Funerals are a lucrative business and it’s easy to be drawn into spending lots of cash. My Dad recently passed away, so I’ve learnt first-hand about the difficult decisions you have to make at a distressing time.
It’s a subject not often talked about, exacerbated by the fact that despite the huge financial outlay, it’s an unregulated industry. Here are some pointers I hope will help anyone in a similar situation.
You DON’T have to spend lots to have a meaningful funeral. My Dad wasn’t a religious man so we had a simple, civil service. No one will notice what coffin you’ve picked or how you arrived. We made the service personal by picking his favourite music, readings and reliving stories. Lots of friends and family told us it was particularly special and memorable.
Start by getting three quotes.It’s a daunting job arranging a funeral and hard to know where to start if you’ve not done it before. Grab a Yellow Pages or look online to find local funeral directors. Pick three and get quotes over the phone. We chose one recommended by a friend, the Co-op, for its ethical credentials and another.Fact-finding over the phone gives you a bit of space to make decisions before taking the plunge. We didn’t pick the very cheapest in the end, but went with the one we were most comfortable with.
Find out the cost for a basic funeral. Most funeral directors offer fancy packages. But in reality, there’s little difference between them and the basic options, and it might include things you don’t want. Ask them to quote for the basic cost and find out the price of extras separately so you can make an informed decision. Industry codes mean funeral directors must tell you about these. Check if the price quoted includes disbursements – these are fixed fees for doctors, the crematorium, etc.
It’s OK to think about price. You might feel churlish even considering the costs of a funeral. But there’s really no point in over-stretching yourself when in fact, you could pay far less for an identical funeral.
Take your time. Once you’ve picked your funeral director, make sure you get a written quotation of what’s included. And if you’re asked to sign a contract, don’t feel pressurised into signing straight away.
Consider buying a casket online for less. We decided we wanted an eco-friendly coffin as that fitted my Dad’s beliefs. However, that added an extra £900 on top of the basic package – just for changing the coffin type. It was only after leaving the funeral directors we thought about it. So after a bit of research online, we rang back and asked if we could pay the basic cost and provide our own coffin.
We ordered an eco-friendly wicker coffin from Natural Endings, which was very efficient. Most online companies ask for at least 48 hours to deliver the coffin (to your funeral directors or wherever you ask). We had less time, but it was still delivered promptly. This saved around £400.
Don’t be afraid to go it alone. If you have the strength and time, you can organise the funeral yourself without a funeral director. For example, instead of booking a hearse, a friend of the family had her husband’s coffin transported in the van him and his friend had spent many road trips in! Some crematoriums may not deal with you directly, though – only via a funeral director. Directgov has more info on arranging a funeral yourself.
Ask for help. Friends and family will be keen to help you in any way possible. Dealing with practical matters allows them to feel helpful and alleviates some stress for you. We had a friend drive us to the service, eliminating the need for a pricey limo (which, for us, didn’t feel right) and delegated jobs like organising the catering.
You have consumer rights. Just as you do with any other purchase. Surprisingly, this is an unregulated industry, but there are two trade bodies that funeral directors can belong to and it’s worth checking yours is a member of one before paying for anything. See the NAFD or SAIF websites to check.
Being a member of these groups means they’ll adhere to industry codes such as displaying prices publicly and giving written quotes in advance. If you’re unhappy with the service you’ve had, complain to the trade bodies or the OFT.
Please add your thoughts and experiences in the MSE forum. It may help someone in a time of need.