DIY funerals

If a loved one dies, it will probably be up to someone in the family to arrange their funeral – and this person may well be you. The usual way is simply to choose a local funeral director who meets your needs and budget, and then leave most of the arrangements to them.

However, there’s no requirement to use a funeral director. A small but growing number of people are taking it upon themselves to conduct most of the arrangements themselves, hiring various different companies to take care of each part of the process. The advantage of doing this is that it may save money, or enable you to design the funeral in exactly the way you want to. The downside is that it can be a logistical challenge – but if you’re a master organiser, here’s how to go about arranging a DIY funeral.

Arranging a funeral without a funeral director

A DIY funeral isn’t something to arrange in a hurry, so it may not be appropriate for an unexpected death. If you want to consider this route for a loved one whose death is expected within a few years, aim to make plans in advance. The funeral arrangements will involve a lot of ringing around and contacting various people, from the florist to the venue, so at the very least you will need a ready contact list of all your preferred suppliers.

Also bear in mind that arranging a DIY funeral is not a one person job, so have at least one other person to help and assign key duties to each of you.

How to arrange a funeral yourself

Organising involves patience and clear thinking – and that’s doubly true when planning a funeral.

There are a number of things you must do when a person dies, whether or not you are arranging the funeral yourself. Your immediate responsibilities are covered in our quick guide What to do when someone dies.

When arranging a DIY funeral, the first major challenge is dealing with the person’s body. This is one area where a professional will almost certainly be required, as the deceased will need to be preserved until the time of the funeral, washed and dressed etc. One alternative to keeping the body at a funeral home is to have the hospital mortuary keep the deceased until the time of the funeral. You’ll have to ask them whether this will be possible. You do have the right to take the body of a loved one home, though keeping a body at home is not recommended. If you do, the room and body should be kept as cool as possible (ice packs can help), with all doors and windows kept closed at all times.  

Now you can turn your attention to arranging the funeral itself. You’ll need to:

•   choose, purchase and arrange the delivery of a coffin, casket, or urn (you can also opt for a shroud). Some particularly dedicated relatives go so far as to make the coffin themselves – if you do, the maximum dimensions for cremation are 84 inches x 30 inches x 27 inches (length, width and depth).

•   (if cremating) arrange a ceremony at a crematorium

•   arrange a ceremony at a place of worship (if religious) or another venue

•   (if burying) buy a burial plot, either at a cemetery or at a woodland designated for burials

•   (if burying at home) hire a professional gravedigger and/or ensure you abide by burial site regulations

•   create and send out invitations to all the guests and arrange flowers etc. for the ceremony

•   arrange transport for the coffin/casket to the venue, as well as transport for close family and friends

•   arrange a venue and catering for the wake, or hold it at home

Can I bury a dead body in my garden?

It is legal to conduct a burial on private land, such as your garden, but you should bear a number of thing in mind. Firstly, speak to the Environment Agency to check that there are no potential environmental issues, such as flooding or unsuitable ground conditions. There should be at least one metre of subsoil below the coffin and at least one metre of soil above it.

Secondly, consider the long-term implications. If you move home, you will have to inform potential buyers that someone is buried there, which may affect the property price. If you do sell the property, you’ll lose visiting rights to the grave, and future owners could even apply to have the body exhumed, without consulting you.

Do DIY funerals save money?

The overall cost of a DIY funeral may be slightly cheaper, but cost usually isn’t the reason people opt to make the arrangements themselves. Usually it’s more about wanting to keep things as personal as possible. However, funeral director services are becoming increasing diverse and flexible in terms of what they can offer, so it’s now fairly easy to obtain a unique funeral without going to the trouble of making lots of arrangements yourself.

Can I use a funeral director to help with some of the funeral arrangements?

Most funeral directors are flexible and willing to support you in various ways, so a ‘semi-DIY’ funeral is also a practical option. There are lots of price plans for funerals that help you spread the cost, so even if you wanted to plan half of the proceedings yourself, and use an expert funeral director for things like storing and clothing the body, then you can arrange set payments to cover the cost.

Even if you are attracted to the idea of a DIY funeral, it’s worth speaking to a number of funeral directors first to see how their services compare.

Find out about more ways to remember a loved one.