Funeral Options in the UK
Can you be buried without a coffin? What is the cheapest funeral you can have in the UK? What are the alternatives to burial and cremation?
This article outlines funeral options available to you in the UK including alternative options to the traditional burial and cremation services.
Your Will is one way in which you can make known your funeral wishes or how your body is to be used.
An important note to make from the outset is that any funeral wishes you include in your Will are not binding on your executors or personal representatives.
You can learn more about who has the legal right to deal with your body after you die here.
It is more important for practical purposes to make known your funeral wishes to your family in your lifetime, so they are aware and can prepare themselves accordingly.
How you wish to be remembered through your funeral service may be influenced by a range of factors.
You may even wish for your body to be used to benefit future generations, through donating parts for transplant or anatomical examination.
This article outlines the funeral services and donation options available to you in the UK.
As mentioned above, it is your executors and personal representatives who have the right to decide what happens to your body.
It used to be the case that executors could not cremate a body if the person had left a written declaration forbidding this.
However, it is now no longer unlawful to cremate the corpse of a person who has left contrary wishes.
In fact, cremations have risen in popularity with 77% of all funerals in the UK being cremations, rather than burials.
What happens at a cremation service?
Intense heat is used to turn the remains of a deceased person into ashes.
After, small amounts of bone will remain, which are taken from the cremator, cooled and placed in a machine which reduces the bone to ashes.
These are then placed in a container and your family will then have a choice to receive your ashes.
It is common for the family to then scatter the ashes over a poignant or memorable location. This may be chosen for personal, religious or cultural reasons.
They may even choose to keep your ashes in their house or placed in safekeeps or items such as jewellery or ornaments.
A burial service is normally a short ceremony which takes place after a main funeral service has been conducted.
What happens at a burial service?
At the burial service the coffin is lowered into the ground.
Mourners (who are generally family, friends, associates or anyone else who personally knew the deceased) are often invited to attend the burial.
The burial service can be personalised to include short readings and prayers, depending on any religious beliefs you may have.
Once the coffin has been lowered, it is common tradition to scatter soil onto the coffin, whilst other people may choose to throw funeral flowers into the grave.
Family and friends can also place floral tributes near the grave at the end of the ceremony.
You can opt to purchase a new grave or re-open an existing burial plot.
A burial service can take place in a churchyard, cemetery or woodland burial site.
Religious funerals deviate from the traditional burial or cremation services in the sense that they have unique traditions based on religious beliefs and cultures.
The decision to have a funeral or a cremation may even be determined by your religious beliefs.
If you wish to have a religious funeral, it is important to work with a funeral home which offers facilities for ritual washing or any additional religious funeral support.
For this reason, our team works with several of the UK’s most trusted providers of Funeral Services and Prepaid Funeral Plans.
With so many to choose from, they offer a professional and caring service and will accommodate to your cultural and religious requirements.
We can always reflect any religious or cultural funeral wishes you may have in your Will and include any prepaid funeral plan you may have therein.
Woodland Burials and Green Funerals
There has been a rising trend in greener funeral options, as a result of the growing trend towards green living and increasing focus on the environment.
The number of woodland burial sites has also increased in line with the popularity of natural burials.
Many are attracted to the idea of peacefully laying loved ones to rest in the vicinity of trees and wildflower as a meaningful way to say goodbye.
What is a woodland burial?
A woodland burial is also known as a ‘green funeral’ or ‘natural burial’.
It is simply an environmentally-friendly alternative to the more traditional burial and cremation services outlined above.
The environmental impact is minimised by utilising a more natural style of funeral through sustainable options.
This may include biodegradable coffins and not allowing any embalming.
Rather than a traditional headstone or other memorial, woodland burial sites generally mark graves with natural memorials, such as plants or trees.
A woodland burial site is often a natural setting, such as a wooded area, forest or meadow.
We can draft a clause in your Will outlining your woodland burial wishes and outline the details of whom to contact regarding natural burial sites and how your grave is to be marked.
A direct cremation offers an alternative for those who do not want a traditional cremation.
It is a more contemporary, cost-effective option, providing a simple and fuss-free way to have a respectful and meaningful farewell.
A direct cremation is organised by a deceased’s loved one, meaning a Funeral Director’s services are not needed.
It rids of the need for a minister, procession, limousines and pallbearers, and maybe even embalming.
This is usually the least expensive option due to the removal of the above requirements and their associated costs.
There is no formal funeral service.
The cremation is usually unattended, but, in the case of family-led funerals, can include a gathering of mourners.
Instead, many opt to have a separate memorial event or celebration of life to commemorate the deceased’s life.
Alternative funerals provide an opportunity to celebrate the uniqueness of the individual who has passed away by reflecting their uniqueness in the funeral service.
There are a number of types, with the most notable being:
A humanist funeral is a non-religious service which can offer a personalised way to celebrate a loved one’s life and say goodbye.
Humanism is a rationalist approach to life which attaches prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.
