Archive for 2014

Organising a post funeral reception

In one of our previous articles we looked at how funerals have changed over recent years, with the focus often now being as much on celebrating the life of the person that has passed away as it is on mourning their passing.  We also explained how funerals are increasingly unique affairs, personalised to reflect the life of the person that has passed away, with details added to the funeral service that have some meaning to that individual.

The post funeral reception is as much a part of that changing trend as the funeral service itself, so this article will provide a few thoughts and ideas about what you can do when it comes to organising a post funeral reception for a loved one.

What is the purpose of the post funeral reception?

Mourners at funeralThere was a time not so very long ago when families would all live near to each other and therefore see each other on a regular basis.  However, these days it is quite common for people to leave the area that they were born or brought up in to go to university, or to move for work or family purposes.  Families are, therefore, often scattered across the country if not across the world, and despite modern technology providing new ways of keeping in touch, a funeral can sometimes, sadly, be one of the rare occasions when all the members of the family meet up.

Even if family members remain concentrated in one geographical area, it would be surprising if people did not have friends and acquaintances from different parts of the country, and therefore it is likely that at least some of the people attending a funeral will have travelled a considerable distance to be there.  They will therefore expect to have the chance to catch up with or meet people and to rest and refresh themselves before travelling back home.

A post funeral reception also allows people to reflect on the life of the person who has passed away in a more informal way than during the funeral service.  Everyone gets a chance to exchange stories and talk about that person, share memories of them with other people and provide support and comfort to close relatives and friends who are grieving.

So, what do you need to think about when it comes to organising a post funeral reception?

What sort of reception?

Like a funeral, a funeral reception can still be a traditional affair, or it can be more of a unique occasion.  Just because other people are choosing to personalise receptions and make them celebrations does not mean that you have to.  You should do what you think your loved one would have wanted, what you think is appropriate and what your family and friends will be comfortable with.  You might choose to have a formal sit-down occasion or perhaps just a very casual get together afterwards.

How many people will be attending?

Decide who you want to come to the funeral reception – is it for everyone attending the funeral, or just very close friends and family?  It is important that you have at least a rough idea of how many people are likely to be attending the reception so that you can judge how much food and drink and how big a venue you need to provide.

Make sure when you tell people about the funeral that you also tell them that there will be a reception afterwards and ask them if they are likely to come along so that you can have an idea of attendance.  It would be extremely embarrassing to have to turn people away because you have not booked a big enough venue, but also extremely upsetting to book a large venue and lots of food, only for a small number of people to turn up.

What venue to choose?

Image 2Traditionally, post funeral receptions have taken place in church halls or parish rooms next to the church where the funeral has taken place, but as religion increasingly plays less of a role in funerals the funeral might not take place in a place of worship at all.

The choice of venue is a key way of personalising the post funeral reception.  If you are only expecting a small gathering, you could hold the event at the home of the person who has passed away – nothing could be more unique or personal to that individual than their home.

Alternatively, you could choose to hold it in a venue that meant something to them – their local pub possibly, or a favourite restaurant, cafe, social club or hotel.  The choice of venue potentially gives you the option to be imaginative.  If they were a keen sports player then enquire to see if it could be held where they used to play – their local football, cricket, rugby or netball club for example.  If they were a keen musician or actor then maybe the concert hall or theatre where they used to perform would be available.  There really are a wide variety of options.

When organising a venue, make sure you think about timings.  What time is the funeral due to start, when will it finish, how long will it take people to travel from the location of the funeral to the reception venue and, therefore, what time will people start to arrive at the venue and what time are they likely to leave.  You obviously want to make sure that everything is ready at the venue by the time people start to arrive and you also need to book it for long enough to cover the period that people will want to be there.

If some of the people there are family members who have travelled a long way and have not seen other family members for a long time then they are probably not going to be in a hurry to leave.  They will want to stay and chat, to have a real good catch up and also talk about the person who has passed away.  You do not want to be in a position where you have to ask people to leave because you have only booked the venue for an hour or two.  Alternatively, if you want a specific venue but can only book it for an hour or two, make sure people know that and have a back up where people can go to after the main reception, such as a pub or someone’s house, so that the event can continue informally.

