Glossary of Funeral Terms

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Glossary of funeral terms

If you ever find yourself planning a funeral, some of the terms you’ll encounter can be confusing. This comprehensive glossary will provide you with a definition for dozens of terms related to funerals and funeral planning.




The person who is legally responsible for managing the estate of someone who has passed away if that person did not have a Will.


The anniversary of a significant date in the life of someone who has passed away. It could be the anniversary of their death, birthday, or wedding, for example.


The cremated remains of someone who has died.

Alternative funeral

An alternative funeral is anything considered a non-traditional celebration of someone’s life. It could be something as simple as a direct cremation, a ceremony without a minister, or something more unusual like a woodland or sea burial.

Anticipatory grief

Anticipatory grief is grieving for someone who is still alive. It is common among caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s, cancer, and other terminal illnesses. Coping with anticipatory grief can be a challenge, but the most important thing you can do is acknowledge to yourself and others what you’re feeling and not be afraid to ask for help.

Application for cremation

A legally required form which is filled out to request the cremation of someone who has died and to state what should happen to the ashes afterwards. It is one of several documents that must be given to the crematorium for the cremation to go ahead.


A medical examination that takes place after someone has died. It is usually done to determine the cause of death. This is also known as a post mortem.



Someone who is given something in a Will or through life insurance.


Someone mourning the death of a loved one, often a family member or a close friend.


Assets, belongings, property, or funds that are given to another person according to the terms of a Will. For example, if you write in your Will that Fiona will get your collection of first edition books when you die, the book collection is a bequest, and Fiona is the beneficiary.

Bereavement leave

A period of paid or unpaid time off work after the death of a close family member, such as a parent, spouse, child, or sibling, to attend the funeral and cope with the initial feelings of grief. It may also be granted after the death of a close friend, but this will depend on individual company policy.

Bereavement support organisation

A service, usually a charity, that provides practical information and psychological support, such as grief counselling, to bereaved people.

Bereavement Support Payment

Government financial support for the spouse or civil partner of someone who has died. You may be eligible if you’re under state pension age and your partner has paid National Insurance for 25+ weeks in a single tax year. Check your eligibility here: Bereavement Support Payment

Body donation

The act of leaving your body to a medical school for scientific research after dying. The prospective donor must apply to their chosen research facility and there is no guarantee of acceptance at the time of death.

Book of Remembrance

A book kept in a crematorium to record the names of people that are cremated there. Many crematoria turn the pages of a book of remembrance every day so that the names of people memorialised in them are displayed. You can choose to place an entry on the anniversary of their death or funeral, and some will allow you to choose a birthday instead.


When a person’s body is placed in the ground, after their death.

Burial at sea

The committal of a person who has died and is performed into the sea. Usually in a specially adapted coffin at designated sites. They are primarily for people connected to the sea, such as fishermen or people who have served in the navy. A license is required for burial at sea in the UK.

Burial fees

The cost of leasing a grave to bury the coffin or casket containing the body of someone who has died or an urn containing their ashes. The fees will usually depend on the period of time selected for the lease but may also take into account whether the deceased lived in the area or not.

Burial ground

An area of land owned by a council or private organisation where the bodies or ashes of people who have died are buried.

Burial Plot

A patch of land used, or intended to be used, for a burial. It can either be chosen at the time of need or reserved in advance by a person or family for burial when they die. Sometimes, they are large enough for multiple burials.



A rectangular container that holds the body of someone who has died. Typically, it will be made from solid wood or pressed metal and may have elaborate decoration and plush fabric lining.


A raised platform in the crematorium chapel where the coffin is placed so that mourners can see it.


A celebrant is a person who helps plan the order of service and leads a funeral ceremony. It might be a priest, civil celebrant, friend, or family member of the deceased.

Celebration of life

A celebration of life is a funeral or memorial service not driven by religion. Instead, it focuses on the life of the person who has died.


Land that is reserved for graves, tombs, or cremation urns. They may be privately or publicly owned.

Certificate for cremation or burial

A free certificate issued by the registrar after someone’s death has been registered. It is a legal requirement to possess this document before a person can be buried or cremated. In England and Wales this is known as the Green Form.

Chapel of Rest

A place where family and friends can visit their loved one before the funeral.

Christian funeral

A Christian funeral is a service tailored to meet the needs of the Christian faith. Typically held in a church or graveside at a church-affiliated cemetery and with a member of the clergy as celebrant.


A container designed to hold the body of someone who has died. It has six sides and is often narrower at one end. The cost of a coffin depends on its size and the material it is made from. Most UK coffins are made from MDF finished with a thin outer layer of wood or paper printed to look like wood. Alternatives include wicker, solid wood and cardboard..


A structure used for storing cremation ashes, usually with individual urns stored in niches behind an engraved plaque. These will be leased for a period of time after which the lease is renewed or the ashes returned to the family.


