Using a funeral director
Choosing the right funeral director is an important decision. As a member of the Charter for the Bereaved we are able to advise you about funeral arrangements but cannot directly recommend a particular funeral director. However, we hope that the information here will help you make an informed choice and may answer any questions you may have.
Recommendations from friends and family are often a good place to start but this should not replace your own research into what services each company offers and how much these services will cost. You can obtain details of your local funeral directors from telephone directories, newspapers, the Citizens Advice Bureau or online.
Funeral directors can set up business without training or qualifications and no licence is necessary. Without universal standards, separating a good funeral director from an indifferent one can be difficult. Some funeral directors are members of professional organisations, who may operate a Code of Conduct and a complaints procedure. The National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD), the Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) are examples.
The role and service of a funeral director
The role of the funeral director is not widely understood. Although funeral directors help, console and guide the bereaved, that does not prevent them being subject to critical analysis. They are often organising a funeral with distressed people who may have no expectations of a funeral and its arrangements with satisfaction relying upon the meeting of philosophical and other complex needs. Therefore it is important for everybody to be informed and prepared for death and funerals. The completion of a Will or funeral directive empowers the bereaved and reduces their reliance upon a funeral director at the critical time of a death.
After the executor or person arranging the funeral has contacted a funeral director, a package will usually comprise the following:
- a meeting to discuss the funeral arrangements
- collection of the body and preparation for it to be viewed
- a choice of coffins is usually offered and the deceased can be viewed, by appointment, in a Chapel of Rest
- the funeral director will contact the cemetery or crematorium and arrange the date and time of the funeral
- the funeral director will ensure all forms are correctly completed and any necessary forms/certificates delivered to the cemetery/crematorium office. Details will be given about the form of service and music if required.
- the funeral director will pay the various fees involved, called disbursements. These include cemetery and crematorium fees, minister's fees, etc.
- floral tributes and newspaper obituaries can be arranged, if required
- a hearse and following limousines will be provided and the funeral will take place under the guidance of the funeral director
- after the funeral, an account will be sent. This account should be itemised and clearly define the disbursements paid on behalf of the person arranging the funeral.
Price transparency and facilities
Most funerals are sold as package, and it can be difficult to obtain the actual price of each component. This can create difficulties if you wish to dispense with or change some components included in the package. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has suggested that price transparency should apply to funeral directing charges, allowing families to select more or less of a service according to their needs. In general price transparency is not offered to families, for example some funeral directors will not charge for their time but add this to the cost of the hearse and coffin.
The coffin is one item that carries the greatest proportion of costs. The cost price of a standard chipboard coffin fitted out for a funeral can be £60 to £70 but may be sold for £275 to £300. Please remember that although the funeral director directs the funerals, you should have a complete choice of all materials and are perfectly at liberty to source coffins, floral tributes and memorials independently of your funeral director. Some funeral directors own or have arrangements with particular firms that supply floral tributes and memorials. Although this may be convenient it may prevent you using independent suppliers. Make sure you discuss these issues with the firm concerned before completing any agreement.
Innovations in funeral directing
There are a number of Innovations in funeral directing including independent funeral directors offering a complete price menu. There are also coffin shops and green undertakers. In 1995 the first funeral supermarket opened in London, replicating similar services in France.
Ownership of firms
Many of the traditional "family firm" funeral directors have been purchased by much larger companies who will then continue to trade under the old name but may not offer the same service. The new owners may not be disclosed on shop signs or letterheads. Similarly, older people tend to reflect upon the past socialist principles of the co-op funeral service, which may no longer apply. Never be afraid to ask about ownership if it is an issue for you.
The law on payment
Common law recognises that a funeral consists of a sequence of tasks and events, all of which must be satisfactory. Where even a single element is performed unsatisfactorily, the payment of the entire funeral account may be disputed by the person paying for the funeral. The disbursements are not part of the funeral directors charges and must be paid. In some areas, the disbursements may have to be paid in advance of the funeral.
It should be noted that whoever orders the funeral becomes liable for the funeral costs. In some cases, a friend has organised a funeral only to find that the deceased had no estate or monies. Consequently, they have found themselves liable for the whole cost of the funeral.
Donations at funerals
Some people are concerned at the excessive expenditure on wreaths and floral tributes at funerals. This is particularly evident in winter when the flowers may be damaged by frost or inclement weather within hours of the funeral. An alternative course is to organise a collection for a named charity, hospice or other deserving cause. This is often facilitated by requesting "family flowers" only or "no flowers by request."