Afterthoughts - Funerals

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Letters of administration – what are they?

In short, a letter of administration is a document that’s issued by the Probate Registry to let someone to act as the administrator of your estate, after you die. If you’ve appointed executors, in a will, there won’t be need for letters of administration – your executors will need to apply for a ‘grant of probate’ instead.

When are letters of administration used?

A letter of administration is usually needed if there’s no will at all or one cannot be found, if a will has been deemed invalid for some reason, or if there are no executors named in the will (which would be very unusual these days).

In rare situations, there may be a will but the executors might be unable or unwilling to carry out their duties as expected. In this situation, it’s known as a ‘letter of administration with will annexed’.

On the other hand, letters of administration might not be needed at all if the total value of your estate is less than £5000, or only comprises:

  • Personal possessions like cars and jewellery
  • Property or bank accounts that are jointly owned
  • Debts with a higher value than the assets
  • Life insurance policies or pension benefits

Who would use the letter of administration?

Normally, administrators are the next of kin. If there’s a concern about who should act as the administrator of an estate for some reason (perhaps due to unavailability or ill health), then lawyers will follow this order to grant the letters:

  • First would be the marital or official civil partner
  • Then children – in order of age – and grandchildren
  • Parents, then brothers and then sisters
  • Nephews, then nieces, and then any other blood relatives

How to apply for letters of administration

The process is known as ‘getting a grant of letters of administration’. To do this, you’ll need to make an application to the Probate Registry. It’s not very complicated but there are several forms involved.

A local solicitor can normally help you to do this for a relatively small fee. Most solicitors offer a professional probate service that will include applying for letters of administration. They will: 

  • Ask you about the value and details of the estate.
  • Prepare the probate application and associated tax forms.
  • Meet you, to get your signature on those forms.
  • Ask you to swear an oath that all of the information is correct.
  • Check and send everything to the Probate Registry for approval.
  • When received, send on the letters of administration to you in the post.

If there are no complications, then you should receive authorisation to go ahead as an administrator within three to five weeks. If there are complications or the service is struggling with the number of applications, however, it might take a little longer.

From there-on in, you’ll usually need to use those original documents – but it’s a good idea to make copies and take scans that you can share.

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Pallbearing – what do you need to know?

In a traditional funeral setting, four to six pallbearers will usually carry or escort the coffin from the funeral director’s hearse, into the funeral venue. If the person is being buried, then the pallbearers will also accompany the coffin to the graveside – it’s an honour to be asked, but you might not be sure about what’s involved. We can help.

What is a pall, exactly?

You might know it better as a flag or cloth – particularly if you think about military funerals, in which a piece of cloth (usually a flag), is draped over the coffin out of respect while it’s being moved. A pall is simply a piece of cloth.

Originally, a pallbearer would have been responsible for helping to carry that cloth – over the coffin – while coffin-bearers would move the actual body. Today, funeral directors often use the term pallbearer; it’s a huge privilege to be involved in this way, but it doesn’t mean you need to worry about being able to lift or shoulder a coffin.

What would you need to do?

At most funerals, the funeral director will have an experienced team who’ll carry the coffin into the service, and out again, to the graveside. As a pallbearer in that situation, you’ll be walking alongside or just behind the coffin, simply as a mark of respect. But you might want or be asked to be a little more involved:

  • You’ll travel to the funeral venue separately, but then meet up with the funeral director. Most pallbearers feel it’s appropriate to wear something quite formal. If you’re unsure, talk to the funeral director beforehand – it’s their job to help you and reassure you.
  • At the venue, the funeral directors will explain what’s happening. You might be involved in carrying the coffin itself – there’ll never be any pressure to do this – or you might have agreed to walk alongside, or just behind the coffin. 
  • When the coffin is lifted from the hearse, your role begins. There’s no rush, and there’s no need to worry about anyone looking at you – everyone will be thinking about the person who has died. Moving slowly, you’ll accompany the coffin into the venue.

After the service, you might be asked to do the same thing in reverse. Depending on whether or not this is a funeral or a cremation, the coffin may be carried out to the graveside or taken back to the hearse.

Who can be a pallbearer?

Anyone can be a pallbearer, male or female, young or old. If you’d like to nominate your pallbearers in advance, or you’re wondering who would be best for this role at a funeral you’re helping to organise – the best thing to do is to talk to the people you have in mind.

