As much as talking about death isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, sorting the practicalities of a funeral out with some forward planning can be a great source of comfort – for you now, and for your loved ones at what’s likely to be a difficult time.
Here are some of the key things to think about when choosing a prepaid funeral plan.
First things first: cremation or burial?
Funeral plans will usually include funeral director services for organising and carrying out a cremation or burial funeral, and payment towards crematorium or cemetery costs. The type of funeral plan you choose might be based on any religious or cultural beliefs you have, established family traditions, or just your own preference.
Both types of funeral can be religious or secular, and will usually start with a hearse carrying the coffin, followed by a limousine taking chief mourners – usually immediate family of the person who’s passed away – to the crematorium or burial site.
Here are some important differences between to two types of funeral:
- Towards the end of the service, the coffin is lowered or taken away from the chapel, where it’s turned into ashes.
- The ashes can be kept by the family in an urn, buried at a separate service, made into keepsakes, or scattered in a place that holds special memories.
- A direct cremation is a simpler, no-frills approach, without a service or ceremony. So there’s no minister, procession, limousines or pallbearers, friends or family present.
- A burial service happens outside at a cemetery or burial site, usually after the main funeral service, though it can be the service itself.
- The coffin is lowered into a burial plot while readings take place, and mourners can scatter earth or flowers on the coffin.
- It’s possible to choose a burial of the body in the sea, though there are only three locations in the UK where this is allowed and there are strict regulations, which you’d need to check with your funeral plan provider.
A cremation usually costs less than a burial. Around 77% of all funerals in the UK are cremations 1.
How do you choose a coffin?
There are a few things you need to think about when it comes to choosing the coffin: what it’s made from, any personalisation you’d like, the type of funeral, and your final resting place.
The level of funeral plan you choose will usually include a specific material for the coffin. When you think of a coffin, it’s probably the traditional box that’s tapered at the head and foot, wide at the shoulders, and with six sides. Funeral caskets are slightly different, as they’re rectangular with four sides and a hinged lid, and tend to be made from more premium materials.
Coffins and caskets can be made from materials like wood, metal and cardboard. Though if it’s a cremation, it can’t be metal.
More sustainable, biodegradable options include wicker and wool, and even banana leaf, which might be chosen for eco funerals and woodland burials, where you want to minimise the impact on the environment. If the plan doesn’t cover this option, you can usually add it, if you pay extra.
If you like the idea of a personalised or ornate design for the coffin, handles and trims, specific colours, or even a picture, talk to your funeral plan provider about how you can add that to your plan.
What do you need to consider when planning a funeral?
As you only have one funeral, you’ll most likely want it to reflect who you are, your beliefs, and what you love. A prepaid funeral plan is way of making that happen.
You’ll want to make sure it’s within your budget. Have a think about what’s important to you, and what your loved ones might take comfort from. Whether you want a campervan hearse to help set the tone of the day, or to be planted under a tree that will grow for decades to come, you can make your goodbye how you want to be remembered, without any second-guessing from your relatives. Just bear in mind these kinds of extras are going to cost a bit more than the standard package price.
It’s important to talk to your family about what you’re planning and, when you’ve arranged it, where the documents that tell them what they need to know are kept.
Flowers and donations
If lilies make you sneeze and gladioli bring you joy, you can make a note of your preferred floral tributes in your plan. Or maybe you’d rather ask for donations to a charity that’s close to your heart.
Funeral plans can include ordering from and dealing with a florist, though flowers will usually cost extra.
Music and words
It’s no secret that music evokes memories and feelings in a powerful way. So playing a song your loved ones associate with you, or that you drove them to distraction playing repeatedly on car journeys, can add extra poignancy to the service.
According to a SunLife survey, in 2019, the most popular song played at funerals was Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’, with a certain amount of optimism shown at number six, with Dame Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’, and ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ at nine 2. Only 25% of people asked said they’d choose a hymn for their own funeral.
But it doesn’t matter what other people choose, and it doesn’t have to be a golden oldie, or a traditional hymn – Bach or Beyoncé, this one’s entirely up to you.
You can also arrange to have spoken or recorded readings during the service, which might be excerpts from books you love, or funeral poems that might offer some solace. Just bear in mind that a standard service usually lasts about 20 minutes.
The brighter, the better
You might want to ask your family and friends to arrive at your service in head-to-toe cheerful colour instead of traditional black, so they’re kitted out in your favourite shade. SunLife’s research found that nearly a third of people wanted mourners to wear bright clothes at their goodbye, instead of black 2.
What you pick might not suit everyone, but it’s a way to make proceedings more like a vibrant celebration of life, and good times.
What does a prepaid funeral plan cost?
What it costs to organise your send-off ahead of time really depends on the plan you choose, and any special requests you’d like. But let’s start with the basics.
The costs a standard prepaid plan might include
It’s important to be aware that plans vary, with some only covering funeral director costs. So make sure you know exactly what’s included before you buy.
A prepaid plan typically includes:
- transport of the body to a chapel of rest
- a coffin
- funeral procession, and travel by limousine of chief mourners to the crematorium or burial site
- personalisation options like songs and readings
- funeral director costs, and a contribution towards crematorium and minister or officiant fees
- a contribution towards burial costs, if it’s not a cremation.
If you’d like any special requests for things that aren’t included in a prepaid plan, like an organist to play a favourite piece, or an extra limousine to carry friends or family, this may cost extra and will be paid for either up front, or at the time of the funeral. Talk to the funeral plan provider to find out what these add-ons are likely to cost, and what’s possible.
Paying for your funeral ahead of time
With a prepaid funeral plan, a huge plus point is you usually pay today’s prices for future services.
It’s worth knowing that, between 2011 and 2019, the cost of a basic funeral increased by a pretty significant £1,231 3. So you can see how a plan can help protect against this and take the financial burden away from loved ones in the future, because the services detailed in your plan will already be paid for, ahead of time.
Without a plan in place, the executor of your estate would usually need to cover the cost of your funeral before they could recover any money from the estate.
You might be interested to know we've partnered with Dignity, one of the UK’s leading funeral plan providers. Their prepaid funeral plans range from £2,995 to £3,995, and you can pay in one lump sum when you buy or in instalments (terms and conditions apply).
How you can make sure the plan’s right for you
Buying a prepaid funeral plan is a big decision. So you can be informed and choose the plan that's right for you, the Funeral Planning Authority and Citizens Advice offer guidance, and you’ll find information elsewhere online.
You should feel confident your money will be held in a safe place until it’s needed. With a Dignity plan, you’ll know it’s secure with the independent National Funeral Trust. You may also want to make sure the provider’s registered with the Funeral Planning Authority or the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors.
While you may not want to bring up the topic of funerals at family gatherings, it’s going to be a significant day for your loved ones. So talk about your choices with them, and let them know what you’ve chosen for your send-off, and who it’s with.
That way, you’ll have peace of mind that a tough task will be a little less stressful for the people you leave behind, when the time comes.