Until the last hundred years, family members took charge of caring for their dead. People typically died at home, and loved ones prepared bodies for burial and conducted rituals without the need for funeral directors. Death was an intimate family affair that was affordable, meaningful, and personal.
Today, death has become a business that is increasingly depersonalised and expensive. The average funeral in the UK costs over £3,700 (Royal London National Funeral Cost Index Report 2017), an all time high. Families are increasingly going into debt in order to pay for these services.
Many people don’t realise that there are other options when we die. In the UK (and in most other places), the law does not require an undertaker or funeral director in order to conduct a funeral or make final dispensation of the dead. With few exceptions, family members have the right to take possession of the body of a deceased loved one and make their own arrangements. This enables you to plan every aspect of your funeral and empowers families to create and implement rituals that are meaningful to them.
1. Care of the Body
After you die, there are a variety of options regarding how to prepare the body. It is legal and possible to care for and prepare a body at home, although it will require significant involvement by family members, who will likely need additional guidance. (More information on preparing a body at home can be found here) .
An important decision you need to make is whether or not you want to be embalmed. Embalming is a process that preserves the body in order to delay decomposition and make it more suitable for viewing. Advocates feel that embalming allows for more flexibility in funeral planning, while opponents feel it is an unnecessary expense, or even a toxic and invasive procedure.
2. Final Resting Place
Most people are familiar with burial and cremation, and these are by far the most common choices. When buried, a body is usually placed in a casket and interred in the ground. This is most often done in a cemetery, but may also be done on private land (with some restrictions- you can learn more here. There are a wide variety of casket choices, from elaborate wooden or metal boxes to biodegradable cardboard. Some burial grounds allow for alternative containers, such as shrouds or woven baskets.
Cremation is an increasingly common choice. Cremation involves incinerating a body into ashes, which are then placed in a container of your choice. Sometimes people choose to bury ashes, while others choose to keep them in a special vessel, and others scatter them at a favourite spot.
Some kind of marker is commonly used to mark the place where someone is buried. While headstones are the most common, other options include planting a tree, installing a bench, or any other kind of physical representation.
There are also less common options for what to do with your body after you die. These include donating your body to science, long-term preservation, and biological return.
3. Planning a Gathering
A time and place for family and friends to gather, share memories, engage in rituals, and provide support to each other is often a central part of the funeral process. Services can be held anywhere from a funeral home, to the graveside, to your backyard. They can happen with or without the body present, and can occur before or after the body is laid to rest.
When planning a gathering, you need to decide:
Whether or not the body will be present, and if present, will it be available for viewing?
Will you have a formal service? If so, you may want to invite or hire religious leaders, musicians, or a funeral celebrant. Formal services often include readings, music, an eulogy, and a reception or gathering afterwards. It may be meaningful and helpful to plan out the details of a service, including any specific prayers or readings you would like read, individuals that you would like to speak, and any music you would like played.
4. Making Your Wishes Known
Once you have gone through the important work of planning your own funeral, it is critical that others know that you have done this and can access this information when they need to. While funeral plans are not usually seen as legally binding, they provide important guidance about your wishes to your loved ones.
It is helpful to create a file which contains everything that you have prepared. A copy should go to a trusted friend or family member, and another to your attorney. It should include the details of any pre-planning that you have done, instructions regarding a service or gathering, and a list of people and organisations to notify about your death. It may also include a list of all financial accounts that you hold and any prepayments that you have made.
*Information provided is not legal advice and no liability will be accepted in relation to such reliance.