It doesn’t have to be close family. In fact, many people choose their friends, work or service colleagues to be pallbearers – because it helps them to be involved and it frees up the family completely.

Some youngsters might not be sure, but there’s absolutely no reason why even mature young children couldn’t be honorary pallbearers, if that’s appropriate. Ultimately, it’s up to you. When you talk to us about buying a Safe Hands funeral plan, we can recommend a local funeral director who has experience, helping you to choose pallbearers. Whatever you feel is appropriate, we’re here to talk you through the options.

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WHAT IS PROBATE?

Probate, or ‘granting probate’, is the process of proving that a will is legal and valid. This is important: this proof is necessary before the estate of a person who has died can be handled or distributed. In short, bank accounts may be inaccessible, and property may not be sold until probate has been granted.

What is a grant of probate?

A grant of probate gives the executors of a will the right to administer the estate of and access the finances of a person who has died. If a person died without leaving a will, the executor will need a grant of letters of administration. (Executors are simply people you’ve named in your will as being responsible for carrying out your wishes, when you die.)

How do you apply for probate?

It’s not complicated, but there are solicitors and other legal professionals who can support you and help you to apply for probate. If you or a member of your family has been named as an executor, then you might prefer to do this yourself. Simply fill in the necessary forms (PA1 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland; C1 in Scotland) – and send it to your local Probate Registry office.

When is probate not needed?

There are a couple of situations when executors wouldn’t need to apply for probate. Generally, this happens when an estate only has a small number of personal possessions in it (cars and jewellery, usually); property or bank accounts that are jointly owned; debts that are larger than assets; or life insurance policies and pension benefits. If you leave a ‘small estate’ that’s worth less than £5,000 then there’s no need to go through probate at all. Effects and debts can be dealt with far more informally.

How much does it cost to go through probate?

If the estate has a value of less than £5,000, then it’s known as a ‘small estate’ and there’s no probate fee to pay. If the estate is worth more than £5,000, then the fee is £215 fee (there’s a £1.50 charge for every extra copy of the documents). It’s not a lot of money, but executors can usually reclaim this amount from the estate.

Attending an interview with the Probate Registry

As the paperwork starts being processed, the Probate Registry will contact the executor and arrange a short meeting. At that meeting, the executor is expected to take along all the documents related to the estate – to check through the information on the probate paperwork, and then swear an oath that everything is correct. Many families choose to visit a solicitor’s office to recite the oath instead of going all the way to the Probate Registry. There’s a small fee for this.

What happens after a grant of probate has been issued?

The executor will receive documents to confirm that probate has been granted – this usually happens about 10 to 14 days after the interview.

There’ll be information in that paperwork to confirm what the gross worth and the net worth of the estate is, and how much inheritance tax is due. In all likelihood, tax will have to be paid before probate is granted. .As soon as those documents have been issued, the estate can be administered – property can be sold, for example. 

If probate can’t be granted for some reason – perhaps because there’s a dispute about the will, or the ownership of some assets isn’t clear enough – then the Probate Registry will provide an explanation so that the executor can take appropriate action.

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WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO DIE?

It’s a question we might ask often but, for most faiths and even for atheists, it’s almost impossible to answer. Is there a sense of pain, regret, release, happiness – bliss even?

In reality, there’s a lot we don’t know. Films and books can tell us that life ‘flashes before our eyes’, but it is much harder to gather facts that we can rely on. From medical and faith communities alike though, we have gathered some insights about both the physical deterioration and the mental decline of a person who is dying of natural causes.

Before death or near death…

There are many reports available from people who’ve had a ‘near death experience’ – most of which involve ‘seeing a light’. The oldest account we have is from a French apothecary who documented his feelings when he fainted after a bloodletting.

Believing his body to be near death, the apothecary recalled “such a pure and extreme light that he thought he was in Heaven”. This sense of bright lights and travelling toward an upper plane are common – people who’ve experienced physical trauma often report a sensation of leaving the earthly body.

In fact, “out-of-body experiences” are more common than people think. Many patients who’ve lost consciousness use that phrase to describe what they believe to be a near-encounter with death – much of which might actually be attributed to a person being partly conscious and interpreting the lights and sounds around them. It’s not quite the same as being declared clinically dead and then being revived or brought back to life.

