Information on burial, cremation and other options

 

Some people have clear ideas about whether they would like to be buried or cremated and may have specified this in their Will, in a Letter of Wishes, or even verbally. If they have not, then either the next of kin or the executor will need to make that decision. The following section provides information on both, and a comparison chart that may help to guide you.

This will vary depending on the type of service, but a funeral will usually take place about a week or two after a person dies to allow time for all of the arrangements to be made and for family and friends to organise their travel plans. Some religions specify that the service takes place within a certain time (see Types of Funeral Service).

The burial or cremation should be booked as soon as possible to ensure you get a suitable date. If you are appointing a Funeral Director they will be able to help you with this.  Below is more information on the various options.

 


Increasingly, people are choosing to record details of their wishes, specifying whether they would like to be buried or cremated. If they haven’t, then either the next of kin or the executor will need to make that decision.

Here are some of the things to consider:      

CREMATION
Burial
COSTS & EXPENSES


Cremation tends to be less expensive than burial, although this is not always the case. 
Direct Cremation, where the body is cremated immediately after the death, is the least expensive option. The body can be cremated in a simple cardboard coffin and no embalming or preparations are needed. A memorial service or celebration of life can then be held at a later date.

In our Costs & Financial Support section you can find further information on ways to reduce costs.


Although burial can be more expensive than cremation, there are many options to suit varying budgets. Burial can take place in a variety of places and 'green' or 'natural' burial grounds are an increasingly popular environmentally friendly alternative. There is also the option of a Direct Burial with no mourners, service or ceremony.

In our Costs & Financial Support section you can find further information on ways to reduce costs.

 

SPACE


Cremation may be chosen for environmental reasons, saving the space that is taken up with burial, or simply because there is limited availability in a local churchyard or cemetery.

Some people choose a columbarium wall or stone barrow as a final resting place for ashes, or they scatter them in a special place, at sea or under a tree. 


Many people like to be buried in their local churchyard or cemetery. Some reserve a plot to ensure this can happen, or to enable them to be laid to rest with a loved one or other family members. However, space is often limited and there may not be room to expand.

Green burial sites are increasingly popular in rural settings. Here, dual land use allows woodland, pasture, meadows or wildlife habitats to flourish over and around the burial plots.

ENVIROMENTAL CONCERNS


There are a number of environmental concerns with cremation, such as the emission of carbon dioxide from the use of fossil fuels and the release of other polutants such as mercury during the process. Many crematoria, particularly newer ones, incorporate heat exchange technology and mercury filtration equipment, but there are still concerns about whether enough is being done to address these problems.

Also, the ashes have a high PH and sodium level which plants do not like and this makes decomposition difficult. It may be necessary to mix the ashes with other organic compounds to allow the plants to thrive. 


The scarcity of land for churchyard or cemetery burials can be a problem. 

However, the popularity of green burial sites in areas that are naturalised with trees and plants, offer an eco-friendly alternative. Only biodegradable materials are allowed below ground and memorials are typically wooden or local stone.

There are rules around embalming (to stop soil contamination from toxic chemicals), and removal of non-biodegradable parts (hips replacements, etc) may be necessary.

TIME


Although a ceremony often takes place alongside the cremation, once the cremation has taken place the ashes can be kept indefinitely, allowing the family more time to decide where the final resting place of their loved one should be.

Direct cremation or a simple cremation with a small, family service and then a memorial service at a later date allows more time to plan and make travel arrangements.


Embalming or the use of a cold matress can enable family and friends to have a viewing or keep their love one at home for a short period of time. 

Usually the funeral takes place fairly soon after death (although this is not always the case). There may, therefore, only be a limited time to make arrangements and for family and friends to organise their travel plans. However, it is not necessary for the ceremony to happen at the time of burial, a service of remembrance can take place at a later date.

FLEXIBILITY


Ashes are portable and can be scattered in a place, or places, that have sentimental meaning, including overseas (remember to tell the airline that you are carrying cremated remains).

Some people choose to keep the ashes at home, at least until they have decided where the final resting place should be (see Cremation - more information). 