What to do about catering?

Funeral reception cateringIf you are providing a post funeral reception then your guests will expect food and drink of some description.  You have three broad options when it comes to catering: do it yourself, get an outside catering company to do it and bring it to the venue, or hold the reception in a venue which also provides food and drink, such as a pub, hotel or restaurant.

Whichever option you choose, you will need to have at least a vague idea of numbers.  You do not want to spend lots of money on food and drink only for there to be loads left over, but at the same time you want to have enough and for people who have travelled a long way to not go away feeling hungry.

If you are providing the catering yourself, think about the logistics.  Are you going to have time to prepare food and drink on the day of the funeral as well as doing other things?  Who will serve food and drink and will it be ready when people get to the venue, or will they have to wait for you to sort it out?  Also, do not forget to cater for vegetarians and people with special dietary needs.

Personalised funeral receptionsCatering is another opportunity for you to personalise the reception.  You might want to serve your loved one’s favourite food or drink – maybe they loved Italian food, fish and chips, pie and chips, or a type of food traditional to the county, region or country that they come from or where they lived.  Alternatively, they might just have had a favourite pub or restaurant, and enjoyed any food that was served there.

The same applies with drink.  Maybe they were a real ale fan, or liked nothing more than a nice cup of tea.  Perhaps they had a favourite spirit – if so, why not offer your guests a shot of whisky, gin, vodka or whatever tipple they liked, as a toast to remember them by.  It is quite normal to offer alcohol such as wine, beer and perhaps sherry at a funeral reception, but make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic options as well for those who are driving, are too young or who do not drink, including tea, coffee and soft drinks.  If you are using an outside catering company, talk to them about your options.

What to do about entertainment?

Funeral reception entertainmentOnce again this comes down to the personalisation element.  You may feel that it is completely inappropriate to have any form of entertainment at a post funeral reception, and instead just want to sit down quietly with friends and family and reflect on the life of your loved one.

Alternatively, you really might want this to be a proper celebration of their life, and be determined to have a party.  Or you might want something in between – a bit of background music, but nothing that intrudes into the proceedings too much.

If the person who has passed away liked a particular type of music, such as country or jazz, or music related to a particular region or country, then this is another opportunity to personalise the event.  You could get a singer or band to perform, or could just play some music through a CD player.

It also might be nice (although poignant) to create a photo display of their life, provide a slide show and a talk about them, or decorate the venue with some items that people would associate with that person and which meant something to them.

How big is the budget?

Make sure you budget for the occasion.  It can be very easy when you are feeling upset and experiencing grief and shock to go ahead and organise things without thinking about the cost implications, feeling that no cost is too much for the person who has just passed away.  Just remember that you need to be able to afford it, so work out what you can reasonably afford to pay out and try to stick to that.  Factor in the hire of the venue, catering and entertainment, if appropriate.

Notifying people of the event

If people are attending a funeral, they will not automatically expect there to be a post funeral reception, or at least one which they can attend.  Who can attend tends to vary – some people only want close friends and family to attend, other people are happy for as many people as possible to attend, so it is important to communicate that to people.  Let people know about the reception when you are telling them about the funeral so that they can plan accordingly.  Make sure other family members who might be speaking to people also know to tell them about the reception.  People need to know who can come, where it will be and when it will be.

If you are putting a notice in the local paper about the funeral, then remember to include details about the reception as well and also include details as a reminder at the end of the funeral order of service, if you are having one.  Also, remember to provide directions if the venue is hard to find, is a long way from the funeral location, or if people do not know the area very well, and a postcode which they can put into their SatNav.

If there are people who are walking to the funeral and the venue is a considerable distance away, you might to think about transportation to make sure that everyone (particularly elderly friends and relatives) are able to attend.

Work with your funeral director

Discuss your thoughts and ideas for the post funeral reception with your family and also with your funeral director when organising the funeral.  Funeral directors have a lot of experience of funeral receptions and of dealing with venues in the local area, so they will be able to provide you with tips, help, advice, suggestions, contacts and other information for organising a post funeral reception.