Various medical studies recount patients’ experiences in the moments before the heart stops beating, in a cardiac arrest, as feeling “like nothing” or, by contrast, “something pleasant, a sweet release”. The last few moments before that kind of physical transition aren’t described as being painful at all – which is reassuring.

Physical and mental decline

When a human body ages greatly, or deteriorates due to unexpected illness, there are several common signs that death is near. Oxygen levels reduce, and over a period of time – usually between two weeks and 3 or 4 days – people become drowsy, ‘asleep’ or lose consciousness. The circulation slows, the skin may change in colour, and extremities cool down. It becomes harder for the body to breath. When the heartbeat, blood flow and breathing stop altogether, clinical death occurs – the ‘time of death’. Biological death follows a few minutes later as brain cells deteriorate quickly, due to the lack of oxygen.

If someone becomes too weak to cough or swallow, then there may be a gurgling noise in the back of the throat. This might be disturbing if you’re not prepared for it, because it sounds as though the person might be suffering – but that’s unlikely.

As for how that feels … well, typically, people who die from great old age or an illness that reflects a death from age, aren’t able to communicate much about what they’re feeling physically or mentally. As a result, much of what we believe to be happening is the result of what we see, or hear, or experience as we watch someone die.   

It’s true, there are some deaths that involve pain; inevitably, a disease or great trauma will put stress on the body that we translate into discomfort at different levels. But with the great advances in medicine, most people who are receiving palliative care – care just before an anticipated death – will be receiving pain medication to stay more comfortable.

Individual beliefs

The question, “what does it feel like to die?” is usually followed by, “… and what happens next?” In a way, they’re related. Belief varies greatly from person to person, and so does individual experience. Some faiths believe in forms of paradise and hell. Others believe you will be reincarnated, or ‘born again’ in a different form after you die.

Whatever you believe in, your most positive thoughts can bring comfort to you and to the people around you. For many families, the process of talking about “what does it feel like to die?” can be a very cathartic, expressive, and helpful experience.

If you are spending time with someone who is nearing the end of their life – perhaps in a hospice or a hospital – don’t be afraid to ask questions of caring staff. They’ll have had first-hand experiences that they’ll be able to share with you, and reassure you about what’s happening to the person you care about.

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CELEBRANTS- WHAT ARE THEY AND WHY SHOULD I CHOOSE ONE

A funeral is an event at which you remember and celebrate the life of someone you knew. Not every funeral needs to be religious, even if you’ve had strong feelings about faith. It’s up to you and your family to choose the type of funeral that feels appropriate. For many people, using a celebrant is an ideal choice.

Celebrants create and lead non-religious ceremonies

A celebrant is someone who officiates at a formal life-event ceremony, without needing to be religious. Most celebrants conduct other services too, such as renewals of vows (with no faith-based connections), baby naming (as opposed to christening). A good celebrant will have plenty of experience, making sure everyone feels comfortable with the service.

A celebrant isn’t connected to a specific religion. Celebrants make suggestions for the way you’d like to commemorate someone’s life. It might be through readings, music, symbolic gestures, silent reflection or celebrant-led speeches. There’s usually quite a lot of flexibility around a funeral led by a celebrant, more so than in some religious funerals. 

  • With a celebrant, you don’t have to ‘stick to the rules’.
  • Your family – young children, especially – can come up with creative ideas to commemorate your life.
  • Or, if you want to, you can still include a spiritual element in the ceremony such as prayers, religious songs, or blessings.

Your local funeral directors will be able to recommend at least one celebrant to you. You might want to speak to more than one person to get a feel for their approach – there are also three key organisations who ensure their members are approved as civil celebrants: the Institute of Civil Funerals, Humanists UK, and the Fellowship of Professional Celebrants – we’ll list their websites at the bottom of this article.

Where can you hold a civil funeral, with a celebrant?

Almost anywhere, really. As long as you’ve got permission. A civil funeral service can be held at any venue that’s happy to offer you their location. For many families, the idea of working with a celebrant goes naturally with organising a woodland burial. Talk to hotels, village halls, community centres, organisations that open listed buildings even – and of course your local crematorium will have a space or building where you’d be welcome to host a non-religious funeral.

Do all celebrants work the same way?

No, humanists offer their services as celebrants, but humanists are non-religious and non-spiritual. There’s no ‘faith’ element to their services at all. Songs or music may be included, but hymns and prayers wouldn’t be appropriate.

