How to Choose a Funeral Director: A Complete Guide

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Organising a funeral is usually in the hands of those who are left behind. You might be feeling a rollercoaster of emotions, including sadness and stress. A funeral director can make the process easier and more bearable, but how do you go about choosing the best one? There are plenty to choose from, and it might seem like they all offer the same services but there are a few key things to consider. If you’re also wondering what a funeral director is, this article will explain everything you need to know as well as answering a very fundamental question - do you have to use a funeral director at all?

What does a funeral director do?

In the UK, another name for a funeral director is an undertaker. The tasks involved are many and varied and all will generally include the following in their scope of work:

  • Explaining your options and handling the funeral paperwork and telephone calls
  • Transfer of the body from the hospital or place of death, and caring for the deceased until the funeral
  • Help with the planning of the ceremony, including arranging a celebrant to lead the ceremony
  • Providing a coffin and coffin bearers, if required
  • Deal with all the legal documentation for a cremation or burial and booking the venue
  • Arranging the logistics for the funeral service
  • Overseeing the arrangements on the day of the service to make sure the whole process runs smoothly
  • Handling charitable donations

As you can see, a good funeral director will provide many valuable services. If you’ve never arranged a funeral before, they can offer expert guidance to help you negotiate the process. At such a difficult and emotional time, the funeral director’s support can be very comforting. It’s up to you how involved the funeral director is in the process. You can ask them to make all the arrangements, most of the arrangements, or just provide a few particular items or services. What are the alternatives? A growing number of firms, like Pure Cremation, will take care of the practical arrangements at a sensible low cost, leaving you free to create a separate farewell event that’s right for your family.

How to choose a funeral director

It’s common for people to assume they’ve got to choose a funeral director quickly when actually, the opposite is true. Unless you have specific religious or cultural requirements, there’s no rush to arrange the funeral of a loved one. If your loved one passes away in hospital you will have lots of time to research and make decisions. An unexpected death will usually involve the Coroner and this too will give you time to consider your options. Many families get stuck with an unsuitable and/or overly expensive funeral firm because they are dealing with an expected death that has happened outside a hospital setting. They often feel under enormous pressure to choose a funeral director very urgently, especially if the death occurred in a nursing home. The best way to avoid this pressure is to do research in advance, but even if this isn’t possible, it’s good to know that you don’t have to use the funeral firm that performs the initial transfer and care. You can absolutely change your mind and simply pay the first firm for that part of the service. This is important because the cost and range of services offered by funeral directors can vary considerably. This makes it crucial that you take your time and choose the best one for your needs. If you spend time on the research and compare a range of funeral directors, you’re more likely to make the right decision, creating the perfect send-off for your loved one...and at a price that you can actually afford.

1. Consider the services you need before you choose a funeral

Below you’ll find some of the things you need to think about when deciding which funeral services you actually want or need. The most fundamental question of all is: Do you want a traditional funeral service or something else? Here are your options:

  • Use a local funeral director for the practical aspects of care and transport of the deceased
  • Use a non-local cremation provider to take care of the care, transport and cremation of the deceased, plus return of the ashes
  • Take care of everything yourself - care of the deceased, provision of the coffin, booking the burial or cremation, transport to the committal location, administering the paperwork, arranging the farewell (you can engage professional support with some of these tasks)

Before you do any research on funeral directors, it’s important to establish whether your loved one has a funeral plan in place. If the deceased has paid into a funeral plan, then the family will have valuable information about the deceased’s wishes - but they may have to use a nominated funeral director or one from an approved list.

2. Explore different funeral director services

More families are keen to be involved in some aspects of the farewell, but it is safe to say that most people will rely on a professional to arrange the cremation or burial and to look after the physical remains of the deceased. You can choose between Traditional (local) funeral directors and other kinds of funeral providers who may operate a national or regional service. For example, Pure Cremation is a leading direct cremation provider serving families across the whole of the mainland UK and Northern Ireland.

Finding a traditional funeral director (local)

A local funeral director is an ideal choice if the following things are important to you:

  • Making funeral arrangements face to face
  • Keeping your loved one nearby
  • Visiting your loved one in the chapel of rest before the funeral

It’s usual for funeral directors to cover a radius of 10-15 miles. If you’re outside their normal area, there may be extra charges to cover travel costs. Even if your family has used a particular firm in your area, you should compare their service with at least one other local funeral director to make a more informed decision. Thanks to the internet, researching local funeral directors, the services they provide, packages, and prices that they offer is much easier than it used to be. There’s also the Yellow Pages, or you could ask friends, family, or colleagues for a recommendation.

Looking for an independent funeral director

Some families will prefer to use an independent (family-owned) funeral director, others will want to use a firm that is part of a larger group. If this matters to you then you should check the ownership as many family firms have been acquired by large groups. You can find lists of many independent firms via the two biggest national associations: National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) (membership is available to independent and group-owned firms) National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) (membership is only available to independent firms) Funeral director associations such as these require members to adhere to codes of conduct, price transparency policies, and complaints procedures, however, there are many good firms who have chosen not to join these trade bodies.

3. Check the funeral director reviews

It can be challenging to decide whether a funeral director is right for you. You’ll find reviews written by other bereaved people a great help. To find these online simply search for a funeral director by name, checking third-party review sites, and client testimonials.

4. Prepare a list of questions to ask the funeral director

The cost of a funeral is generally split into two parts - firstly the professional fees for the work that the funeral director will do, and secondly, the fees that they pay out on your behalf for a cremation or burial, the service location and someone to lead the service.

