Choosing a funeral director

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Location, shopping around, estimates

Location can have a significant influence on the choice of funeral director, with many rural areas only having one firm from which to choose.

Cities, towns and larger villages, however, tend to have a number of funeral directors, often a mixture of independent, family-run firms and large chains such as Co-op, Dignity or Funeral Partners.

Some Co-op Funeralcare and all Dignity and Funeral Partners branches were previously owned by independent firms. These almost always continue to trade under the former owner’s name, albeit with elements of the new owner’s brand incorporated into signage.

It is worth telephoning or emailing a handful of funeral directors to ask about their services, their approach and to source a copy of their prices, if they are not displayed on their websites.

The average cost of a funeral is accepted to be in the region of £3,700, including third party fees, but prices can vary depending on the type of services opted for.

Trade association members are required to provide a no-obligation written estimate upon request.

Comparison websites can give an indication as to cost but information is sometimes outdated.

Tip: As well as talking to funeral directors about their services, talk to friends and relatives who may have had a good experience and be in a position to make a reliable recommendation.

Care of the deceased and viewing

When a funeral director takes a deceased person into their care, the normal process is for the person to be washed and dressed in accordance with the family’s wishes.

It is common to hear that a person who has died “is now in the chapel of rest”. This conjures up an image of a person lying at rest in a coffin in a tranquil room for the week or two that they are in a funeral director’s care.

Whilst this happens in some funeral homes, more often than not the body is stored in a special refrigeration unit until the day of the funeral. Many funeral directors have invested in onsite refrigeration units, whilst others rent space from other funeral firms, or even use hospital mortuaries.

Families or the person in charge of the funeral should ask their funeral director about where their relative or friend will be kept between death and the funeral to ensure they are happy with the facilities and location.

Normally, the person who has died will be moved into the chapel of rest for the purpose of family viewing.

Most funeral directors offer embalming of the deceased as part of their services, and often those without refrigeration will provide embalming as an alternative.

There is no medical requirement for this treatment, which involves injecting a preservative into the body to delay decomposition.

However, it can provide comfort to families who wish to view or visit their loved one in a chapel of rest and who might otherwise experience distress as a result of witnessing advanced decomposition.

Funeral directors have differing policies when it comes to viewing. Some may offer viewing by appointment, whilst others permit viewing at any time. This is something to consider when appointing a funeral director.

Some larger funeral directors operate a central mortuary where all deceased in their care are stored. The deceased are transported to a local branch for viewing in the chapel of rest and then to the location of the funeral.

Tip: It is perfectly acceptable and legal to keep a loved one at home and a funeral director will be able to support this wish and advise of any implications

Trade associations and standards

In the UK there are two main trade associations, The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) and the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD). SAIF represents purely independent businesses whilst the NAFD’s membership comprises Co-ops, large chains and some independents.

Both trade associations operate quality assurance inspection regimes, whereby inspectors visit funeral homes to monitor standards as set out in respective codes of practice.

Funeral directors in membership of trade associations usually display window stickers to highlight their membership and place inspection certificates in reception areas to demonstrate their adherence to standards.

Clients of trade association members should receive a code of practice from their funeral director and are advised to study the document.

These clients will also have access to an independent complaints process, involving external mediators and arbitrators.

Tip: Trade association inspectors will assess the mortuary areas of a funeral home as well as the reception and arranging areas. Most funeral directors will be happy to allow families to view their mortuary if they so wish. There is no legal requirement for a funeral director to belong to a trade association, to have their funeral homes inspected or to meet minimum quality standards.

Funeral plans

Funeral plans have increased in popularity in recent years, largely as a result of rising funeral prices.

A funeral plan can be very helpful to families where the deceased’s estate is unlikely to cover the cost of the funeral.

But beware. The funeral planning market is currently unregulated, although the voluntary Funeral Planning Authority (FPA), set up by a number of funeral plan providers, provides some protection.

Additionally, trusts set up by funeral plan providers are covered by the Financial Conduct Authority and payments to providers may be covered by the Consumer Credit Act 1974 if paying by credit card.

Consumers thinking about taking out a funeral plan are advised to visit the FPA website and talk to local funeral directors about their options.

Tread carefully when it comes to funeral plan price comparison websites and cold callers and always seek a second opinion for a funeral plan offered in such circumstances.

When taking out a funeral plan, it’s sensible to keep all related documentation safe with other important documents such as insurance, to ensure next of kin are able to access when the time comes to redeem the plan.

*On June 2 2019, HM Treasury announced proposals to bring funeral plans under the remit of the Financial Conduct Authority. Further information can be found here.

Tip: Shop around for a funeral plan and get a breakdown of admin fees and the elements of the funeral covered in each provider’s plan.

Planning for a funeral

The best way to achieve a funeral that will honour the deceased’s final wishes and provide comfort to bereaved family and friends is to make plans before death occurs.

Sadly, for many people in the UK death is still a taboo subject and funerals are arranged without any true knowledge about what the deceased would have liked.

In order to better prepare for a funeral, the following questions might prove useful:

  • Would the person in question like to be buried or cremated?
  • Where should the funeral take place?
  • Which funeral director should the family use and what level of involvement should the family have in caring for the deceased and arranging a ceremony or service?
  • What transport should be used for the funeral?
  • What route should the funeral cortege follow?
  • What songs, poems and readings will there be at the funeral and who will speak?
  • Will the funeral have a religious theme and if so, which minister will lead the service?
  • How many people will be invited to the funeral?
  • What should mourners wear to the funeral?
  • Will there be a wake and if so where?
  • Will the funeral take place at the same time as the disposal of the body?
  • What budget is there for the funeral?
  • Will there be flowers and, if so, what will they say/represent?
  • Will there be donations to a charity or cause and if so which?

Tip: Many funeral directors offer free funeral planning booklets. Fill it in and advise family members where it is stored.