Preparation before the funeral

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What to do when someone dies

There is much to consider when someone dies. Before you begin to worry about arranging a funeral, with or without a funeral director, here is some helpful advice on registering a death, bringing a loved one home after death and deaths abroad.

Contacting the doctor when someone dies

When someone sadly passes away, there are procedures to follow that differ slightly based on where the person died:

When someone dies at home

The first step is to call their GP as soon as possible. The GP will normally visit the house and, if the death was expected, issue a certificate giving the cause of death. If the person did not have a GP or you do not know the name of the GP, you should call an ambulance instead.

When someone dies in a nursing or care home, or hospice

The staff will call the GP or an out of hours doctor to confirm and verify the death. Staff will then contact family if they aren’t already present.

When someone dies in hospital

The bereavement team at the hospital will usually contact the next of kin to inform them of the death and advise them of when the Medical Cause of Death Certificate will be ready for collection. If a coroner is involved, there will be no Medical Cause of Death certificate issued and the HM Coroner’s office will be in touch.

Once the Medical Cause of Death Certificate has been issued, an appointment must be made to register the death at the local registrars.

Registering a death

Who can register the death?

You can register the death if you’re:

  • A relative
  • Someone present at the death
  • An administrator from the hospital/hospice/nursing home (if that’s where they died)
  • The person making arrangements with the funeral directors

How do I register a death?

To register a death, you have to take the Medical Cause of Death Certificate to your local registrar. They will also require the following information:

  • The deceased’s date and place of birth
  • Their full name at the time of death
  • Any names previously used, e.g. a maiden name
  • Their last address
  • Their occupation
  • The full name, date of birth and occupation of a surviving or late spouse or civil partner
  • Details of any State Pension or any other benefits

Deaths abroad and repatriation

Deaths abroad and repatriation

If someone dies while abroad, the death must be registered with the local authorities in that country, and if possible, the UK authorities too.

How do I bring a body home for burial or cremation?

The rules about bringing home a body differ slightly depending on whether the body will be brought home for burial or cremation, and if the person is being cremated abroad and having their ashes brought back to the UK.

Bringing the body home

To bring the body home you must:

  • Get a certified English translation of the death certificate
  • Get permission to remove the body, issued by a coroner (or equivalent) in the country where the person died
  • Inform a coroner in England if the death was violent or unnatural
  • Ask for advice from the British consulate, embassy or high commission in the country where the person died

Once the body is home, take the death certificate to the register office in the area where the funeral is taking place.

As the death has already been registered abroad, the registrar will give you a Certificate of no Liability to Register. The funeral director needs this to go ahead with the funeral.

If you’re arranging the funeral yourself, the certificate must go back to the registrar after the funeral’s taken place, within 96 hours of the funeral.

If the person is to be cremated, you need a certificate from the coroner (form ‘Cremation 6’).

Bringing ashes home

If you wish to leave a country with human ashes, you will need to show the death certificate as well as the certificate of cremation.

Each country has its own rules about departing with human ashes, so check for any additional requirements. Contact the country’s British consulate, embassy or high commission for advice. You’ll need to fill in a standard customs form when you arrive home.

Contact your airline to find out whether you can carry the ashes as hand luggage or as checked-in luggage. They may ask you to put the ashes in a non-metallic container so that they can be x-rayed.

For more information on registering a death, deaths abroad and repatriation, see the government’s policies, advice and information here.

Planning your own funeral

Is it wrong to make funeral plans before a person dies?

Making funeral arrangements allows you to prepare to say goodbye in the best possible way. It also removes any extra stress about the financial side as planning ahead can help you work out how much it is likely to cost.

Good reasons to arrange your funeral now...

Organise your funeral, your way – at today’s prices.

As time goes on, the cost of funerals may continue to rise. Research shows that the average cost of a funeral over the last ten years has risen by almost 90%. If this trend continues, the average cost could reach as much as £23,000 in 30 years’ time.