Paying for a funeral

Pillar2-Image-1The death of a loved one places a huge emotional strain on a person, but it also has the potential to place a large financial burden on them too.  Funerals can be expensive and, if you arrange a funeral, you may be responsible for paying for it, so, before you start, you need to check where the money will be coming from.

Your first step is to see if the person who has passed away made any arrangements for their funeral or if they have left enough money to pay for it.  When a person dies, their bank account is frozen unless it is a joint account, but you may be able to use part of their savings to pay for the funeral.  You will, however, have to provide the bank with certain documents, such as a certified copy of the death certificate.

They may have paid into schemes or pensions, so you should check to see if they have a life insurance policy, a pre-paid funeral plan, or any occupational or personal pension schemes that may cover the cost of the funeral.   Also, check to see if they were a member of the Cremation Society as, if so, they may be entitled to reduced cremation fees, and find out if they were a member of a union, club, professional body or association which makes a payment when a member dies.

If the deceased was a war pensioner, you may be able to obtain help paying for the funeral in certain circumstances.  For more information, contact the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency by visiting

The Social Fund
You may be able to receive some help with payment if you or your partner (spouse, civil partner or person you live with) are on a low income, through something called the Social Fund.  This is a one off, tax-free payment designed to help cover the essential costs of a funeral, including the necessary burial or cremation fees, plus up to £700 for funeral director’s charges, flowers and a coffin.  You must claim within three months of the funeral and the circumstances of other family members are considered first, to see if it is possible for someone else to pay for, or contribute towards, the cost of the funeral.

A funeral payment from the Social Fund is a loan, which has to be repaid if there is cash in the estate, or if property is left to anyone who is not the widow, widower or civil partner of the deceased.  The deceased needs to have been living in the UK and the funeral also usually needs to be held in the UK.  To be eligible, you must be in receipt of one of the following benefits or tax credits:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credit
  • Housing Benefit
  • Council Tax Benefit (or if the council tax payer where you live receives a second adult rebate because you are on a low income)
  • Working Tax Credit which includes a disability or severe disability element
  • Child Tax Credit at a higher rate than the family element

Bereavement Payment
A Bereavement Payment is a one-off, tax-free lump sum payment of £2000 made to a person when their spouse or civil partner dies if they paid enough National Insurance contributions, or if their death was caused by their job and you were either under state pension age at the time of their death, or if you were over the state pension age and they were not entitled to a Category A state pension when they died.  You are not entitled to this payment if you were divorced from them, or if your civil partnership had been legally ended, or if you were living with someone else as if they were your spouse or civil partner, or if you were in prison at the time of death.  If you are in receipt of State Retirement Pension when they die, you do not need to make a claim for a Bereavement Payment, it should automatically be paid to you when you inform the Department of Work and Pensions of your partner’s death.

If nobody is willing or able to pay for the funeral
The local health authority may arrange the funeral and pay for it if the person dies in hospital and their relatives cannot be traced or cannot afford to pay for the funeral.  If the person does not die in a hospital but the above applies, the local council has a duty to bury or cremate someone if no other arrangements have been made.

Please read our article for more information about what to do following a bereavement, visit our website or call us on 020 8642 8211.

What to do following a bereavement

Pillar2-Image-2The death of a loved one can be very distressing, and if you were not expecting it, you may find yourself in shock as well as suffering from grief.

You may also find yourself not knowing what to do, as you might not have suffered a bereavement before. This guide aims to help you, by letting you know what needs to happen following the death of a loved one.

Read the rest of this entry »

Coroners, post-mortems and inquests

Image 3When a person passes away, the first step is for a doctor to confirm the cause of death.  They must provide a medical certificate detailing the cause of death, as well as a formal notice confirming that they have signed the medical certificate and explaining how to register the death. However, if the cause of death is not clear, the doctor must report the death to the coroner and write on the formal notice that this is what they have done.

Who is the coroner?
The coroner is a doctor or lawyer; their role is to investigate a death for a number of reasons including: if the deceased had not been visited by a medical practitioner during their final illness, if the death was sudden, violent, unnatural or the result of an industrial disease, if the cause is unknown, if it happened under suspicious circumstances or if it happened in police custody, in prison or during an operation.  The coroner will decide if there needs to be a post-mortem or an inquest and will arrange for them to be carried out if necessary.

