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Let's Get Talking About Funeral Wishes

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Here in the UK, we have a complicated relationship with death. We’re all aware that it’s inevitable, and most of us have experienced grief in some way. Yet we bury our heads in the sand. It’s hardly surprising when research from 2020 revealed that nearly 59% of adults in the UK have not written a Will or even thought about what they want to happen to their body when they pass away.

By talking about your funeral wishes in advance, you’re helping to protect your loved ones from the emotional burden of making difficult decisions in a time of grief.

Sadly, too many of us never get around to that ‘chat’. We simply leave it too late.

This is perfectly understandable as it’s a difficult conversation to have. However, it makes everything easier for your loved ones in the long run. Planning a funeral for a recently deceased friend or family member without any instructions can be extremely stressful, especially at a time when they are coming to terms with a loss. Not leaving clear instructions can also cause arguments or rifts between family members if they disagree, which could delay settling your affairs or make the funeral itself awkward for those who attend it. There is also a very real risk that family's spend more than the deceased would have wanted, creating a financial burden. 

Plan your funeral wishes ahead for peace of mind

Leaving a clear plan gives you and your loved ones a sense of control during what can be a distressing and confusing time. Discussing funeral wishes well ahead of time protects your family from the pressure of making decisions when in crisis. It's a final gift for the people you care about most. Explaining the importance of planning ahead to your loved ones will help them feel more comfortable about discussing your wishes.

What are your last wishes?

Finding a way to start the discussion can be difficult. One or both of you might feel uncomfortable talking about preparing for death, so change the conversation! Talk about how you would like to be remembered and the best way to celebrate the relationships and memories that make your life special.  

You can cover a wide variety of wishes in your Will, but key decisions may have been made before this information comes to light. A Will is ideal for specifying wishes about guardianship of children and the distribution of assets. However, a separate, easily accessible record of funeral wishes can make all the difference.

It’s very common for people to underestimate the number of decisions involved in organising a funeral. Floral arrangements, type of coffin, and many other features have to be discussed. A written record of all the last wishes and preferences will make the arrangement process much easier. Likewise, if a person isn’t too fussed about the details, it would be nice to know in advance. 

How do you wish your family to celebrate your life?

When someone dies, saying goodbye, honouring their memory, and coming to terms with their death is essential for those that are left behind. 

The traditional format for funerals has remained unchanged for around 200 years with impressive vehicles, formally attired staff, and everyone attending a solemn event at a church or crematorium with the coffin present. Many people think saying goodbye has to be done this way, but it’s just as important to be able to celebrate your way. We still need to mourn, but the way that it is done is slowly changing.

For example, you can attend your own funeral if you choose a living funeral. This type of celebration is being chosen by people with a terminal diagnosis and has the potential to offer a huge emotional benefit by giving a sense of control in a very difficult situation. You get a chance to hear the precious words people want to say to you one final time. It’s also an opportunity to tell your loved ones how you really feel about them.

Tips on arranging your own funeral

Advance funeral wishes have many benefits. Whether it’s for your own peace of mind or to remove the burden from your loved ones, planning your own funeral and taking care of all the arrangements ahead of time just makes sense.

If you’re unsure where to start, there’s plenty of helpful advice available online, including our Pure Cremation free guide.

Who should I discuss my funeral wishes with?

Talking about what sort of funeral you’d like is the best way to be sure your family and friends know what to plan. Whatever your age, it’s never too early to start a conversation about mortality and celebrating your life. 

The very best approach is to ensure all key family members are aware of your wishes so that nothing comes as a surprise and you can prevent arguments at the worst possible time. 

It's a good idea to nominate more than one person, family members or friends, to take responsibility for overseeing the arrangements for your funeral based on clear, advance instructions.

Remember that any executor or nominated representative is only required to do their best to fulfil your instructions - this means that you need to pick someone you can trust, but also people who will make sensible decisions about how to capture the spirit of your wishes if, for example, there isn't enough money to do everything you have specified.

When should I start the conversation?

It’s best to get these conversations started well in advance of the need for a funeral. If you already know what you want, why not share it with your friends and family now? It will probably be less upsetting to your loved ones if you do it when you are well, and there’s no rush to put plans in place if anything changes.

The benefit of being the one to get the chat started is that you open the dialogue for others to do the same. This knock-on effect will encourage others to think about their own wishes and hopefully begin to reduce the taboo surrounding talking about death and funerals.

Where should I discuss my funeral wishes?

The thought of talking about your funeral can be scary and easy to avoid. Finding the right moment and place can sometimes be difficult, but we’ve come up with some suggestions that might help. 

Your funeral wishes are an essential topic, but your loved ones are going to be more comfortable and open to asking questions if it’s done in a relaxed and informal setting, such as over a cup of tea.

Loved ones might be more open to having this type of conversation at specific times in their life. Milestone events such as retirement, birthdays, or weddings, can sometimes spark an interest in talking about funeral planning. Another natural opportunity is after the death of someone you knew.  

How do I discuss my funeral wishes with my loved ones?

There are two ways to start the chat about funeral planning; the direct or the indirect approach. This will depend on who you are talking to and how comfortable they are with the conversation, so consider it carefully. If your family or friends are open and frank with each other, then the direct approach will work well – jump right in and get talking about what you want.

For others, it might feel awkward bringing it up out of the blue, so it can help to find a way to gently begin the conversation. This could be talking about a friend or celebrity who has recently passed away, or maybe a song you have heard that you’d like to play a part in the ceremony.

Whichever route you take, keeping good notes will be very helpful to capture individual comments and responses. This will reveal who is most likely to carry out your wishes when the time comes and prepare them for any objections.

This is a very important subject, so you might decide to call a family meeting, perhaps sending a letter in advance so the family can have time to consider your wishes and their reaction beforehand.

Does a Will include funeral wishes?

There is no reason why you shouldn’t include your funeral wishes in your Will, but there are a couple of issues with this approach. 

Firstly, your family may have already begun making arrangements for a funeral before the original will has been found and read. Therefore, it’s vital to ensure your loved ones know whether you would prefer a burial or cremation, together with any other specific wishes you might have.

If you want to put your funeral wishes in your Will, it’s best to keep them brief. More detailed wishes such as choice of music, where the funeral should take place, whether you would prefer funeral flowers or donations to charity, and so on, are best placed in a side letter of wishes that can be kept with your Will. This means you’ll be able to update your wishes should they change, without the need to change your actual Will. 

The second issue relates to whether a Will is legally binding. 

Are funeral wishes in a Will legally binding?

The short answer is no, they are not. Your executor does not have any legal obligation to follow your wishes. Your last Will is a legal written document. It specifies where and to whom you desire your property and possessions to be distributed in the event of your death. However, the wishes in your will can be challenged.  

The executors of a Will are considered the decision-makers when it comes to making funeral arrangements. 

However, in practice it tends to be family members or those closest to the deceased who make the funeral arrangements. They may or may not be appointed as executors in the Will. Communicate your wishes with your loved ones as early as possible to avoid family disagreements over funeral arrangements.

Use a free funeral wishes form

One of the best and easiest ways to share your funeral wishes is using our free funeral wishes form. Take advantage of our Record of Wishes if you want to leave instructions to arrange a Pure Cremation and the celebration to go alongside it. We take no payment until the time of your passing. 

This funeral wishes document includes a list of specific instructions that is separate from your Will. Whether you include basic instructions, such as the music you want to be played or the people you’d like to do a reading, or a list with all the finer details, writing everything down may be the best way of conveying exactly what you want to happen. An additional benefit is that nothing can be forgotten.  

If you’re ready to make your own funeral wishes, you can call our team anytime.