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Arranging a funeral yourself

Introduction

It is often assumed, quite wrongly, that funerals can be arranged only with the services of a funeral director. Some people, however, find great comfort from being involved, partly or totally, in the arrangements for the funeral of a loved one.

Advice on carrying out a family-led or DIY funeral can be found by visiting Natural Death Centre.

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Last offices

If the death occurs at home, and once the doctor has issued the certificate, the last offices can be carried out as reasonably soon after death as possible, by you or the local district nurse. This involves placing the body on its back, hands at the side, the eyes are closed, cotton wool on the eyelids will assist, and the chin supported by a pillow. All natural outlets of the body are plugged with cotton wool. The body may be washed and dressed.

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Storing the body until the funeral

If the death occurs in hospital, the mortician may agree to keep the body in the hospital mortuary, until the day of the funeral, possibly at no charge. If the death occurs at home, a local funeral director may agree to provide the mortuary facility only, to help you. In the meantime, the body should be kept in a well ventilated, cool room. The body could be wrapped in ice.

A body is unlikely to pose a threat to the living, except where the death was due to a notifiable disease, and no evidence exists of funeral directing, crematorium or cemetery staff obtaining an infection from an un-embalmed body.

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Transportation of the body

Where the body has to be removed from a hospital, remember to contact the mortician first and check what documentation is required. If you intend to use an estate car or van, ensure that the coffin or container you intend to use will fit in it. You will need help whenever you have to handle the coffin, so make sure you have at least three people available to help you.

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Coffins

The body must be suitably transported to the cemetery or crematorium in a container, clearly identifying the name and age of the deceased. The container most commonly used is a standard coffin, made from chipboard with a good quality veneer. The metal effect handles, nameplate etc. are actually plastic which, when cremated, will melt. Coffins and caskets are available, at a cost, in solid wood, which when used for burial, will last longer in the ground than chipboard.

Recently, a move towards a more environmentally friendly container is becoming popular. A cardboard coffin or casket can now be obtained and decorated in water based colours, if required, to personal taste, or covered with a pall, quilt or similar, which can then be removed at the committal. Cremation or, with biodegradable benefits, burial is possible as the coffins are rigid, carry well and retain any potential leakage that may arise. Further alternatives, for burial, would be to use a shroud of natural material or a woven wicker basket.

As a rule, if you plan to make your own container, use the smallest size possible to accommodate the deceased but strong enough to hold the weight. If cremation is decided, do not varnish or paint the container in oil paints. The materials used must be such that it minimises the use of fossil fuels. Clothing of man made fibres, shoes or rubberised items will cause smoke if cremated and should not be placed in the container. If you are in doubt please contact Worthing Crematorium staff for advice.

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The ceremony or service

You are free to arrange for a minister of any denomination or a secular service of your choosing in any of the Cemeteries. There is a chapel of rest at Durrington Cemetery for a service to be held. Contact your local minister to conduct the service or you may prefer a non-religious service with all religious emblems removed from the chapel. The content of the service can be to your choice.

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Burial on your own land

From an environmental health perspective there is no legal reason why you should not be buried on your own land. You will need to ensure that your wishes for burial are outlined in your will or some other legal document which specifies your requirements. To ensure your executors can comply with your wishes, it is recommended that prior arrangements are made with undertakers who are sympathetic to this type of burial.

You will need to contact the Environment Agency (EA) to ensure that the burial site will not be located close to any water course as there may be a possibility of future contamination.

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Is planning permission required?

Planning permission is not required for one or two burials as there is unlikely to be a material change of use, however, should any monuments be planned at the site then planning permission may be required. If you need further advice please contact the Councils' Planning section.

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Land Registry

It is possible that the land in question could be developed at a later date. It is, therefore, recommended that an 'informative' be added to the land registry so that a permanent record is available for future purchasers. The precise location of the grave should also be marked on a plan and attached to the deeds of the property.

Burials must be registered in accordance with the Registration of Burials Act 1864. Although a private piece of land might not be a burial ground as stated in the Act, it might be argued that it becomes one if a burial takes place on it. It may be prudent, therefore, for the burial to be recorded in accordance with the Act. For more information on how to register a burial contact the Local Land Charges Section.

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