The moment when the coffin or casket is either lowered into the grave or formally ‘released’ for cremation which might include the drawing of curtains around the Catafalque before the end of the funeral service.

Compassionate Leave

Compassionate leave allows you to take time off work after the death or an emergency that involves a dependant.

Condolence message

A letter or card sent to someone after one of their loved ones has died.


A government official responsible for investigating any violent, sudden, or suspicious deaths or deaths where the person’s identity is unknown.


Another word for the funeral procession, led by the hearse with limousines and/or family cars following behind.


The process of burning a coffin containing the body of someone who has died. It can also refer to the funeral ceremony that precedes it.

Cremation process

The cremation process involves turning the body of someone who had died into calcified remains using heat.

Cremation provider

A cremation provider provides the facilities for the cremation process.


A building or room in which bodies are cremated. Often, the crematorium will provide a space where funeral services can be held.


A special chamber used to cremate the body of someone who has died.


An underground chamber, often beneath a church, used to house the bodies of people who have died.


Death anniversary

The anniversary of the death of a person. People often choose to mark this in a way that helps them cope with the death anniversary.

Death certificate

The official certificate stating that a death has taken place and issued by the Registrar for Births Marriages and Deaths.

Death Notice

A notice, typically found in a newspaper, that announces a person’s death. Essential information, such as the time, date, and location of their funeral, is also included. Online death notices are becoming more common.

Direct burial

When someone is buried without a funeral service, sometimes without a family present.

Direct cremation

Direct cremation is when someone is cremated without a funeral service. The family can be present at the cremation, but most direct cremations are unattended.


Bills paid by a funeral director to third parties on behalf of a family arranging a funeral. They include crematorium fees, celebrant fees, doctors’ fees and flowers.

DIY funeral

A DIY funeral is organised by a bereaved family or friends without the services of a funeral director, although they might receive advice and assistance from one.


Eco-friendly funeral

A funeral that’s designed to have the least possible impact on the natural environment. It might include an electric hearse, a woven or cardboard coffin and a natural burial in a green space such as woodland.


A chemical process used to preserve a body for longer after death. It is sometimes called ‘hygienic treatment’.


Everything owned by the person who has died is called their estate. It might include money, shares, stocks, land, property, belongings, funds in pension schemes, and life insurance policies. You write a Will to determine who will receive which part of your estate.


A speech given at a funeral celebrating the person’s life. Writing a eulogy is a very personal thing. If you’re writing or delivering the eulogy you are referred to as the eulogist.

Executor (of the Will or estate)

The person, officially named in a Will, who has been chosen to settle the estate of someone who has died.


To take a body that’s been buried back out of the ground. Generally, this is done so a body can be buried in another location. However, it can also be done for an autopsy when new evidence challenges the original cause of death. Special permission is needed to do this.



A ceremony that acknowledges the death and recognises the life of the person who has died. The style will vary depending on the faith, customs and laws that apply in the country where the funeral takes place..

Funeral ceremony

There are many different types of funeral ceremonies or services. It can be religious or humanist (non-religious) and is typically attended by close family and friends.

Funeral director

A funeral director is a person who arranges a funeral for someone who has died. The arrangements they make are based on the wishes of the deceased and their bereaved family. Duties typically include collecting and preparing the body, dealing with the church/crematoria, completing paperwork, liaising with third-party companies, supplying funeral transport, and more.

Funeral etiquette

Funeral etiquette is the way you’re expected to behave when you attend a funeral.

Funeral Expenses Payment

A one-off support payment available to cover the cost of a funeral if you receive benefits. Eligibility criteria apply..

Funeral flowers

Flowers, wreaths, and other floral arrangements used as part of the funeral ceremony. They will often include a written message of condolence.

Funeral fundraising

Families that cannot afford the cost of a funeral may turn to Fundraising ideas including crowdfunding online.

Funeral insurance

Funeral insurance is a type of life insurance policy designed to cover the cost of your funeral or cremation expenses when you die.

Funeral Payment

A social security payment that is part of the Social Fund. It is used to help with the costs of a funeral but is unlikely to cover the entire bill. You must be on qualifying benefits and be a suitable person to take responsibility for the funeral e.g. relative or close friend.

Funeral plan

A funeral plan is a safe way of paying upfront for your funeral, so your relatives don’t have to cover the costs themselves. It will make your wishes clear and cover the key costs.

Funeral wishes

Funeral wishes are your final life decisions. You can stipulate them in your Will or with your funeral plan provider.


Garden of Remembrance

An area of land attached to a crematorium where memorials, such as plaques, remembrance roses, and private gardens, are installed to commemorate someone who was cremated there. Ashes can also be scattered there.

Grant of Probate

An official document that establishes your right to access and settle the estate of someone who has died. A grant of probate is only applied for in cases where there is a valid Will. If no Will exists, you need to apply for letters of administration, which serve the same purpose.

