Planning and paying for your own funeral

Esther Shaw / 01 October 2015 ( 12 March 2020 )

No one likes to think about their own death, but with funeral costs always rising, it’s important to plan ahead. Read our guide to funeral costs and how to reduce them.



The current average cost of a funeral in the UK now stands at a huge £3,784 - double the price of a decade ago.

And costs of course can go considerably higher once you add in extras, such as venue hire for the wake and catering costs.

With this in mind, it’s important to discuss your wishes with your loved ones – and to plan for the future.

We take a look at some of the different schemes and products available to help you fund your funeral.

Pre-payment plans

Rocketing funeral costs are prompting more and more people to consider pre-paying for their send-off.

Prepaid plans can be bought from a funeral plan provider or local funeral director.

Costs will depend on the package you choose, and tend to start from around £3,000 for a basic plan.

You usually have the option of making a one-off payment now, or paying in instalments (though it’s worth checking for additional fees for paying month-by-month).

Once you have paid for one of these plans, you get the peace of mind of knowing that you have locked in at today’s prices; this means your family won’t have to dig deep to cover the shortfall if prices rise.

With a prepaid plan, all the basic costs are covered, such as funeral director fees, coffin, hearse hire, and so on, and you can add personal touches, such as the music and readings you want as part of the service.

In addition, the prepaid plan provider will usually handle most of the arrangements.

What happens to someone's debts when they die?

Tread carefully

But while all this may sound appealing, you do need to tread carefully, as plans can come with lots of exclusions.

This can mean your family is burdened with additional costs once you die.

Some policies do not, for example, cover third-party costs, such as the doctor’s fees (for writing the death certificate), church costs, minister’s fees, grave digging, and the burial plot fees.

If this is the case, these will also need to be paid by relatives at the time of the funeral.

Life insurance policies

One alternative to a pre-paid funeral plan is a life insurance policy, also known as an over-50s plan.

Generally speaking, policies will pay out a lump sum on death towards the cost of a send-off.

It’s important to note that if you live for a long time, you could end up paying in more than the sum your loved ones will get when you die. However, all providers should inform you of when your policy's break-even point will occur when you take out the policy. 

Another disadvantage of life insurance is that your family may have to arrange the funeral, unless your provider offers a Funeral Benefit Option. In the event of a claim, money will be paid directly to a Funeral Director who will arrange the funeral according to the customer's wish list.

In addition, you need to check whether the plan covers the full cost, as once again, there could be exclusions.

The key is to check the Ts and Cs to see exactly what cover is provided.

Build your own pot of savings

When it comes to funding your funeral, you also have the option of going it alone and putting aside money every month.

You could do this by opening a “best buy” regular saver account, and then paying in, say, £100 each month to build your own fund.

If you open the savings account under joint names with a family member, they can use the fund for your funeral when you die.

Releasing funds from an estate

Banks are usually willing to consider requests to settle the funeral bill from a late customer’s account, provided funds are available. An invoice will usually need to be provided.

Some banks may also reimburse a bill that has already been paid if proof of payment can be provided.

Government help

Low-income families may be eligible for a Funeral Payment from the Government.

This money will help with general costs, such as a burial, cremation or plot purchase. A payment of up to £700 is also available to meet fees, including the coffin, flowers, and the cost of the funeral director.

The award depends on an individual’s circumstances, and is only available to those receiving certain benefits.

The Government also offers Bereavement Payments for spouses and civil partners who have paid National Insurance and who were under state pension age when they died. The payment is a £2,000 tax-free lump sum, and you may be eligible for this if your spouse or civil partner died before 6 April 2017.

Tips to bring down funeral costs

No one wants to appear to be penny pinching at such a sensitive time. What you wish to spend (and can afford to) is entirely a personal matter for surviving relatives and, of course, the wishes of the deceased, if appropriate and manageable.

Don’t automatically accept the first funeral quote you get. Make sure you shop around to find the best deal you can.

As the burial plot can be one of the biggest expenses, it’s worth doing a little research to see if you can find a plot at a cheaper location.

Consider cutting back on ‘extras’, such as additional limo hire, flowers and catering. Consider, for example, printing your own service and sorting out your own wake, perhaps at the local pub.

Look into natural burial sites, in woodlands, as these can work out cheaper than a gravestone and plot in a cemetery.