With a humanist helping you to remember the person who died, you’ll be focusing entirely on the person’s life and what they meant to other people. If your family hasn’t been at all religious, or you’re bridging the gap between many different faiths among your friends and family, then a humanist-led service might be a good choice.  

Can a celebrant hold a service in a church?

It wouldn’t be appropriate to hold a non-religious service in a place of faith worship. However, the Church of England at least says that you may leave instructions for a Church of England funeral – even with non-religious poems or songs – and you don’t need to have been to church yourself. 

When you take out a funeral plan through Safe Hands, we will make arrangements to put you in touch with a funeral director who can recommend a celebrant local to you. For more information, try these celebrant and humanist websites:

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GOING GREEN: AN ECO-FRIENDLY FUNERAL

How green could your funeral be?

It’s odd to think about our effect on the planet after we die but, if you’re eco-conscious now, then it might be something you’d like to think about – how green could your funeral be?

A woodland burial may seem like the natural first choice, but there are other considerations too. If you and your family would like to think about a ‘very green funeral’, then these overviews of funeral elements may help you to make some decisions.

What is a green funeral?

Your personal views will guide you. In general, ‘green funerals’ tend to err away from cremation, and instead, involve burial in a natural setting. There’s no embalming of the body certainly, and a coffin or shroud is made locally, from natural and sustainable materials. But while your final resting place may be the focus point, there’s more to a green funeral than how your body is treated.

Woodland burials – are they the natural choice?

Yes, which is why many families decide a woodland burial would be the best option for a ‘green’ funeral. There are over 260 woodland or green burial sites around the UK, but there are also long barrows too – rural, modern-day versions of ancient monuments – in which you could store your ashes, if you still prefer cremation. That brings us very quickly to the difficult question:

Which is ‘greener’, a burial or cremation?

It’s not easy to work out the carbon footprint of a cremation because there are so many variables involved – but a burial is greener overall, there’s no doubt about it. Crematoria and technology have come a long way in recent years, but the physical process of cremation makes it a pollutant in more ways than one. There’s just no getting around the cost of electricity in life, or death.

Cremators operate at over 750C, for over an hour for each cremation. The Natural Death Centre tells us that one cremation uses as much energy as a 500-mile car trip. In fact, on average, a cremator uses about 285 kW hours of gas and 15kWh of electricity, which is about the same amount that a single person would consume in one month.

Then – depending, unfortunately, on the size of your body – there’s the overall release of CO2 to think about. The average adult human body is about 50-65% water (we’re using approximations throughout here), which means about 90 pounds of water will be evaporated from a 150-pound person. Add in the previous energy consumption, and allowing for all those variables, each cremation will put somewhere between 300 and 500 pounds of CO2 into the air.

So, if you’re thinking about carbon off-setting – a typical hardwood tree will absorb about 48 pounds of CO2 each year – then the suggestion would be to plant at least 10 trees.

Green options for your coffin (or shroud)

Assuming that you’ve decided not to be cremated, but to be buried in a woodland burial ground instead, you’ll be asked to use an eco-friendly coffin. Wooden coffins may be made from oak or pine, but some coffins use wood veneers, which will be bonded to the coffin with a formaldehyde resin.

However, there’s nothing to stop you choosing something like bamboo or willow; wicker, recycled paper or cardboard; or a shroud that’s made of wool, felt, or cotton for any form of burial. There are many firms in the UK that offer natural coffins, made from locally sourced materials, so there’s also no need to worry about a carbon footprint for sourcing an eco-coffin.

Reducing your family’s funeral footprint

A funeral cortege usually involves one or two limousines, which are followed by families and friends in their own transport. To reduce the emissions involves, you might ask friends and family to car share – and insist on a hearse that is green, too.

Then, instead of asking for funeral flowers – which might use plastic or metal frames, or even depend on using blooms that have been imported from overseas’ growers – you could suggest that floral tributes use flowers picked from a local garden. Or, growing in popularity, that tributes are made by donating to a favourite charity instead.

Finally, your family might like to make orders of service rather than have them printed – or to use an order of service that’s printed on recycled paper. These are all small gestures, but in a green funeral these may be important to you. If you’re interested in taking out a funeral plan that can help you to define some of those options, our team would be happy to help.