What is a post-mortem?
A post-mortem is a medical examination of a body which is carried out to determine the cause of death.  It will not normally delay when you can hold a funeral.

The coroner usually arranges and pays for the body to be moved from where the person died to where the post-mortem will be carried out.  They will have a contract with a funeral director to carry this out, but relatives can then choose their own funeral director following the post-mortem.

The coroner does not need the permission of relatives to carry out a post-mortem, but relatives are entitled to know where and when it will be, can have a doctor present if they so choose, and can request that the coroner chooses a pathologist not connected to the hospital their loved one died in to carry it out.

If the post-mortem shows that the person died of natural causes, a Pink Form B (or form 100B) is issued allowing the death to be registered, as well as a certificate for cremation if the body is going to be cremated.

What is an inquest?
An inquest is held if the cause of death was unknown, if it was violent or unnatural, if it was caused by an industrial disease or if the person died in prison or police custody.

Inquests are held in public and are inquiries set up to establish the facts relating to the cause and circumstances of a death.  They do not seek to blame anyone for a death, but aim to be thorough, impartial and help families answer any questions they have regarding a death.  They sometimes have a jury, but are not a trial.  It is the coroner’s role to decide what is best in each situation for the relatives of the person who has died and for the public.

The coroner must inform the person’s spouse (or nearest relative if they do not have a spouse) and the person’s executor or personal representative.  Certain people are allowed to go to the inquest to question the witnesses about the cause and circumstances of the death.

For inquests that take a long period of time, the coroner can issue a letter or an ‘interim certificate of the fact of death’ to allow relatives to notify various organisations, such as banks.  If the body is not needed for further examination, the coroner will issue an ‘order for burial’ or ‘certificate for cremation’ to allow relatives to organise the funeral.

Once the inquest is complete, the coroner will send a ‘certificate after inquest’ to the registrar, stating the cause of death and allowing them to register the death.

For more information about what to do following a bereavement, please read our article.

Registering a death

Image 6Following the death of a loved one, a number of important tasks need to be carried out.  We provide an overview of many of these in our article “What to do following a bereavement”, but one of the most important of these tasks is registering the death.

Registering the death as soon as possible
There are two key reasons why registering the death is a priority.  Firstly, the law says that a death must be registered within five days unless it has been referred to the coroner.  Secondly, only after the death has been registered will you receive the forms that you need to give to the funeral director to allow the funeral to go ahead.

How to register a death
To register a death, you need to make an appointment to visit the Registrar of Births and Deaths for the area in which the death occurred.  To find the appropriate Registrar, you can look online or in the phone book, or ask either your funeral director or doctor who should be able to help you.  Your funeral director can also advise you on who has the authority to register the death.

Items and information to give to the Registrar
You will need to take your loved one’s medical certificate showing the cause of death, their medical card, their birth certificate, and their marriage or civil partnership certificate if applicable.

You will need to provide the registrar with your full name and home address so that you can be registered as the informant.  The registrar will ask you for quite a lot of information about your loved one which you will need to be able to provide.  Much of this should be included in the documents mentioned above, and includes:

  • full name
  • date of death
  • place of death
  • date of birth
  • place of birth
  • home address
  • date of birth of surviving partner, if applicable
  • most recent occupation

If the deceased was a woman, you must also provide their:

  • maiden name if applicable
  • husband’s full name, if applicable (even if deceased)
  • husband’s last occupation, if applicable (even if deceased)

You must also inform the registrar if the deceased was in receipt of a pension or any other allowance from public funds.

What the registrar will give to you
When you register the death, the registrar will provide you with a certificate giving permission for the body to be either cremated or buried, which you will need to give to the funeral director.  This is known as the green form.  They will also give you a certificate of registration of death, known as form BD8, for benefit claim purposes.  The information on the back will explain whom it applies to and what you will need to do with it.  Finally, the registrar should also provide you with informative leaflets, including leaflets about bereavement benefits and income tax for surviving spouses.

