Making plans for a funeral

Funerals allow family, friends and others to pay their respects to the person who has died. They can help people to:

  • express their grief
  • acknowledge the person’s death
  • celebrate the person’s life
  • say goodbye.

Talking to your family or friends about your funeral helps them celebrate your life in the way you would have wanted. Knowing they are following your wishes can help them avoid worry and possible disagreements.

There are different funeral traditions across different religions, faiths and cultures. You can talk to your religious or faith leader about your funeral and wishes.

Funerals can also be expensive, so planning ahead can be helpful. Age UK, GOV.UK and Marie Curie all have advice about planning a funeral. 

If you live in Scotland, the Scottish Government has a useful booklet called Planning your own funeral which includes a form to set out your wishes.

Booklets and resources

What you might include in a funeral plan

Here are some suggestions of what you might want to include in a funeral plan.

A burial or cremation

A burial is usually in a cemetery or other designated burial place. It is also possible to be buried in places such as a garden, on property you own, or in a place you love. The The Natural Death Centre has more information and details about natural burial grounds, including woodlands.

A cremation happens in a crematorium. They usually have one or more chapels where a service can be held. After a cremation, your ashes are given to your next of kin in a container. 

You can talk to your family or friends about what you want to be done with your ashes. For example, you may choose to have them scattered in a garden of remembrance, a graveyard or a favourite place.

You can scatter ashes almost anywhere in the UK if you have permission from the landowner. People may choose to keep some of the ashes. For example, they can be kept in a piece of jewellery or a small pot.

GOV.UK has information on scattering ashes.

The funeral service or ceremony

Funeral services may be religious or non-religious (secular).

Some people may decide not to have a funeral service. Or they may only want a simple committal service. This is a brief service at the graveside or in the crematorium.

  • A religious or non-religious service

    If you have a spiritual or religious faith, you may know who you want to lead the funeral. Even if you do not have a faith, you can contact a local minister, priest, imam, rabbi or other religious leader to talk about your funeral.

    Some people choose a multi-faith funeral to reflect their life or the life of their loved one. It could include any combination of religious music, readings, prayers, or traditions. The ceremony can be led by 1 or more religious leader.

    A humanist service does not include acts of worship and does not mention any faith. The service focuses on celebrating the life of the person who has died.

  • Not having a funeral service

    Some people decide to have a cremation or burial without a funeral. This is called a direct cremation or burial. The body goes to be cremated or buried straightaway without a service. This is a much cheaper option, and there are different reasons you may choose this.

    There could still be some form of farewell or remembrance ceremony of your choice. Or family or friends could arrange a ceremony later on. Some people may want the ashes present for this.

Other things to include

You may also want to think about whether you want:

  • specific songs or readings
  • flowers
  • donations to be given to specific charities
  • your body to be dressed in clothes that are significant to you, such as a military uniform.

Recording your funeral plans

You can write your wishes for your funeral in your will, or in another document. Leave them in a safe place that your family or friends know about. You can also write your funeral wishes in your advance or future care plan.

Dying Matters and the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) have a form you can use to record your funeral wishes.

If you do not want to write down your plans, you can tell your family members or friends what your wishes are.

If you do not want to write down your plans, it can be helpful to tell your family or friends your wishes.

Find out about our free wills service

Making a will can be an important way to share your wishes for how any money, property or possessions are shared with your family and loved ones. It is also a way to let loved ones know about any wishes for your funeral. If you use our service, there’s no obligation to leave a gift to Macmillan.

Learn more about Macmillan Free Will Service.

Choosing a funeral director

If you use a funeral director, you may choose one your friends or family have used before. Members of the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) or National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) are regularly monitored to make sure their standards are high. You can contact the NAFD to find out whether a funeral director is a member.

You do not need to use a funeral director. But it can be hard to arrange a funeral at such a distressing time. The Natural Death Centre has more information about arranging a funeral without a funeral director.

Paying for a funeral

Funerals can be expensive. If you are able to, you may want to pay for your funeral in advance with a funeral pre-payment plan.

You can find out more from:

Services that are included in the price can vary, so make sure you know what you are paying for. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulates firms that provide and arrange pre-paid funeral plans. If you have a funeral plan, or are thinking about buying a new one, check the list of funeral plan providers on the FCA website first.

Help with funeral costs

If the person organising the funeral is on low income and getting certain benefits, you may be able to get help with funeral costs from the government. You can find more at GOV.UK.

Or Macmillan’s welfare rights advisers can tell you more.

Charities that can help with funeral costs include:

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Viv Lucas, Consultant in Palliative Medicine.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 June 2023
Next review: 01 June 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

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