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THE DREAM OF THE FASTER PASTOR- A MOTORCYCLE HEARSE

In 2001 motorcycling vicar The Rev Paul Sinclair had a dream. He would bring together the two great passions in his life to create the UK’s first motorcycle hearse service to give fellow bikers the send-off they deserved.

Rev Sinclair, who sadly passed away in 2019, started Motorcycle Funerals from his home in Leicestershire and grew the service into a successful business catering for biker funerals all over the country.

World speed record

The business now runs a fleet of 13 motorcycle hearses using specially built sidecars to carry the coffins. Pride of place in the fleet is the Suzuki Hyabusa which Rev Sinclair rode to a world speed record at  Elvington Airfield, York, on 19 May 2013 when he reached a speed of 126 mph to become the fastest rider of a motorcycle hearse.

Known affectionately as the Faster Pastor or the Quicker Vicar, The Rev Sinclair obviously chose a motorcycle themed funeral for himself. Hundreds of bikers turned up for the procession which saw the legend carried away in a Triumph motorcycle hearse.

The Motorcycle Funerals website is full of testimonials from bereaved families expressing their thanks for a very special send off.

This quote sums it all up:

“Four years ago, my brother sadly passed away. We asked Paul to not only supply his sidecar hearse but to also carry out the service at the church. Although my brother had his own ideas about religion, I’m sure he would have appreciated the kind words that were said and the way in which Paul carried out the service. Even though it was a very sad day Paul brought back many happy memories to put smiles on the mourners faces. Not sure if Ozzy Osbourne gets played much in churches but it was that day! It was an honour to ride pillion behind Paul and beside my brother on his final ride…….and I must say……I enjoyed the “few last blasts” along the way. I know my brother would have loved, not only that, but he would have found the closing of the local town due to lots of motorcyclists being there and us ending up with an unexpected police escort hilarious! Thanks Paul.”

To find out more about this amazing service visit the website http://motorcyclefunerals.com/

Land Rovers and campervans

Of course, bikers are not the only people with a passion for vehicles. Land Rover owners are a committed bunch of enthusiasts who share a love for this legendary 4×4. A company has been set up to provide Land Rover hearses for a very special final journey. https://www.landroverfunerals.com/

And if VW campervans are your thing, then Volkswagen Funerals have a range of classic campervan hearses available  https://www.volkswagenfunerals.co.uk/

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CAN I BE BURIED AT SEA?

Can I be buried at sea?

Yes. It’s not very common, and there’s a little bit of organisation and paperwork involved, but there’s no reason why you can’t be buried at sea.

It’s true, there are some costs that you or your family will have to bear in mind when you’re planning the funeral – but if a marine send-off is what you’d prefer, then it’s all possible. Here, we’ll look at funerals at sea in general and explain the admin for this form of ceremony. 

Are there any restrictions on who can be buried at sea?

Not in the UK, no. The Royal Navy conducts its own services for veterans, but anyone can be buried at sea, just as long as the person who’s arranging the funeral has applied for and received a licence from the Marine Management Organisation (the MMO).

Where can I be buried at sea?

There are rules around this. The MMO would prefer burials to take place in one of three places. Off The Needles, near the Isle of Wight; between Hastings and Newhaven; or just off Tynemouth, North Tyneside.

If you’d like to be buried at sea in a different location, perhaps for family reasons or for connections to your service history, then you can still apply for a licence – but you’ll need to show that the proposed burial location is suitable. That means demonstrating there’s no problem with water depth, currents, offshore pipelines or commercial fishing zones.

You can find out more about this directly from the MMO’s website.

Which paperwork do I need to be buried at sea?

Well, in addition to the MMO licence, you’ll need to make sure the funeral director has a copy of your death certificate, a Certificate of Freedom from Fever and Infection (which your GP or the hospital doctor will have to provide), and a ‘Notice to a Coroner of Intention to Remove a Body out of England’ statement. Again, that’s available from the coroner.

Could I be buried in a canvas shroud, just like in the movies?

No, not in the UK. When you’re making an application to the MMO, you’ll have to agree that the coffin will be made from solid softwood. It mustn’t contain any contaminants – things like plastic, lead, copper or zinc – and to make sure that the coffin sinks quickly, several 50mm holes will be drilled into it. About 200kg (440lb) will be clamped to its base.

Would it be alright to have my ashes scattered at sea, instead?