There are obvious practical constraints around transporting a body, but it is not necessary to hire a hearse. Any vehicle that is large enough can be used. Hiring a hearse to move a body some distance can be expensive, so burial often happens locally.

PERSONAL FEELINGS


People often have strong feelings one way or another about cremation versus burial. The person who has died may have expressed their wishes, or a close family member may feel strongly about this decision. All of these factors must be taken into account.

 


Some people like the idea of returning their body to the earth, in effect completing the circle of life.

They may wish to be laid to rest in a place where they have lived for many years, alongside other ancestors or near to friends.

The person who has died may have expressed their wishes, or a close family member may feel strongly about this decision. All of these factors must be taken into account.

PERMANENT MEMORIALS


If ashes are scattered, particularly if this is done in more than one location, there may be no special place that family and friends can go in the future to remember their loved one.

Having a focus for their grief can be an important part of the mourning process. Sometimes, people choose to scatter some of the ashes and to keep the remainder for a final resting place, maybe under a tree planted in memory of their loved one. Ashes can be buried with a memorial stone, or stored in a columbarium wall or a traditional barrow.


Burial, particularly in a churchyard or cemetery, means there will be a permanent memorial, usually in the form of a headstone. This provides a place where loved ones can go in the future to remember the person who has died. 

Natural burial grounds too provide a tranquil and uplifting space to sit, reflect and remember.

 

LOCATIONS


Cremation has to take place in a cremetorium. The ashes can usually be laid to rest there in a Garden of Remembrance, or can be taken by the family to be kept safely until they decide on their final resting place.


Burial can take place in a number of sites - a churchyard, cemetery, green burial site, at sea, at home or perhaps in another, more unusual location (see Burial - more information).

 

RELIGIOUS CONSIDERATIONS


Different faiths and religions have their own customs and requirements around cremation. Some forbid it, others insist on it, but most accept both. For more information, see Types of Funeral Service.


Different faiths and religions have their own customs and requirements around burial. Some forbid it, others insist on it, but most accept both. For more information, see Types of Funeral Service.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS


Ashes are portable and in an increasingly mobile society, being able to take your loved one with you if you move to another area or a new country, can be a consideration.


In an increasingly mobile society, where families often don't stay in the place where they were born or grew up, burial can mean that visiting the grave becomes difficult or infrequent.

With the advent of 'green' or 'natural' burial grounds, options for where to be laid to rest have broadened. Your decision will depend partly on whether you would like consecrated ground or other requirements of faith or religion. For more information about different religions, please see Types of Funeral Service.


These are some of the options for a burial:

To be buried in a particular churchyard or burial ground a person might have to either live within the parish or be on its electoral register at the time of their death. The vicar will be able to tell you if they are entitled to be buried there and if they have a grave space reserved.

Find a Church has a directory of Christian churches throughout the UK.

Cemeteries are mainly owned by local authorities, although some are managed by private companies.

Although the ground is not consecrated and most are non-denominational, they will usually have areas dedicated to specific religions. There are also cemeteries provided for the exclusive use of other religious groups, such as Jews and Muslims. 

People have the right to be buried in the cemetery of the local authority in which they live. Those living outside of the area can be buried there too, but they may be charged a higher burial fee and space might be limited.

There are now over 250 green burial sites throughout the United Kingdom (also known as natural or woodland sites). They are usually on privately owned land, often in woodland settings or where the land is naturalised through the planting of memorial trees.

Green burials are seen as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional burial or cremation. The materials used for the coffin or shroud must be environmentally friendly and readily biodegradable (for example, cardboard, banana leaf, wicker, bamboo, willow or cotton). 

A woodland setting can be a beautiful place to sit and remember a loved one. Not all sites mark the exact spot of each burial, however they will all keep a register of individual locations. Also, the type of memorialisation (a tree, stone, planting, etc) varies from site to site, so it is important to check these details before you make a choice.

For environmental reasons, most sites do not allow embalming.

Our Funeral Locations Inspiration and Providers pages can help you find green, natural and woodland burial sites in the UK.

Organisations such as The Woodland Burial TrustThe Natural Death Centre or The Bereavement Services Portal have further help and support.