The death certificate
The death certificate is a certified copy of what the Registrar has placed in the death register.  You will not be given the death certificate, but can buy copies from the Registrar, so if you need copies of the death certificate you will need to take some money with you.  You may need copies of the death certificate for the will, any pension claims, insurance policies, saving bank certificates and premium bonds.  If you need more than one copy then you should request them at the time, as you will have to pay more if you request additional copies at a later date.  If the Registrar cannot provide you with all of the copies you can usually either call back at a later date to collect them, or leave some money so that they can post them to you.  It should be noted that insurance companies, banks, etc. do not accept photocopies, so you should obtain a certified copy for each one.

For more help and advice about what to do following the death of a loved one, please visit our website or call us on 020 8642 8211.

Ways to personalise a funeral service

A funeral service can play a substantial part in bringing closure to friends and family of a loved one, especially if they feel that a service has truly celebrated their life in the way their loved one would have wanted.

As we explored in our guide to the latest funeral trends many of the more traditional aspects of a funeral, such as wearing black and singing hymns, are beginning to change as more and more people choose their own ways to personalise their funerals.  This is not to say that there is anything wrong with a ‘traditional’ funeral but just that trends have changed in recent years.

Personal touches
Image10Funeral attendees have traditionally worn black to funerals, and although it is still the most common colour to wear to a funeral, funeral goers are increasingly being asked to wear brighter colours.  Ultimately you need to think about what your loved one would have liked and what you think is appropriate.

Coffins and methods of transport used can come in a wide variety of shapes, colours and sizes.  Coffins can be personalised with special motifs, made of environmentally friendly materials or in a loved one’s favourite colour.  A motor hearse is the most common type of transport used to take a loved one on their final journey, however, horse-drawn carriages, lorries, dormobiles and even motorbikes with purpose built side cars can be used to reflect the character and interests of the deceased.

Floral decorations can bring colour to a funeral and many families will choose imaginative displays such as flowers spelling the name of their loved one or shaped like a car or a football badge.  It is common for attendees to bring floral tributes but alternatively you could ask for a donation to a specific charity.

If your loved one was a music lover then choosing a song that meant something to them can be a nice tribute, or you could request their favourite hymn or a poem.  You might want to share a story about your loved one, talk about their character and invite others to do the same or alternatively ask a minister to deliver a reading.

Traditional burials would see mourners throw flowers or soil into the grave; however, you may wish to do something which is different but still symbolic, for example, releasing doves to represent peace and new life.

Whether through unique transportation choices and elaborate coffins or more delicate touches like poems or special flower arrangements – every human is different and there are many different ways in which a life can be remembered and celebrated.  Discuss with your funeral director what you would like to do to find out what options might be available and remember that you do not have to stick to a standard template.

The rise of the environmentally friendly funeral

iStock_000009364008XSmall.jpgUntil recently, there were only two real options when it came to funerals – burial or cremation. Until 1968, burials were the more popular of these two options, as explained in our recent article looking at the history of cremation in the UK. Since 1968 however, cremation has grown in popularity, something we considered in our post on why more people are choosing cremations, so that now around three out of four funerals are cremations. However, are we now starting to see people move away from cremations in favour of something different?

In recent years, as environmental awareness has grown, so too has the desire amongst some people for an environmentally friendly funeral. Research from the Post Office carried out in 2007 showed that nearly 35 per cent of people were planning on having an eco-friendly burial rather than a traditional burial or cremation.

What is an environmentally friendly funeral?
There is no one definition of an environmentally friendly funeral, as there are lots of ways to make a funeral more environmentally friendly. You can choose to have a biodegradable cardboard coffin or an environmentally friendly woven coffin, such as ones made from cane, seagrass, cocostick, banana leaves, loom, bamboo, water hyacinth, or wool, but still hold the funeral in a church and be buried afterwards. You can ask mourners not to send cut flowers and send a donation to a charity instead, or, better yet, ask them to plant a tree in memory of your loved one.

Natural burial
What people generally mean though when they talk about an environmentally friendly funeral is a natural burial. Natural burials tend to take place in fields or secluded woodlands which have been specially designated for the purpose, with people being buried in unmarked graves, with perhaps a tree denoting where they are laid to rest, if anything at all. There are now some 200+ natural burial grounds in the UK, mainly woodlands and meadows. Several are situated within reasonably easy travelling distance of WA Truelove & Son Ltd.