Even over the next few years, funeral costs could increase considerably. That’s why arranging and paying for your funeral now is wise as you only pay today’s prices (excluding disbursements at the time of the funeral).

Although you may continue to enjoy a happy life for many decades to come, your family won’t have to pay an extra penny in funeral costs when the time comes. The East of England Co-op will always honour your Funeral Plan, no matter how much prices have risen in the meantime.

If you die alone, who will bury you?

If you die alone, with no next of kin, the local authority or hospital trust will provide a public health funeral. Once called a pauper’s funeral, these kinds of funeral no longer carry the same stigma. This type of funeral is provided as part of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.

Every local authority in the UK has a statutory duty to make arrangements for a public health funeral when:

  • A person has died in circumstances where the family is unable to be traced, or
  • No funeral arrangements have been made for that person

Local councils carry out public health funerals to cremate or bury people who have died alone, in poverty, or are unclaimed by their relatives. A coffin and the services of a funeral director to bear the body to the crematorium or cemetery are provided.

Public health funerals do not include flowers, viewings, obituaries or transport for family members. A public health funeral and burial may take place in an unmarked grave shared with other people.

Should you pay for your funeral today?

​Make sure your family doesn’t have money worries.

No matter how much prices or inflation rise in the future, your funeral can be paid for today– saving your family from financial burden. By choosing an East of England Co-op funeral plan, your funeral arrangements will always be safe in the hands of a considerate, local organisation that has been trusted by generations of families for over 90 years.

We guarantee your money will be safe. All your funeral plan payments will be deposited with The Royal London Group. As members of the Funeral Planning Authority, we abide by their strict Code of Practice.

Planning and paying for your own funeral

If you decide to plan your own funeral, it can give your friends and family peace of mind and allow you to relax in the knowledge that they will be able to hold the funeral or memorial service that you wished for.

An East of England Co-op funeral plan is an easy way to pre-arrange and pay for your funeral in advance, protecting your loved ones from rising costs and second guessing your final wishes.

We’re proud that our funeral plans have no hidden extras and you’ll pay today’s prices so your family won’t have to pay a penny more when the time comes. You can also be assured that our funeral plans are fully underwritten by The Royal London Group.

When you arrange a pre-paid funeral with East of England Funeral Services, you are guaranteed:

  • No hidden extras
  • Inflation proof
  • Fully underwritten

Why don't more people plan and pay for their funerals?

For some, it might seem morbid to plan for the future in this way. Many of us would rather not consider our own mortality or may find the discussion saddening. Financially, not everyone feels they are able to pay up front for a funeral service.

However, a funeral is also a way of saying goodbye in a way that you wish and helping people to remember your life. And if the financial side of things worries you, the East of England Co-op have tailor-made plans that are likely affordable.

Our most flexible plan of all, the tailor-made plan gives you the freedom to make your funeral just the way you want it. A member of our funeral team can take you through all the options, creating a bespoke package just for you.

The best way to create your tailor-made plan is to arrange an appointment with a member of the team at your local East of England Co-op Funeral branch.


Should I pre-pay for my funeral?

What are the advantages of funeral pre-planning?

A pre-payment funeral plan gives you the opportunity to arrange and pay for your funeral in advance, so you can be sure that when the time comes, your family won't have to deal with any financial worries. It also helps you to budget over time for the type of funeral you would like to have.

What is funeral insurance?

Funeral insurance, also called burial, final expense or pre-need insurance, refers to a group of products intended to pay for final arrangements. Many people use funeral insurance to ensure their funeral is arranged and paid for in advance, so the burden isn't left to their families after they die.

If you decide to take out funeral insurance:

  • You should receive written confirmation of your cover – keep this in a safe place
  • Make sure your next of kin knows you have already paid for your funeral and what the details are
  • Check to see that the plan provider has a clear complaints procedure

How would you plan your own funeral?

If you wanted to plan your own funeral, it is important to know the things you want to happen to you after you die. Do you want to be buried or cremated? Are there any religious or cultural aspects you would like included? You could begin to discuss this with friends and loved ones before approaching anyone professional.

