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Arranging a funeral using a Funeral Director

Using a Funeral Director

Funeral directing as a profession appeared in the latter part of the 1700s. Prior to that funerals were organised through individuals, followed by a churchyard burial.

In Victorian times, the funeral director developed the role of organiser, providing the furnishings and the transport to carry out a funeral.

Most people are unaware that Funeral Directors can set up business without training or qualifications and that no 'licence' is necessary. No universal standard applies and consequently, separating a good funeral director from an indifferent one is difficult.

Some Funeral Directors are members of professional organisations, who may operate a Code of Conduct and a complaints procedure, examples include:

The role of the Funeral Director is rarely understood. They organise a funeral with distressed people often who have no expectations of a funeral and its arrangements with satisfaction relying upon the meeting of philosophical and other complex needs. Thus it is important for everybody to be informed and prepared for death and funerals. The completion of a Will or funeral directive empowers the bereaved and reduces their reliance upon a funeral director at the critical time of a death.

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The Funeral Director's package is briefly outlined as follows:

  • The executor or person arranging the funeral contacts the funeral director that will arrange to see them and discuss the funeral arrangements.
  • The funeral director will collect the body and prepare it for viewing.
  • A choice of coffins is usually offered and the deceased can be viewed, by appointment, in a Chapel of Rest.
  • The Funeral director will contact the cemetery or crematorium and arrange the date and time of the funeral.
  • The funeral director will ensure all forms are correctly completed and any necessary forms/certificates delivered to the cemetery/crematorium office.
  • The funeral director will pay the various fees involved, called disbursements.
  • These include cemetery / crematorium fees, ministers fees etc.
  • Details will be given about the form of service and music if required.
  • Floral tributes and newspaper obituaries can be arranged if required.
  • A hearse and following limousines will be provided and the funeral will take place under the guidance of the funeral director.
  • Subsequently an account will be sent after the funeral. This account should be itemised and clearly define the disbursements paid on behalf of the person.

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Price transparency

Most funerals are sold as a 'package' and it can be difficult to obtain the actual price of each component. This can create difficulties if you wish to dispense with some of the service elements included in the package. The Office of Fair Trading has suggested that price transparency should apply to charges allowing families to select more or less of a service according to their needs.

In general, price transparency is not offered to families; an analogy can be drawn with a garage bill. If a car is serviced, each part of the service is detailed from parts to labour. Sometimes funeral directors will not charge for their time but add this to the cost of the hearse and coffin.

The coffin is one item that carries the greatest proportion of costs. The cost price of a standard chipboard coffin fitted out for a funeral, can be £60-70 but may be sold for £275-£300. It is worth noting that Funeral Directors 'direct' funerals, but the supply of coffins, floral tributes and memorials can be sourced independent of your funeral director.

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Range of facilities

The range of facilities available to you may influence your choice of funeral director, such as the availability of a Chapel of Rest. All funeral directors differ in the services they provide and their ability to meet your requirements. Some funeral directors own or have arrangements with firms that supply floral tributes and memorials. Although this may be convenient it may prevent you using independent suppliers.

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Ownership of firms

There has been a decline in recent years of the family operated funeral director. Few people know that a large firm may own a family firm. The new owners may not be disclosed on shop signs or letterheads. Similarly older people tend to reflect upon the past socialist principles of the 'Co-op' funeral service which may no longer apply.

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The Law

Common law recognises that a funeral consists of a sequence of tasks and events, all of which must be satisfactory. Where even a single element is performed unsatisfactorily, the payment of the entire account may be disputed. The disbursements are not part of the funeral directors charges and must be paid. It should be noted that whoever orders the funeral becomes liable for the funeral costs, regardless of their relationship to the deceased.

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Paying for the funeral

You should reasonably expect to be given an itemised price list of the components of the funeral, which should include disbursements.

Some people alleviate the worry of paying for a funeral by purchasing a funeral plan. There are several options available and all of them require careful consideration. If a funeral plan is purchased it is necessary to choose a burial or cremation package that meets your need. The plan must be considered very carefully, as it may not incorporate all the costs at the time of its use, such as embalming.

It is necessary to ensure that the funds are held in trust with independent trustees. Funeral plans may be paid by instalments or by lump sum, which enables the funeral to be paid at current prices. It is not possible to pre-purchase the grave plot but it is possible to reserve it for a fixed period which can be extended. This is an important consideration when purchasing a funeral plan.

Purchasing some elements in advance can reduce the ultimate cost of a funeral. For a burial, a grave and memorial can be purchased in advance.

When a person dies in hospital and there is nobody able or willing to arrange and pay for the funeral the Health Authority will fulfil this obligation. Similarly local authorities have a duty to arrange the burial or cremation of any person who has died in their area if no suitable arrangements have been made. The authority can reclaim any expenses incurred from the estate. If there is no estate a basic but dignified funeral can be arranged which may include burial in an un-purchased grave.

If the person responsible for the funeral or their partner is receiving certain benefits, financial help may be available if no one else is able to pay for the funeral. Good advice regarding this can be found on the gov.uk website (funeral payments, benefits and credits).

See also 'Help when someone dies' and 'What to do after a Death' - on the gov.uk website.

A fact sheet about 'Arranging a Funeral' can be found on the Age UK (formerly Age Concern) website.

Other organisations Like the Citizens Advice Bureau will offer help and advice, for example:

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Donations at funerals

Some people are concerned with excessive expenditure on wreaths and floral tributes. An alternative to this is to organise a collection for a named charity or other deserving cause by stating 'family flowers only' or 'no flowers by request, donation to...'

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Useful contacts

Please refer to the contact details on the following websites:

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