Green Form (Disposal Certificate for burial or cremation)

In England and Wales this form is given to the family by the Registry Office after the death is registered and should then be given to the funeral director. It confirms that the cremation or burial can go ahead and the bottom section is returned to the Registrar after the burial or cremation.

Green funeral

See eco-friendly funerals.


Grief is the emotional and physical experience of loss and pain experienced by a bereaved person after someone close to them has died.

Grief counsellor

A therapist who specialises in supporting people who are grieving after a bereavement. They help them come to terms with their loss.



A vehicle designed to transport the bodies of people who have died. Most hearses are simply cars with an extended platform at the back. However, some funeral directors also offer interesting alternatives, such as hearse carriages driven by horses, motorcycles, lorries, and electric hearses.

Humanist funeral

A humanist funeral is a non-religious funeral that follows Humanist principles. These are celebrating and commemorating the life of the person who has died without speaking about religion or any kind of afterlife.



Internment is the burial of the deceased’s body or their ashes.


If someone dies without leaving a Will, they die ‘intestate’. In such cases, their estate will be distributed according to law e.g. if the deceased was married their spouse will usually inherit the entire estate.


Jewellery made of ashes

A unique memorial allowing you to remember your loved one. The item of jewellery is usually a receptacle that contains the ashes.



A container designed to hold a tiny amount of ashes. This can be a locket or bracelet that you can wear or an ornament to keep in the home.


Letter of administration

An official document that establishes your right to access and settle the estate of someone who has died. Letters of administration are only applied for in cases where there is no valid Will.

Living Will

A Living Will, also referred to as an ‘advanced decision,’ is a document that states how you would like to be treated and what you’d like to happen if you’re incapacitated and unable to make or communicate your wishes.



A stone building used for burial above ground.


A memorial is an object created or erected to commemorate or honour someone who has died. Memorial ideas include grave markers, gravestones, monuments, commemorative plaques, trees, or gardens.

Memorial service

A ceremony that commemorates and celebrates the life of someone who has died. It is a way of saying goodbye, but without the need for the body to be present.


Тhe room or building where the deceased is kept and cared for before being buried or cremated.


Natural burial

A type of burial that requires strict conditions to protect the environment, such as not embalming the body of the person who has died, using biodegradable coffins, and memorials made of natural materials, including wood or slate.

Natural burial ground

A burial ground that only permits natural burials. Sometimes called woodland burial grounds, they can be private, or some are managed by churches or councils.


A person designated as someone’s closest living relative, who has responsibility for making decisions for them if they become incapacitated or die.

Non-religious funeral

A non-religious funeral is a ceremony to honour the deceased that is not tied to the traditions, rituals, or beliefs of any particular religion.



Someone who conducts a funeral service, such as a religious representative or celebrant.

Order of service

An overview of what will happen during the funeral, with a brief obituary and words for any prayers, readings, or funeral hymns.


Palliative care

Medical and emotional support for a person who is dying. It can be given in a hospital, hospice, or home setting.

Pauper’s funeral or Public Health Funeral

A pauper’s funeral is one of the cheapest funerals possible. It is a very basic funeral organised by the local authority (or hospital trust) when relatives are unwilling or unable to pay for the funeral of someone who has passed away or when no relatives can be traced.


The act of making arrangements for a funeral, memorial, ceremony, or other service/plans before death. It can involve simply recording one’s wishes or making financial arrangements (pre-paying).


Probate is the process of accessing and dividing up the estate the way it is instructed in the Will. If there is no Will, it is done in accordance with family wishes and UK inheritance laws.


Quaker funeral

A funeral service for a person who identified as a quaker in accordance with Quaker beliefs and practices. Anyone could have a Quaker funeral if they supported the values of Quakerism, even if they were not a member of the Society of Friends.


Registry Office

A local government office that can help you register a death. Marriages, births, and civil partnerships are also recorded here.


In the context of a funeral, repatriation is a process that includes collecting the body of someone who has died abroad and bringing them back to their home country.


Secular funeral

A secular funeral is a non-religious funeral.

Scattering of ashes

There are many things you can do with a person’s ashes. Scattering them is the act of distributing them as an act of remembrance.

Sympathy messages

Sympathy messages are given or sent to someone experiencing grief from a loved one’s death.


Traditional funeral

A traditional funeral is a standard funeral service followed by an in-ground burial in a cemetery.


A repository for the remains of the dead.



The person in charge of the body and funeral service. Most commonly, they are referred to as the funeral director.


A special container for cremated ashes.



In the context of funerals, it is the act of viewing the deceased’s body. Typically, this would be in a mortuary or chapel of rest.


A Roman Catholic religious service held on the eve of the funeral.



A funeral wake is a memorial gathering for friends and family, usually with food and drink. Traditionally, a wake would be held before the funeral, but many now take place after the funeral ceremony and committal.


A legal document that explains what will happen to a person’s estate after they die. It also names the executor of the Will.

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