Humanists do not believe in afterlife or reincarnation, and you can reflect these views in your funeral wishes.
Whilst there are not commonly funeral hymns or prayers, readings from loved ones are still popular.
Humanist funeral services are often individually led and conducted by a relative or friend of the deceased, or a humanist celebrant.
The funeral service can take place in a cemetery, woodland burial site or crematorium.
Afterwards, a reception or wake at the family’s home may take place.
A memorial ceremony may also be held at a later date to celebrate the individual’s life.
In the same vein as woodland burials, eco burials offer an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional funeral services for those who are interested in earth preservation and carbon footprint reduction.
The core principle of an eco-funeral is to send the body back to nature, where it can decompose and re-grow as a tree, plant or other living organism.
There are a number of elements that can enhance the eco-friendly nature of a burial:
• Biodegradable urns are an environmentally-friendly way of burying the ashes, as they can be designed to decompose when buried in the ground.
○ A new tree can be planted above that will take the nourishment from the ashes.
• Tree pod burials entail a person’s body being buried in a biodegradable egg pod.
○ To represent “nature’s cycle of transformation”, the person is placed in a foetal position to reflect rebirth in a pod, which is then buried underground, with a tree planted above to create a memorial.
• A burial shroud is a large piece of material (which can be made of fabric, such as cotton, linen, muslin, or even hemp) in which the deceased’s body is wrapped.
○ The shroud can be personalised in terms of design (for religious or personal reasons) or have large pockets (so you can store keepsakes and fragrant herbs).
• Eco-friendly coffins are also available so that they are made from bamboo, banana leaf, willow, pine or even cardboard.
○ These materials are typically entirely natural and biodegradable, made from renewable and sustainable materials.
• Alternative transportation may be used instead of the traditional methods of funeral cars, which consume petrol.
○ Walking, cycling or even car-pooling are more eco-friendly options which can help to reduce the carbon footprint and increase the eco-friendliness of the funeral service.
Colourful funerals encourage vibrant colours to reflect and celebrate the life of the deceased.
The vibrant colours can be embraced in the clothing the guests wear, as opposed to the traditional black and white dresswear.
Colourful coffins are a relatively new trend to add a bit more vibrancy to the funeral service.
Brighter and more vibrant colours for funeral flowers and floral tributes may also be chosen instead of the traditional white colour.
To add more personalisation to your funeral service, you could even have a balloon given to friends and family for them to hold on to and think of a happy memory, before letting go of the balloon and seeing it float away up into the sky.
Additionally, you could even choose a colourful car or other more personal vehicle to mark your final journey, instead of the traditional hearse.
Burial at Sea
Anyone can choose to be buried at sea.
Those who served in the navy or simply have an interest in watercraft or other aquatic hobbies may consider this unique option to be a personally-suitable one.
There are three designated areas in the UK where a burial at sea can take place:
• Newhaven, East Sussex
• The Needles Spoil Ground, Isle of Wight; and
• Tynemouth, Northumberland.
You must have a licence from the Marine Management Organisation to bury someone at sea (which currently costs £175 for a fast-track application) and you must supply them with certain documents.
These include a death certificate, Certificate of Freedom from Fever and Infection (available from the deceased person’s GP or hospital doctor) and Notice of intention to remove a body out of England (available from the Coroner).
In England, the law regarding organ donation changed on 20 May 2020.
All adults are now considered to have agreed to be an organ donor when they die unless they have recorded a decision to not donate or fall within one of the excluded groups.
However, what has not changed is that you still have a choice as to whether you wish to be a donor.
This is the new ‘opt out’ system, otherwise known as ‘Max and Keira’s Law’.
The reason behind the new ‘opt out’ system is that, whilst there has been incredible progress in organ donation, there is still a shortage of donors in the UK.
Your organs will not automatically be taken if you do not opt out.
Your family would always be involved before donation takes place, so it is important to discuss your wishes with them.
Your faith and beliefs will also be considered before organ donation goes ahead.
You still have the choice as to whether you want to be an organ donor.
If you do not want to be an organ donor, you simply have to record your decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register.
You can change or amend your decision whether or not to be an organ donor via the Register.
If you have funeral plans in place, specialist nurses will speak with your family to see if there are any considerations regarding your faith, beliefs or culture in relation to funeral plans. For instance, a quick burial, open casket or other types of religious funeral.
You can find out more about organ donation and the new ‘opt out’ system here.
How we can help you
There are a number of ways in which you can choose to be remembered.
Your wishes may be influenced by family traditions, religious beliefs or even life events.
You may even have specific wishes which are not outlined above.
Whilst you can include your wishes in your Will, it’s important to let your family know of these during your lifetime so there are no surprises later down the line.
As noted above, our estate planning team can help arrange a prepaid funeral plan for you, to save you from rising funeral prices, whilst ensuring you still get the funeral you want.
We can even include your funeral plan in your Will, so your loved ones are aware.