Deciding on the type of funeral you want, from location to decoration is a sizeable task. If you would like help in planning your own funeral, give your local East of England Co-op branch a call and they can discuss your options with you.

At what age should you start planning your own funeral?

There is no set age at which you should start planning your own funeral, but generally as people reach the later stages of life, they begin to think about their wishes and how they can take away the stress of organising the funeral from their loved ones.

How to arrange a funeral

When can a funeral be held

Some religious funerals have rules that determine when they should take place, but for most, they take place 1-2 weeks after the death. However, if special arrangements must be made or family must travel a significant distance to attend, this can be later. If the death has had to be investigated by a coroner, this can also cause delays.

While there are no formal rules on how long you should wait before holding a funeral, the amount of time you take to make arrangements will depend on the type of service you want to hold.

A funeral can be held on any day of the week, but this may cost more for things like transport or catering. Some religions prohibit certain days.

How long do funerals usually take?

The length of a funeral service will differ depending on what type of service has been chosen. Religious ceremonies may have certain traditions that must take place, or there may be readings or hymns involved.

If cremation is taking place, this might be a shorter service, and for public health funerals — where no next of kin attends — there may be no service at all, simply prayers from the priest.

How long after a passing should a funeral be held?

There is no official legislation on how soon a funeral should take place, but documents and arrangements must be in place before they can.

If the body is embalmed, delays to a funeral are less concerning. However, if the body is not embalmed, even with refrigeration, you should wait no longer than 3-5 days.

Burial and cremation

How to decide whether to cremate or bury?

The decision whether to be buried or cremated is an incredibly personal one. Burials tend to be considered as more traditional, but cremation allows for the scattering of ashes and for many, saves money.

The resting place provided by a burial and gravestone can give comfort to those who want to have somewhere they can visit a loved one who has passed, but cremation allows the placing of ashes into an urn, which can be displayed in the home or placed somewhere equally as meaningful.

According to a YouGov poll in 2016, 58% adults preferred cremation while only 17% wanted burial, with the trend leaning towards people warming towards cremation as they got older — 42% of 18-24 year-olds chose cremation, as opposed to 71% for the over-65s.

Ultimately, the choice is up to you or the family of the deceased. Take a look at the differences between burial and cremation over on our Funeral Finance page. 

Why do most Christians believe in burial over cremation?

Some Christians believe that cremation is destroying the body, therefore denying the act of Resurrection. However, this view is generally less observed as cremation has become more popular.

Interest in cremation started in the 19th century when Queen Victoria’s surgeon Sir Henry Thompson wrote Cremation: The Treatment of the Body After Death . He was primarily concerned with hygiene.

Is it illegal to be buried without a coffin?

There is currently no UK law that states you must be buried in a coffin. It does however state that it is an offence to expose a dead body near a public highway or in a public place. This is related to laws surrounding decency. The way a body is covered for burial is entirely up to the deceased or their relatives after they have died.

For some, they prefer not to be embalmed or have a coffin included in their funeral plans. This is considered an entirely natural burial. Embalming is a requirement for visiting a body in a funeral home or when an open coffin will be on display. It is however not part of any legal requirement.

What happens when a cemetery gets full?

When a cemetery becomes full, they will usually declare themselves as closed to any new burials. Some may still allow for the scattering of ashes over the consecrated ground. You would have to gain permission for this.

Will we ever run out of room for people's graves?

This is a mounting problem, however, as eventually there will no longer be enough space to bury people without re-using space. An example of this is when cemeteries use a grave for more than one burial:

“The City of London Cemetery in the east of the city has already re-used 1,500 graves. In most cases this involves deepening the grave, so the original remains are lower in the ground, and making a second burial on top.”

Excerpt from Re-using graves means UK cemetery will never run out of space from The Guardian Online.

Can you have a cremation without a funeral?