Home burials on private land are becoming increasingly popular. The service can be unique and personal, reflecting the wishes of the deceased or the family. There is no need for a funeral director, although most people choose to use one for some of the more regulated requirements, such as storing the body or legal paperwork. There is also no need for the land to be consecrated.

There are a number of statutory requirements for home burials and the death still needs to be registered with the local Register of Births and Deaths, for which a Doctor’s certificate is required. It is also advisable to contact the local council's Environmental Health Department as they will need to check that there is no risk to public health.

If you are the owner of the land, you will need to check the deeds in case there is a restrictive covenant preventing the burial of human remains. If the property is mortgaged the owner also needs to check the contract in case it is necessary to get the lender’s permission.

Planning permission is only required if there is going to be a permanent memorial or if the burial site constitutes a change of use (for example, if there are going to be a number of graves on the land).

The Home Funeral Network offers support, education and guidance for those organising a home-based, family led funeral.

The scattering of ashes at sea is preferred to burials because of the risk of a body being washed up by currents and tides. As a result of this, there are only three areas around the coastline of England and Northern Ireland where burials at sea are allowed - off Tynemouth in North Tyneside, between Hastings and Newhaven in Sussex, and south of the needles off the Isle of Wight. In Scotland there are two areas, west of Oban and west of John O'Groats.

For a burial at sea, you will need a Marine Licence from The Marine Management Organisation (MMO). They will want to check the Death Certificate, and will require a Certificate of Freedom from Fever and Infections (from the deceased person's GP or hospital doctor) and a Notice of Intention to Remove a Body out of England (from the coroner in exchange for a Certificate of Disposal provided by the registrar).

For further details on how and where to get licences see the Government information on how to get a licence for burial at sea in England

The cost of a burial varies widely, depending upon a number of factors. For a detailed break-down, please see The cost of a funeral with a burial in Costs & Financial Support.

 

Rising awareness of environmental concerns and the increase in the number of ways that people choose to be laid to rest has encouraged providers to be more mindful and creative in the selection of coffins and urns they produce. There are a number of things to consider before you make your decision.

DECIDE ON YOUR BUDGET

There are a wide range of options to suit varying budgets, so do look around.

You will need to know the approximate weight and height of the person who has died. If a standard sized coffin isn't suitable, it may be necessary to have one custom built, which may be more expensive and can take time.

The term coffin is probably used more widely than casket, but there is a difference between the two. A casket is rectagular in shape and tends to be made of made of better quality materials, a coffin is tapered at the head and foot and wider at the shoulders.

CHOICE OF MATERIALS

There are a number of different materials available for coffins, caskets and shrouds. What you choose may depend on how andwhere your loved one is to be buried or cremated (for example, some woodland burial sites have strict criteria).

Coffins - biodegradeable

The ecological impact of these materials varies and, particularly if it is 'green' burial, you will need to check whether there are any restrictions at the site. It is possible to have a cardboard coffin insert that sits inside a more traditional coffin (which can be rented) that is removed at the time of burial or cremation.

      • cardboard (can be decorated with drawings, photos, etc)
      • wicker
      • banana Leaf
      • seagrass
      • willow
      • rattan
      • wool
      • bamboo

Coffins - Non-biodegradable

These tend to be used in traditional burials, or can provide an outside shell for a cardboard coffin insert.

      • solid Wood - the traditional option, usually with metal handles and internal padding
      • veneer or chipboard - often designed to look like a traditional, solid wood coffin
      • metal - expensive but long-lasting

Shrouds

An alternative and less expensive option to a coffin is a shroud - a piece of material in which the body is wrapped. As long as the body is fully covered in public areas, this is an acceptable alternative. A traditional covering for some religions, shrouds are also being used more widely now.

      • cotton
      • linen
      • sail cloth or other more unusual materials
      • a 'mushroom shroud' (a bodysuit infused with fungi spores that aid decomposition)

SOURCING A COFFIN, CASKET OR SHROUD

Your Funeral Director can provide advice and may be able to source a coffin for you. If the Funeral Director supplies the coffin as part of a package, it will not be subject to VAT.

