News & Views

Funerals: to plan or not to plan

Funeral planning is a subject most of us veer away from.  However some spend a great deal of time planning.

News this week has hi-lighted the Co-op’s plans to offer a cut price funeral (click here for article).   I arranged such a funeral for a client – a cremation without any form of service or celebrant. It was almost pitiful – the lady concerned had had a full and vibrant life and, albeit, her wish was to have no service, the end result left those attending with a sense of an unremarked upon passing.

Be careful to ensure those you leave behind are not left with a sense of emptiness – the service is for those closest to you to say their goodbyes, and more importantly celebrate your life.

There are a multitude of funeral options.  Not only can you pay for your funeral in advance but you can, if you choose, plan it in meticulous detail!   Your Will is a very useful place to summarize your wishes.   Whilst, not legally binding, we are yet to come across a case where the executors have not carried out the deceased’s wishes.

Burial in a churchyard or cemetery is not the only option. Natural burial in fields or woodland areas, burial at sea, and even burial on private land (a family farm, or even the deceased’s own garden) are allowed.  Cremations have to take place in a licensed crematorium.  Further to representations by the Sikh and Hindu religious communities, funeral pyres are permitted albeit in an enclosed building

There are insurance policies funeral directors offer to provide a lump sum to pay for the funeral costs.   As well as lump sum advance cash payments, instalments options are sometimes available……and let’s not forget we will be more canny negotiators in respect of the funeral costs for our own funeral, than we would ever be when planning a loved ones!

There are legal requirements for dealing with the “disposal of a body”.  The law governing what has to be done when someone dies is based on the wish to be respectful of the dead and to ensure public health is protected.   So certain parts of the process have detailed and strict rules, for example, there is a minimum depth for graves.   However the law surrounding actual disposal of the body is fairly limited.  You may be surprised that there are no set time limits for disposing of the dead.

There is, also, no legal requirement to use a funeral director, and English law does not insist on embalming unless, for example, a corpse is being repatriated or moved between countries.

Although a body must be “decently covered”, the use of a coffin is not the only option – a shroud, cardboard box or wicker basket will suffice. However some crematoria will have their own requirements and you do need a coffin to be buried at sea, but not to scatter ashes at sea – but a word of caution – know how to manage a boat, if you choose this option and do not imbibe too much spirit before you embark on your voyage!    A client whose dear, drinking buddies carried out his wishes to have his ashes scattered at sea and ended up having to be rescued by the local lifeboat!   They dined out on that particular story for many years after!

Beyond the fairly, minimal legal requirements there is complete freedom to do what you would like both for a service and for the post funeral gathering.

Although burial and cremation are the most common ways of disposing of bodies, two new methods are emerging with the aim to be more environment friendly.  Resomation, which is available in parts of the US and Australia, is a liquefaction process which uses alkaline hydrolysis to dissolve the body’s organic matter inside a steel container. The result is a sterile liquid, and bones which can be crushed and the result is similar to cremated ashes.

Promession is still being developed.  In this process, liquid nitrogen is used to super-cool the body before the brittle remains are shattered, using ultrasonic vibration.  Any water content is evaporated to produce a dry powder which turns to compost when buried in a small bio-degradable container.

And not to forget cryogenics…. but that subject needs a blog all of it’s own!

Whatever method of disposal is for you, try and ensure your funeral service/gathering is your very own unique snapshot of your life, a series of moments whether by words, music or even the clothes your funeral attendees wear, that reflect the best of you – the parts of our lives and personalities we would all like to be remembered for – and do not think this is the zenith of self-obsession – far from it.  As a daughter who has had to plan both of her parents funerals and wrestled with making sure everything was just right, I can assure you had my parents left details of what they wanted to happen, I would have been extremely grateful.

Please contact the Wills, trusts and probate team for more information.

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