It is possible to be cremated without a funeral. This is called a direct cremation. There is no ceremony and no minister provided for the funeral. Some people may wish to bypass the organising of a traditional ceremony, so this is an option available to them. Direct cremations are often available for less than £1,000.

What is the typical depth for a burial today?

The term ‘6 feet under’ is an expression that has led to the common misconception that all graves must be at least 6 feet deep. In actual fact, the minimum is 3 feet.

During the Great Plague of London in 1665, with 20 percent of London’s population succumbing to the bubonic plague, the death rate reached over 8,000 per week. The disease continued to sweep the country due in part to the shallow graves that bodies were buried in, or so they believed at the time.

The then Lord Mayor of London enacted a series of rules to try and control the spread of disease. This included a mandate that all graves be dug a minimum of 6 feet deep.

The Institute of Cemetery & Crematorium Management states the following regarding the depths of graves:

  • No body shall be buried in such a manner that any part of the coffin is less than three feet below the level of any ground adjoining the grave
  • No body shall be buried in a grave unless the coffin is effectively separated from any coffin interred in a grave on a previous occasion, by means of a layer of earth not less than six inches thick

What happens during cremation?

During cremation, the body is burned until it becomes ashes. It is not necessary to embalm a body before the cremation unless, the family wishes to have a public viewing of the body during a memorial service or funeral.

If the deceased had a pacemaker or other type of medical device, it will need to be removed to prevent an explosion from occurring during the cremation process.

The body is placed in a cremation coffin, usually made of wood, or more often a cremation container which is a large cardboard box with a plywood bottom to provide sturdiness.

The funeral director or crematory operator will place an identification tag in the cremation container with the body to properly identify the cremated remains once they return to the funeral home. This ensures the family does not end up with the wrong set of cremated ashes.

It takes about 1 1/2 to 2 hours for a body to be completely reduced to just the bone fragments by cremation. These are removed from the cremation chamber and the crematory operator removes any metal debris such as screws, nails, surgical pins or titanium limbs/joints with a magnet and by hand.

The remaining bone fragments are then placed in a special processor which breaks the bone fragments down to a fine powder called cremains or more commonly referred to as the ashes.

The ashes are then placed in a bag within a temporary cremation container or an urn if one has already been chosen. The ashes are then returned to the family.

What happens to the coffin if someone is cremated?

The coffin is burned as part of the cremation process. If it has a metal nameplate attached, this will be removed beforehand and used as part of the identification afterwards, or can be used to decorate the urn that the ashes go in.

There are some companies who will rent out caskets and coffins for a funeral service, the body is then transferred to a simple coffin for cremation. This isn’t common in the UK because once the body enters the coffin, the coffin is sealed. This makes transferal of the body to another coffin for burning impossible.

Funerals and the environment

Is it better environmentally to be buried or cremated?

Deciding which is more environmentally friendly between burial and cremation is common when thinking about funerals.

Depending on the type of coffin and whether or not you have your body embalmed has an impact on how environmentally friendly a traditional burial would be. The resins used on the wooden coffins can enter the ground or air (when burned) as well as the embalming chemicals which are formaldehyde-based.

However, cremation does in fact use a lot of energy and produces greenhouse gas emissions, so is not entirely environmentally friendly either. The most environmentally friendly alternative is to have a green funeral.

For more information on the environmental impact of burials and cremations, read Should I be Buried or Cremated from The Guardian’s Environment section.

Green funerals

What is a green funeral?

Green funerals are increasingly popular with people who choose to be laid to rest in natural environments such as woodland.

These funerals are a more environmentally friendly alternative, and there are a number of different elements you will need to consider. Some of these are listed below, but we are always on hand to discuss them in more detail.

Natural burial grounds

There are numerous natural burial grounds across the East of England – from peaceful woodland glades to green, thriving meadows. Choosing to have a funeral in one of these locations can be less formal, but still provides family and friends with a special place to visit. There are regulations affecting natural burial sites, so please speak with one of our team to get all the information you need about this option.