Yes. Anyone can scatter your ashes at sea, and there’s no special licence needed. In fact, your ashes may be scattered into the sea from any beach, anywhere in the UK. This is one reason why many families choose direct cremation and a direct cremation funeral plan – because there’s no need to involve a funeral director, either.

You’d be in good company too, as several well-known people have elected to have their ashes scattered in the same way. Alfred Hitchcock, Janis Joplin (in the Pacific Ocean), Dad’s Army actor John Laurie, Edmund Hillary (in New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf), and Robin Williams (in San Francisco Bay).

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WANT TO BE BURIED IN A WOOD?

If you’re ethically-minded or you’ve been at all eco-conscious during your life, then you might be thinking that a woodland burial is something you’d prefer. Some people have a special connection to the outdoors during their lives – gardeners and farmers, in particular.

But what’s involved, exactly? Does it mean you have to give up some of your family’s traditions – like hymns, or wearing formal clothes? Let’s take a look at woodland burials and some of the traditional funeral options you might want to think about too, as an alternative.

What is a woodland burial?

Let’s dispel some myths. A woodland burial isn’t ‘all hippies and things’. It’s an environmentally-friendly alternative to a traditional burial, with the interment taking place in a specially designated burial ground. That may be a wood set aside exclusively for burials, or it might be a piece of woodland that’s connected to a larger cemetery.

Many families decide a woodland burial would be calming or even reassuring, and – in some ways – less stressful than attending a service at a crematorium or a church.

There are over 260 woodland or green burial sites around the UK, which means there’s a good chance there’s one close to you and your family. The Association of Natural Burial Grounds (ANBG) was set up by the Natural Death Centre to help promote good standards. You’ll find a full list of woodland burial grounds signed up to the ANBG’s Code of Conduct, here.

What kind of coffin can you use in a woodland burial?

Most woodland burial grounds in the UK will expect you to choose an eco-friendly coffin. One that doesn’t use harsh glues or materials that don’t decompose easily. Something like bamboo or willow; wicker, recycled paper or cardboard; or a shroud that’s made of wool, felt, or cotton. For families with younger children, a bamboo or wicker coffin can seem far less imposing than a traditional coffin; natural materials are more tactile.

Woodland burials versus traditional burials – what’s the difference?

At a woodland burial, the grave is likely to be quite shallow. That doesn’t mean it’s disrespectful at all. It simply encourages the microbial processes that are necessary to aid all natural decomposition. Coffins are only buried deeply in a traditional cemetery to allow room for future burials alongside.

Some woodland burial grounds will keep records of where the coffin is places, but many families like the idea of woodland burials because they see the whole wood as an ever-changing, natural memorial. It can be far less distressing to remember someone by walking through a natural, quite piece of woodland. In fact, it’s quite unusual to find headstones in a woodland burial ground. Some sites offer the opportunity to plant a tree, or to have a small and discreet plaque placed on a nearby tree. Some don’t allow any markers at all.

As for the day itself? There’s no reason why your family shouldn’t sing the songs they want to, bring natural flowers or wreathes, wear the clothes they feel most comfortable in, or commemorate your life in any way that feels natural to them.

How much does a woodland burial cost?

Prices do vary, depending on whereabouts you live. When you buy a funeral plan through Safe Hands, we can find out what the costs for a woodland burial plot would be in your local area – and then include that cost in your Safe Hands funeral plan (it’s included as a contribution towards the cost, rather than a pre-paid funeral item). But in general, interment at a woodland burial ground is slightly more expensive than traditional interment in a churchyard. Prices range from a few hundred pounds to a few thousand pounds,, depending on where you live.

Who ‘runs’ a woodland burial?

All of the woodland burial sites in the UK have connections to local funeral directors, who can advise and support your family when the time comes. We work with very many of those funeral directors already. But even in advance, you can decide who you’d like to lead the service. There’s no reason why you might not ask your faith leader if they’d conduct a religious ceremony, or you might prefer the event to be guided by a celebrant or a humanist with no religious content. In fact, you might ask one of your family to lead the ceremony – there’s nothing to stop that happening. Taking control of your funeral plans now gives you much more choice over what happens later.

How could I have a ‘natural’ funeral, instead?

Woodland burials are sometimes referred to as green burials, but a ‘natural’ burial doesn’t have to take place in a wood to be considered a little more eco-friendly.

