral plan should set out what newspaper it should be published in. You should also provide any biographical information you consider necessary for your obituary (eg details of your parents, surviving relatives and/or military career).
What other things should I consider?
Other documents that may help you manage your affairs include:
a Last will and testament for England and Wales or Scotland, setting out clear instructions about how your property should be divided after your death. Read Reasons to make a will for more information
a Codicil to make minor changes to your will without the need for a brand-new will
trust management documents, to handle, control, and protect your property in a variety of different situations (eg where the intended recipient is too young to directly inherit property)
a Living will / Advance decision, outlining your wishes for refusing future medical treatment
a continuing power of attorney and/or welfare power of attorney, to allow someone to act on your behalf in Scotland if you have lost mental capacity