A traditional headstone might not be in keeping with your wishes if you are having a green funeral, so it is important to think about how you wish to mark the burial site. Some people have a tree or plant placed as a memorial.

Some sites may allow a temporary or stone marker, while others prefer a natural, biodegradable marker or no marker at all. We are very happy to help you make your choice.

You can find out more about the different types of memorial we offer here.

Eco-friendly coffins

We offer a wide range of eco-friendly coffins for you to choose from. Our willow, seagrass and cardboard coffins are highly biodegradable, minimising their effect on the environment.

Find out more about the range of coffins we offer here.

Multicultural, religious and non-religious funerals

Our Funeral team have many years of experience in planning and directing multicultural, religious and non-religious funerals, so we are always here to give you the perfect service.

We'll work with you to create a service that is full of personal touches. Our team can speak to you about your requirements in one of our branches, the comfort of your own home, or alternatively in your place of worship.

We have many years of experience in making funeral arrangements for a number of cultures and religions, including:

What happens when you die if you’re an atheist?

Atheist funerals are similar to humanist funerals and are for those who lived their lives without religious affiliation or rejected the typically religious views associated with life and death.

At an atheist service, there is no specific reference to an afterlife. The deceased’s life is remembered through memories, with the service centering around the affection loved ones feel for the deceased and their family and close friends left behind.

Religious readings and hymns are not part of an atheist funeral service. Songs and readings are still used but they are more likely to be favourite songs and poems or other readings. At most humanist services, family, friends and even acquaintances may be asked to share their fond memories with others in attendance.

Atheist Cremation or Burial

Both cremation and burial are common atheist funeral practices. Whether or not there is an open coffin depends upon individual preferences and circumstances. If the deceased’s wishes were not made known prior to the funeral, the family will make the decision. An atheist service can be held at any time. Some choose to hold services before burial, some at the graveside. Others may opt for a memorial service sometime after the burial or cremation.

Where are Buddhist funerals held?

Religious memorial services are traditionally held on the third, seventh, forty-ninth, and one-hundredth day after the death, though these days can be flexible. The services may be held at a family home or at a monastery. The family can choose to limit the participation to family only or may invite the larger community to participate. Mourners at a Buddhist funeral should wear white rather than black clothing to symbolise grief.

Cremation and burial are both acceptable in Buddhism. If the body is to be cremated, monks may be present at the crematorium and lead chanting. If no monks are present, family members may lead chanting. Cremated remains may be collected by the family the following day, and may be kept by the family, enshrined in a columbarium or urn garden, or scattered at sea.

Where are Jewish funerals held?

Jewish funerals can take place in a variety of locations. Some funerals are exclusively held at the graveside, while others occur in multiple locations, starting at the synagogue, or a funeral home, and then moving in a procession to the cemetery.

Traditionally, burial takes place as soon as possible, within 24 hours. This is not always possible and, given the fact that many modern Jewish families are spread out around the country, it usually becomes necessary to wait a day or two until everyone can arrive. Jewish funerals cannot take place on Shabbat (observed from sunset on Friday evenings until the Saturday night) or on most Jewish holidays.

Orthodox and Conservative Judaism prohibit cremation based on specific passages in the Torah, but some Jews feel that other passages claim otherwise. Rabbinic opinion on the subject states that while cremation ought to be discouraged, the practice is not considered sinful.

Where are Muslim funerals held?

According to Shariah (Islamic law), the body should be buried as soon as possible from the time of death, which means that funeral planning and preparations begin immediately. A local Islamic community organisation usually helps make arrangements for the funeral service and burial and coordinate with the family and funeral home. The funeral will take place in a Mosque. This may be one local to the family of the deceased, or where the deceased practiced their own faith.

Cremation is considered to be an unclean practice and therefore Muslims are forbidden to take part in it – even witnessing it. In Islam, funeral rites are prescribed by the divine law and burying the dead is the method prescribed. Burning the dead is considered a form of mutilation, forbidden by Allah.