For natural burials, visit http://respectgb.co.uk/  (Lincolnshire-based but providing a national service) or www.highergroundmeadow.co.uk (West Country). Or contact info@directfuneral.co.uk.

For a list of direct funeral cremation providers, visit http://www.naturaldeath.org.uk.

The Natural Death Handbook published by the Natural Death Centre charity provides a thorough guide to conducting the funeral arrangement process.

Plan ahead

It may be that the deceased had taken out a funeral plan. These spread some of the costs of a funeral, with monthly payments over a period of 12 months, or even up to 10 years.

Some costs may not be included in a plan. If you are buying a plan look very carefully at what is covered. Many simply cover the funeral director’s services and won’t take into account burial/cremation costs and disbursements, such as a church service, burial plot, or services of an organist or musicians, if required. They probably won’t cover floral tributes, additional car hire and any post-ceremony refreshments.

It will ease the financial strain of those organising your funeral but do ensure you, and they, know exactly what you are getting for your money - and what you are not.

Find out more about buying a burial plot

Read more about the different types of funeral

Funeral directors

The services of a funeral director will start at around the £2,200 mark. While funeral directors can take on all aspects of a funeral, you may want to assume some duties yourself in order to cut costs. Talk to your funeral director about the process, stage by stage.

Is a chapel of rest necessary, and the embalming that might go with it? Do you need a hearse and limousine?  Would friends and relatives act as pall bearers?

The decision is yours. Your wishes are paramount. If a funeral director objects to what you want, ask why. If you are not happy, then consider going to another provider.

In fact, there is no legal obligation to use a funeral director at all. You may wish to handle the funeral yourself. However, weigh up the responsibilities carefully. Are you confident in taking on the duties yourself at such a stressful time?

What is the etiquette for attending a funeral?

The coffin

Whether a burial or cremation, a coffin is used just the once. Do not feel obliged to buy through the funeral director. A funeral director cannot object to you supplying the coffin yourself.

Research the cost by looking online and consider buying direct, cutting out any mark-up the funeral director may add on. There are a number of sites dealing direct, including http://www.comparethecoffin.com/ and http://www.feetfirstcoffins.co.uk/.

If opting for a natural burial you may settle for a shroud instead. These can even be used in cremation, but do check with your crematorium first.

Cremation and burial charges

Whether a burial or cremation, your local cemetery/crematorium (be it privately run or local authority owned) will have a range of charges. You should bear these in mind. They all add up. For example, simply over-running at a crematorium service could find you landed with an additional charge of £150.

Ask for a full list of possible charges (strewing of ashes, maintenance of a grave, cost of a memorial plaque, etc).

Direct funerals

Direct funerals are very basic, low-budget funerals. In essence, they are cremations or burials without the funeral proceedings.

A funeral director, usually from your region, collects the body, attends to the paperwork, provides a basic coffin or shroud and books the crematorium or burial area at a time (and cost) suitable to them. With crematoria, it is usually the first or last slot of the day, the two least popular times.

As relatives, you have no say whatsoever in date, time or location. Once the body has gone, then that is all you have to do with it. Ashes will be returned to you, if you wish, though a courier fee may be charged. And you will be notified of the location of the ashes, if you prefer they are strewn, or the place of burial.

Some direct funeral directors will be able to offer ‘all-in’ cremation from around £1,000, though the £1,300-£1,800 bracket is probably realistic, bearing in mind crematoria running costs.

This is very much ‘no fuss’. It is something you may wish to discuss with friends and relatives, who may find it disrespectful. They may feel attending a funeral helps them with closure.

A direct funeral does allow you to free up the budget for a memorial service at a later date, which you may feel more appropriate. Most families plan a memorial ceremony at a later date or maybe in another country.

Additional costs

Certain costs are unavoidable. Registering a death is free. However, it is advisable to have several copies of the certificate made in order to facilitate closure of bank accounts, etc. Mobile phone and internet providers will insist on a copy (not a photocopy) of the death certificate before closing an account.

If the body is being cremated, then a doctor’s certificate is required (but not for burial, or if the body is in the hands of the coroner or, in Scotland, Procurator Fiscal). This does not come under the NHS. Expect to pay around £160.

You may wish to place a notice of death in a local paper. This is not a statutory obligation but expect to pay around £80 for a basic notice.

Tips for dealing with grief

For floral tribute savings and other savings suggestions read our guide to green funerals.

Click here for more articles about death and bereavement

Find out more about cremations


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.