That’s the reward for making your end-of-life planning part of life’s normal financial planning – you can decide now, how and what you’d like to include in your own funeral plans.

For example, you might want to pay for a traditional funeral but insist on a willow or bamboo coffin instead. You might ask your family to choose ethically sourced flowers, or have the orders of service printed on recycled paper. Or you might even talk to your family about their transport plans – it’s entirely up to you. If you’re interested in taking out a funeral plan but you’d like to talk about including a woodland burial – our team would be happy to help.

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WHAT TO WEAR TO A FUNERAL

Does it have to be black? No. But it is still a good idea to play it safe when it comes to choosing clothes for a funeral. Whatever you decide to wear – and dress codes do vary these days – this isn’t the right time to draw attention to yourself. These tips will help…

General advice
Funerals and black clothing – they sort of go together, don’t they. Black clothing is a tradition that dates back to Roman times. The Romans would wear darker togas or another dark color is almost always appropriate. Today – other colours may be more appropriate.

There may also be religious or cultural preferences to think about. But we’ll cover some of those here, which should help if you’ve been invited to a service you’re not familiar with. Our top tip? If in doubt, ask a friend or a close member of the family what the dress code will be and, if in doubt, clean your shoes and dress a little bit more formally than you would normally.

People come together at a funeral to pay their respects, so as long as you choose something respectful and in line with the person’s life experience, you won’t go far wrong. If the funeral is for someone who had seen active service, for example, then you may be invited to wear dress uniform.

However for different families, tradition and respect may mean different things. If Grandad was a huge football fan for example, then Nana might ask close friends of the family to wear football scarves as they walk from their cars to a church. If in doubt, make sure your shoes are sensible and choose something dark to wear – an outfit you might put on for a serious job interview, for example.

Do:
• Do dress so you won’t stand out in the crowd.
• Do wear sensible shoes – you may need to walk across grass or gravel.
• Do make sure what you’re wearing is clean, don’t leave it all to the last minute.
• Do cover up – this isn’t the time for crop-tops, plunging necklines or short skirts.
• Do pop a couple of clean tissues in your pocket.
• Do – if you wear a hat – make it simple (but baseball caps aren’t ideal).

Don’t:
• Don’t over-do it with perfume or cologne.
• Don’t panic about wearing a tie. A smart, clean shirt goes a long way.
• Don’t think you’ve got to have perfect hair (or make-up).
• Don’t wear noisy jewellery – bangles, or beeping watches.
• Don’t worry. People aren’t looking at you.

Exceptions to ‘the rules’
There are always exceptions, and many funerals today take place as a joyous celebration of a person’s life – the ‘rules’ around clothing are relaxed completely. If this is the case for the funeral you’re going to, you’ll probably be given guidelines around what the family or the person who’s died had in mind. It might be colourful shirts – it could even be colour-coded.

Clothing for different faiths
Formal, simple clothes are a good general rule. Again, if in doubt, do take the time to ask a friend of the family for advice on what’s most appropriate.

• At an Islamic funeral, men should wear a closed neck shirt and plain trousers; women should wear a headscarf, an ankle-length skirt at least, and a shirt with long sleeves and a high neck. Whatever you’re wearing, you should make sure you have clean socks (hole-free), as you’ll be asked to take your shoes off before prayers.

• For a Buddhist service, it’s best to ask the family directly – each traditional form of Buddhism has different guidance around what’s most appropriate. For some families it’s black, for others it’s white.

• At a Jewish funeral, it’s not uncommon to see women wearing a headscarf; men will need a skullcap – you may be offered a yarmulke or kippah if you don’t have one – and it’s commonplace to wear a jacket and tie. For women, skirts should be below the knee, and darker colours are traditional for both sexes.

• At a Hindu funeral – again, traditions vary – you’ll see most people wearing simple, casual, white clothing. White signifies purity, it shows respect for the person who’s died and for their family. In fact, it would be disrespectful to wear black.

A last thought…
Finally, we’re all used to carrying them around with us, but there is one small accessory you might want to think about leaving at home or in the car. This isn’t the time to be updating social media feeds.

Unless smartphone photos have clearly been approved by the closest family – and that may be the case – you might want to encourage youngsters around you to show their respects, by making sure yours is switched to silent or left somewhere safe during the service.