Where are Hindu funerals held?

Traditionally, Hindus prefer to die at home and according to Hindu funeral customs, the body remains there until it is cremated (usually within 24 hours after death). The ashes are typically scattered at a sacred body of water or at another place of importance to the deceased. A service may take place later at a Hindu temple which is called a Mandir.

At the funeral service mourners wear white as black is considered inappropriate. An open casket will be present with a priest or “karta” presiding over the proceedings. Hymns and mantras are recited, and some services include a fire sacrifice. Offerings are made to ancestors and gods.

How to overcome cultural differences when planning a funeral

The death of a loved one is a difficult time. Because of the emotional nature of death, every culture has customs and traditions that are usually designed to help family and friends work through their grief. Sometimes this is done through funeral arrangements or specific ceremonies to ensure that the deceased is honoured.

If there are significant differences in how the family wishes to conduct the funeral, compared to that of the deceased, it is important to be sensitive to the beliefs of everyone involved and to find compromise in the event of a disagreement. However, if a will has been made, these decisions may already have been decided.

Funeral etiquette

Is it ok to take kids to a funeral?

Taking children to a funeral is a personal choice. For some, the children may not be of an age where they understand what a funeral means, and this could cause problems if they struggle to stay quiet or focussed while others are trying to process grief or hold a quiet service.

Some children may find it difficult to understand what’s happening during a funeral or feel distressed. It is up to the parents or guardians of the children to decide if it’s appropriate to include them in funeral proceedings.

For advice on helping children to deal with bereavement, Child Bereavement UK has lots of useful articles and can provide support.

What to wear and say at a funeral

There are some general guidelines for what to wear and say at a funeral, although these are flexible and will, of course, depend on if it is a religious ceremony with specific traditions, or a simple cremation with a brief service to mark the occasion.

How should I dress at a funeral?

Deciding what clothing to wear at a funeral can be difficult. Although for many black seems an appropriate choice to symbolise mourning and seriousness, in some cultures it is considered inappropriate and white is the preferred colour.

If you are unsure of what to wear, and if it is possible, contact the family of the deceased or other guests attending to find out if there is a dress code you need to adhere to.

As a general rule, looking smart and dressing formally is often a good rule of thumb for attending a funeral, unless another specific dress code is provided.

What should I say at a funeral?

If you are asked to speak at a funeral, the reading or prayer may have already previously been selected for you. If it hasn’t and you have been asked to prepare something, it will usually be focused on memories of the person who has died and showing respect for their life. You can talk this through with the family or friends to make sure what you are saying is correct and appropriate. It might also help you to feel less nervous if you are worried about becoming emotional while you speak.

In terms of appropriate things to say to others at a funeral, there is no right or wrong answer to this, but generally it is considered kind to wish the family well and ask them how they are doing in this difficult time. You may also wish to pay your respects to the person who passed away by sharing fond memories you have of them.

If you are attending a religious ceremony of a faith which you do not consider yourself a part of, you may wish to find out if there is anything you should not say in case of causing offence. Mostly, people will simply be glad you came to say goodbye to their loved one and mark their passing.

Writing a eulogy

The definition of a eulogy is “a speech or piece of writing that praises someone or something highly, especially a tribute to someone who has just died.”

If you have been asked to write one to be read at a funeral, there are some excellent sites available to help you prepare one. The Good Funeral Guide has a downloadable PDF on a few guidelines on how to write a really good eulogy here.

Some things to include in a eulogy:

  • Fond memories of the person who died — stories and events in their life that made an impression
  • What their life meant — charities or causes they believed in or championed (if appropriate)
  • Why they were special to you and others

Couldn’t find the answer to your questions here?

We have tried our best to answer all your questions but understand that you may have more. If you're worried about cost and financing a funeral, want more advice or simply to talk through your options, a member of our team can guide you through and suggest any financial support you may be eligible for.

Take a look at our price list, or contact your local funeral team for more information.