How to plan your own funeral

Planning on dying? Good, because much like taxes, rain on bank holidays, and rail strikes, it’s inevitable. So, it’s best to be prepared.

By Remy Maisel

While we can’t do anything about your mounting dread or your sinking feeling that you have accomplished none of the things you dreamt of as a child, we can helpfully point out that the average cost of a funeral in the UK is £3,757 – and it’s more than £4,000 if you want to get stuck in the ground 1.

Not only is it expensive, but there are a lot of decisions to be made. Cremation, or burial – and if you choose cremation, what will you do with the ashes? If you’re going with a burial, which plot? Will there be a priest, a rabbi, an imam, or none of the above? Are you sure your ex-ex-wife is not going to put up a fight when your boyfriend’s son’s brother wants to keep you in an urn on the mantle?

Better decide all this now, or you(r remains) might end up in court 2.

Here are five tips for planning your funeral:

1. Sort your paperwork

If you don’t want a fight over your mortal shell to end up in legal limbo, you should make sure you write a will and outline exactly what you want your funeral to look like. This isn’t legally binding in itself, but would be taken into consideration by the courts if it came to that – and hopefully your loved ones would do what it says.

In your will, you can name an executor, who will be responsible for making your funeral arrangements – decisions like where and how the funeral takes place. They have the final say, even if other members of your family objects 3.

2. Get organised

Not much point in making a will or any other arrangements if nobody can find the paperwork, is there? Make sure the will is up-to-date, that any relevant people are aware that it exists, and that it’s kept in a logical and accessible location. 

If you named an executor, it would be a good idea to let them know and tell them where the paperwork is. You might want to consider giving them a copy. And if you have a funeral home or other organisations or people in mind, you can give them a copy, too.

3. Decide what to do with the remains

There are so many options. Natural burial? Gross, but eco-friendly. Cremation? A little gross, but slightly less expensive than burials. Going traditional? So many coffins to choose from! Is there a religious tradition involved? Going to need a pine box, or maybe a strict schedule. Then you’ll really want to plan ahead. 

Lots of people are going to have feelings about viewings and wakes and other such things, so here’s another opportunity to make sure you’re sure about what you want and maybe find out if your loved ones have their hearts set on turning your ashes into a diamond and wearing you around their necks until they die, too.

Or maybe you’d rather be a tree.

4. Make your wishes clear

It’s important that when you’re writing down what you want for your funeral that you be clear, but not too specific. Don’t say ‘I want Father O’Malley to do the service,’ say ‘I want a Catholic service.’ Remember, by the time you die, Father O’Malley might be dead, too. 

Again, talk to your family or other loved ones, if that’s an option. Make sure they understand the principles of what you want. Whether you want a religious or secular service, whether you want it to be a big or small event, and whether you want to be buried, donated to science, or chucked into a volcano. You know, the important stuff.

5. Save some money

No matter what you do, dying is expensive. If you don’t want your last act to cost your family, you can save some money for your funeral now. There are some dedicated financial products to make that easier. Life insurance is one way to ensure that you won’t leave your family with a bill, or you can consider more specialist products such as funeral insurance. 

If you're over 50 years old, Aviva offers Over 50s life insurance, which provides guaranteed cover with a lump sum payout. If you intend to cover your funeral (which is also guaranteed to happen), this might be a product for you to think about.