Important questions to ask the funeral director

Have a basic list of the things you want to ask about when making a ‘like-for-like’ comparison:

  • Professional fees for making the arrangements and care of the deceased (including collection from the place of death)
  • Preparation for viewing (if desired)
  • The cost of a mid-range coffin (e.g. simple wood, veneer, smooth lid)
  • Charges for the Hearse (and limousine/s if needed)
  • Fees for service location/s (crematorium or church or both)

The fees for the cremation or burial should be the same whichever firm you speak to - these are set by the crematorium and cemetery. Charges for someone to lead the service should be very similar. Learn about the breakdown of funeral costs to have a better idea of all fees involved when arranging a funeral. Remember that direct cremation is a distinctive alternative to a funeral and so providers only offer a basic coffin, simple care of the deceased (no viewing) and the cremation takes place at a time, date and venue of their choosing.

Other questions to ask the funeral director

While there is a pretty similar format to all traditional funerals, a good funeral director will start by listening to the family and offer suggestions based on this information. The following additional questions will help you assess whether the funeral director is flexible and interested in your needs, or only keen to offer only what works for them:

  • Can we pick from your list of services?
  • Will we just pay for the services we choose?
  • What exactly is included in your charges?
  • Are there any optional items in your quote, or are there alternatives?
  • When do we have to pay the bill?
  • Do you require a deposit, and if so, how much?
  • When do we have to pay the balance of the funeral?
  • Can we purchase the coffin or its equivalent from somewhere else?
  • Can we provide transport?
  • Can we choose friends or family members to carry the coffin?
  • Are you comfortable providing the choices we’ve talked about?
  • What are the timings for the funeral?

It can be very difficult to remember everything, so ask for a written quotation based on what you have discussed. This should not be a problem for an organised and professional firm.

5. Telephone the funeral director to:

a) Check the ‘human connection’

Most families feel obliged to choose the first funeral director they visit, so always telephone first. This is a powerful way to sense the kindness of the staff and the flexibility of the firm to meet your particular requirements. This is a good time to ask whether the firm is family-owned or part of a larger group. A reputable company will give you lots of clear information on their website, including prices, and be happy to answer any questions you might have. Avoid any firm that tries to push you to sign up with them immediately or ‘bad mouths’ their competitors.

b) Make cost comparisons of the funeral directors’ fees

When funeral director fees in the same area can vary by as much as £2000 it is essential to understand the different costs and make comparisons to find the firms that could meet your needs within your budget. This is much easier to do over the telephone! The costs of direct cremation are much lower, reflecting the simple service, and can be just 40% of the cost of a traditional funeral. However, it is still important to do like-for-like comparisons to check whether important things like doctors’ fees and return of the ashes are included in the price.

7. Meet with the funeral director before making a final decision

Once you have chosen which funeral director(s) you like the sound of, the next step is a face to face meeting. A funeral is a once in a lifetime event and you should be completely confident that you and your loved one are in good and caring hands. Most funeral directors will happily discuss your options at their local office. They might also be willing to visit you at your home. First impressions really do count here as they provide a good indicator of attention to detail and customer care. The premises should be clean, tidy, welcoming and comfortable; staff should be smartly presented and approachable. Direct cremation providers tend to make all arrangements over the telephone and may not even have a funeral home (in the traditional sense) that you can visit. If you’re considering this option you should look carefully at the quality of the website instead - is it user-friendly? Is the content written clearly and accurately? Where is their HQ? Can you see images of the premises using Google Street View, Maps or another resource? Pure Cremation is based at Charlton Park Crematorium in Hampshire and they have invested in good websites and even a virtual tour of the crematorium.

8. Get a funeral director’s quote in writing

Once you have a clear idea of the style of funeral and level of service you require you can ask for a written estimate of the costs. Don't feel under pressure to make a decision right away, a good funeral director will give you time to consider everything.

How to arrange a cremation without a funeral director

You may be wondering, do I need a funeral director? Many people choose to use a local funeral director because they don’t realise there is an alternative.

Do you have to use a funeral director?

It is relatively simple to be more involved when you arrange the funeral, which is likely to save a great deal of money, sometimes several thousand pounds. If you are willing to organise the farewell gathering, such as a memorial service or celebration of life party, then you only need the professionals to take care of the practical things that you don’t feel up to. Direct cremation providers are one type of professional firm that can help with this.

Arranging a cremation without a funeral director

Did you know? You can hold the cremation/burial (also known as the committal) on one day and the farewell gathering on another! What are the benefits? Opting for an unattended cremation with a farewell event at a different date, time and place means you:

  • Can choose more interesting venues
  • Can choose the perfect times that suit your family
  • Are free to invest more in the farewell gathering event
  • Could use any saving for a gift or legacy for a good cause

Whichever option you choose, you’ll still need certain funeral documents. For example, you must register the death at a registry office. Once you’ve registered the death, you’ll get a Certificate for Burial or Cremation, which you’ll need to book a cremation service. You’ll also receive a Certificate of Registration of Death.

Get in touch with a cremation service provider

You can arrange everything by telephone from the comfort of home and complete documentation by email or post. A good provider will guide you through each step and offer to keep you fully informed about the date your loved one is brought into their care, the date of the cremation itself and when you could expect the return of the ashes (if desired). It can be difficult to know what to do when someone dies. Get in touch with us here at Pure Cremation for help and advice about whether a direct cremation or traditional funeral is right for you, your loved one, and your family.