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A Guide to Pre-Arranging Funerals

How to Arrange a Funeral in Advance

A pre-arranged funeral is one of the most thoughtful gifts you could give to your family and loved ones. We prepare for and plan all major life events and the celebrations that go along with them. Yet, with ‘Death’ still being considered a taboo subject by 16 million Brits, the questions “how do I arrange a funeral?” and “what would s/he have wanted?” mostly come up after a loved one has died. More often than not, families are left with a myriad of decisions that need to be made during a time of loss and intense grief.

In fact, a recent survey among over 1500 UK citizens found, that 45% of people didn’t know whether their loved one preferred burial or cremation. Less than 1% of people knew how exactly the deceased had envisioned their funeral. You might feel strongly about some or many aspects of your last farewell – would you rather have a religious or non-religious service? – and not care all that much about others. Maybe you don’t really mind what happens after you’re gone. No matter what applies to you, making funeral arrangements in advance gives you the time to explore different options, allows you to take control over your final send-off as well as save on funeral expenses, and gives you and your family peace of mind. 

This guide includes a “pre-plan a funeral”-checklist, tips on how to talk to your family about your wishes, a section on what to consider if you’re helping someone else pre-plan their last farewell as well as tips and options on how to pay for a funeral in advance.

Pre-arranging Your Own Funeral

There is no need to pre-plan every last detail of your funeral. You can, of course. However, if you’re more comfortable with keeping things simple and short, that’s totally fine. Even a list of your most important wishes will be hugely helpful for your family when the time comes. The best way to make sure people know about the ending you want is to talk to them about it. In addition, it also always helps to have your wishes in writing because we tend to not think straight or remember things very well when we are grieving. One option is to put them into your will – however, please be aware that it’s the only thing that’s non-binding. Another option would be to include your wishes in a document when you buy a pre-paid funeral plan.

Death is part of life. Planning for your funeral should therefore be a fact of life. It will not only make things easier for your family down the line; knowing all your affairs are in order will also allow you to focus on enjoying life without worrying about the end of it. If you find it strange to raise the topic with your family out of the blue, you could start by talking about someone else’s funeral – maybe one that you attended yourself, one that you saw on TV or last wishes mentioned by someone you know. If you prefer a more direct approach, just explain why it’s important for you to plan your funeral in advance and the benefits it brings for your loved ones.

Let’s get practical: One of the first things you want to choose is a funeral director. He or she will arrange a chat, take you by the hand and lead you through the whole process of organising your funeral step-by-step. Oftentimes, you will hear about a good funeral director through word of mouth – maybe your family or one of your friends used one before and can give you a recommendation. It is also convenient to go with someone local. If you buy a funeral plan, your provider will offer you guidance on which funeral director to use in your area.

The most fundamental decision to make is this one, though: What would you like to happen with your body? 

  • Do you prefer a cremation or a burial? Faith or religion as well as financial or environmental considerations might play into that decision. The most popular option nowadays is cremation with 3 out of 4 people in the UK choosing one in 2020. They cost on average £3885. The least expensive option is direct cremation – which doesn’t include a prior ceremony or service and allows you to save roughly £2000. If you are looking at a basic funeral with burial, you should calculate roughly £5033 or more. 
  • Is the type of coffin, casket or urn important to you? Your choice of funeral might determine which coffin you buy. It makes sense to go for a simpler coffin when you’re opting for a woodland or sea burial or cremation. When people are trying to cut the funeral costs, a cheaper coffin is their first choice; followed by spending less money on flowers.
  • Is there a specific cemetery or burial ground you have in mind? If you are not entirely sure yet, you can learn more about the different options in our posts “Burial plots and how to find one” and “Can you be buried in your own garden?
  • If you are being cremated, what would you like to happen with your ashes? Should they be scattered? If so, where? Our post “What to do with the cremation ashes” explores 8 alternatives to keeping the ashes in an urn on the mantelpiece.
  • Would you like your family and close friends to be able to visit or view your body in a so-called “chapel of rest” prior to the funeral? If so, the next question might need more consideration.
  • How would you like your body to be dressed and prepared (e.g. special outfit or favourite dress? make-up? jewellery? embalming?)?

When you are pre-arranging your funeral, you also want to think about what the service or Celebration of Life should look like. If you are opting for a religious service, it’ll be a more traditional affair. A non-religious service or Celebration of Life can be more modern and leaves room for creative, unconventional ideas.