How bad are cremations for the environment?
As people realise how bad cremations are for the environment, they are looking for alternatives. The average cremator runs for 75 minutes at temperatures of up to 1,150°c and, according to the Natural Death Centre, one cremation uses as much energy as a 500 mile car trip. Increasingly, many people do not want their “final journey” to do as much damage to the environment as a car journey from Plymouth to Edinburgh.

Part of a trend?
Our guide to the latest funeral trends looks at how funerals have changed in recent years and notes in particular that funerals have become less religious, focusing on celebration rather than mourning, and more personalised to the individual who has passed away. A natural burial could be viewed as being part of that trend, as a funeral amongst nature could be viewed by many as more uplifting than a funeral in a church, as could visiting a grave in a woodland rather than in a cemetery. A natural burial overall can be without religious association and is far more relaxed and informal occasion than a cremation or normal burial.

For more information about funeral options available, please visit our website or click here to read our guide to the latest funeral trends.

Why are more people choosing cremations?

Image4Why are so many more people choosing to be cremated rather than buried in the UK? Between 70 and 75% (and over 80% in Greater London) now choose cremation over a burial, although as we explained in our recent article looking at the history of cremation, it has not always been the case.

Cost and space were key reasons why people campaigned for cremation to be allowed 140 years ago. Since then, the population of England has increased dramatically from 30.5 million in 1901 to over 53 million by 2011, and a problem that existed 140 years ago has only increased. Land in graveyards and burial grounds around the UK is scarce, and even though many churches have bought neighbouring plots of land to extend their existing burial grounds, these “overflow” graveyards are also fast becoming full. This has led to the cost of a burial plot rising dramatically, making cremation a much cheaper option.

Another issue is our increasingly mobile population. People frequently move around the country because of work, family and a whole host of other reasons. It is becoming less common for people to stay all their lives in the town or village where they and their family grew up and therefore less common for them to be buried in a local family graveyard. Previously, if family members were buried in the local churchyard, it was easy for relatives to visit their grave regularly to pay their respects, talk to their loved ones, maintain it and add flowers. Now, they might only be able to visit the grave of their loved ones once a year, perhaps at Christmas. This can be very upsetting for many people who want to feel that their loved one is near them or around them and that they can talk to them. Having your loved one cremated gives you more flexibility than having them laid to rest in one place – you can keep their ashes in an urn or container, or you can scatter their ashes. To many people, scattering ashes can make them feel like their loved one is around them all the time and can therefore make their passing feel less final.

Personalisation and religion are also factors. There has been a decrease in recent years in the number of people that associate themselves with a religion. Burying a loved one in the local churchyard can hold little meaning if that person was not religious, whereas a ceremony in a crematorium does not have to have any religious association. However, everyone will have a place somewhere that means something to them – a favourite holiday destination, the place they grew up, became engaged, married, or just a favourite view point or walk. Scattering ashes in this place can have far more meaning to some people than burying a body in a churchyard.

Coupled with the decline in religious association has been a trend in recent years for a funeral to be more of a celebration of a person’s life than a chance to mourn their passing. Graveyards can be quite depressing places, whereas, if ashes are scattered in a place that had a special meaning to someone, visiting that spot can be a far happier, although still poignant, experience that allows mourners to reflect on their life rather than their death.

To read more about what people are choosing to do for funerals, please have a read of our helpful guide to funeral trends.

The history of cremations in the UK

Cremation is now the most popular type of funeral in the UK. By 2007, 72% of funerals in the UK were cremations. However, this has not always been the case.

Although humans have practised cremation for millennia, the advent of Christianity and the influence of the church in Britain stopped it happening here for hundreds of years. This was because the church rejected it, believing it to be pagan and a practice which would make the resurrection of the body impossible.

Read the rest of this entry »

Funerals: A guide to the latest trends

She is still his sweetheart


Losing a loved one can be a huge shock and, at the same time as dealing with the grief, you will have a number of urgent tasks to carry out.  Not least of these is thinking about the funeral, which will most likely take place at least a week after the death occurs.  Read the rest of this entry »

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