Let’s stick to the most basic logistics first:

  • Where and when? If you have a preferred church, temple or house of worship where you’d like the service to take place, make sure your family knows about it. If you are for example opting for cremation and a memorial service or Celebration of Life, you could choose a date that has significance for you or your family and that is not tied to the cremation itself. In fact, this could be weeks or even months later.
  • What type of funeral transportation would you prefer? Would you like to hire a special or unconventional hearse and limousines for your family and friends, or would you rather opt for less fuss?
  • Choose a minister or professional celebrant. This doesn’t necessarily apply for a non-religious service as you could also ask a friend or family member to officiate the funeral.

The following questions allow you to get more concrete on what you envision for your funeral service:

  • What type of music would you prefer? You can pick classical music, hymns, or your favourite pop songs. You can have the music played on a stereo, on an organ, ask a loved one who plays an instrument or hire a live band. A choir might also be an option you want to consider.
  • Are there any readings, scriptures, prayers, or poems you’d like to choose?
  • Who should give your eulogy?
  • Are there any photos, poems, or texts you’d like to include in the order of service?
  • Who do you want at your funeral? You can write a guest list to ensure that everyone you’d like to attend gets an invitation. If you prefer a more official announcement, you could pre-write your obituary.
  • How important are flowers to you? Do you have a favourite flower, or would you rather have people donate the money they would normally spend on floral arrangements?
  • Do you have any preferences on what your guests should be wearing?
  • Would you like to choose your pallbearers?

The funeral service is traditionally followed by a wake or reception. This is optional. It gives your loved ones an opportunity to gather in a more informal setting to remember you and celebrate your life. If you opt for a wake, you might want to think about the location (e.g. your favourite pub? a clubhouse? your home?), the decorations, and the food and drink that’s being served. For the latter, you could hire a caterer or ask relatives and friends to each bring a dish or bake a cake.

Pre-Planning a Funeral for a Someone Else

Maybe a family member or friend has approached you and asked for help or support in pre-planning their funeral. Maybe someone close to you is coming to the end of their life and you’d like to help them get their affairs in order. It can be very comforting or even liberating for people to talk about their last wishes with someone they trust. Therefore, communication and understanding are key. 

Here are some suggestions that you may find useful:

  • Take your time – this is a conversation you don’t want to rush. 
  • Create a safe space for them to share and let them know that you are happy to listen and willing to help them. The more comfortable you are talking about death and their last farewell, the more at ease they’ll be.
  • It’s important to keep in mind that pre-planning a funeral is something very personal. Of course, you want to do right by the loved one who’s asked you for help. However, their wishes might differ slightly or significantly from your own ideas or beliefs. Openness and curiosity go a long way here.
  • The previous section gives a general overview of things you might want to consider when pre-arranging a funeral. The many decisions that need to be made can feel overwhelming. One way to help can be to ask open questions, research the different options that are relevant to the answers given and get back to the person you’re supporting in this with the key information necessary to make the next decision.
  • As mentioned above: It is always helpful to put your wishes into writing. Help them to set up a document or encourage them to include it in their will.
  • Don’t forget to look at finances and what options are available to pay for the funeral your loved one wants. The section below will provide further information on funeral plans, how they can help cover the costs of the final farewell.

Pre-Planning Funerals with Safe Hands Funeral Plans

With funerals becoming more and more expensive every year (expenses have risen 124% over the past 17 years), you need to think about how you want to pre-plan for the funeral costs. The Sunlife “Cost of Dying” report shows that if people lacked the funds to pay for a funeral, two of the most popular options to find the money were to put the outstanding amount on a credit card (25%) or ask friends/relatives for a loan (25%). 

One of the most helpful things for a family is if the funeral of their loved one is already paid for – for example through a pre-paid funeral plan. These are becoming increasingly popular (35% of people opted for one in 2020) as they freeze the costs of your final farewell at today’s prices. At Safe Hands, we offer 5 different funeral plans and flexible payment options – you can either pay in full or in monthly instalments. 

Of course, you want to make sure that your money is well invested. Safe Hands is a trusted, regulated provider and registered with the Funeral Planning Authority. We put your money into an independently managed, secure trust fund where it’s looked after and kept safe. Even in the unlikely event that something happens to our company, the trustees will ensure that your funeral plan is delivered. 

It goes without saying that we take customer service very seriously. You can add personal choices to any Safe Hands plan. Not only can we help you pre-plan your funeral through practical tips, our Bereavement Support Team can also talk to your family when the time comes and let them know what you asked for. Let’s make end of life, a part of life.