Please note that many of these options will be custom made, so it is worth making your choice as soon as possible to ensure it can be delivered on time.

There are many examples of beautiful and unusual designs of in the Inspiration section of whiteballoon, with direct links to the providers.

Alternatively, please find local and national suppliers in the Providers section, again where you can link to the companies' websites to view their complete range, compare prices or place an order.

 

WHERE DOES CREMATION TAKE PLACE

Cremation takes place in a crematorium. These are sited throughout the UK and are owned and run either privately or by the Local Authority (sometimes in conjunction with a private operator).

INCORPORATING A SERVICE AROUND THE CREMATION

Some people have a religious ceremony at a place of worship either before or after the cremation, or a non-religious ceremony at another venue. Others have a ceremony in the chapel at the crematorium. The service can be religious or non-religious and can include the usual elements such as readings, prayers, music and singing.

At the end of the service, the coffin can be commited or can remain in situ whilst mourners pay their respects as they leave the chapel. Some crematoria have rooms where a reception can be held after the service, or mourners might gather at a family home or other location.

Most religions now accept cremation as an alternative to burial and for some cremation is mandatory. For more information, see Types of Funeral Service. Some crematoria have amenities that cater for the specific needs of different faiths (for example washing facilities for Hindus and Sikhs) and most supply different iconography for display.

HOW LONG IS A CREMATION SERVICE?

The time alloted for the cremation and service varies from place to place and can be anywhere from 20 minutes to 1 hour. It is usually about 40 minutes long. If you feel this will not give you the time you need, it is worth considering booking two slots to make sure you and other mourners don't feel rushed.

HOW MANY PEOPLE ATTEND A CREMATION?

Most crematoria can accommodate up to 100 people. For larger funerals, for example for a younger person, a high profile member of the community or for Asian funerals which traditionally have a much larger number of mourners, it may be necessary to find a crematorium that has the facilities and parking to accommodate this.

DIRECT CREMATION

This is a cremation where family and friends are not present. It is increasingly popular, particularly when cost is an important factor. After the cremation the ashes are returned to the family in the usual way. A service of remembrance or memorial service can be held at a later date, when loved ones have had time to think about how they would like to celebrate or honour the life of the person they have lost.

COLLECTING THE ASHES

The ashes will usually be ready for collection or delivery to you after 2 to 7 days.  If you prefer, you can give your funeral director written permission to collect the ashes on your behalf.

 

The style and facilities of crematoria throught the UK vary enormously. For Inspiration and Providers, see our Funeral Locations pages. 

 

COSTS

Each crematorium sets its own costs for cremation and they can vary quite considerably, so it is worth checking those in the vicinity to compare prices.  For a detailed breakdown on costs relating to cremation and the services around it, please see The cost of a funeral with a cremation in Costs of Cremation.

 

THE ASHES

The crematorium will need written instructions from the applicant (the executor or closest relative) about what to do with the cremated remains. Interment may take place at the crematorium, or the ashes can be collected at a later date. Most Funeral Directors are happy to collect the ashes from the crematorium, they will just need a signed document giving them permission to do so. 

The family can then choose what they would like to do with the ashes when they are ready (their loved one may have specified their wishes).

CHOOSING AN URN

Consider whether the urn is a permanent resting place and where it will be kept, or if it is only temporary storage for the ashes until they are scattered. Urns are available in a wide range of materials, for example:

      • metal - brass, bronze, aluminium, stainless steel, copper
      • ceramic
      • stone
      • wood
      • glass
      • fibreglass
      • bio-degradable - cardboard, papier mache

SOURCING AN URN

Your Funeral Director can provide advice and may be able to source an urn for you. However, there is a vast selection available and it may be worth doing some research before you visit them.

There are many examples of beautiful and unusual designs in the Coffins, Urns & Ashes Inspiration section of whiteballoon, with direct links to the providers.

Alternatively, please find local and national suppliers in the Providers section, again where you can link to the companies' websites to view their complete range, compare prices and place an order.

CHOOSING A FINAL RESTING PLACE FOR THE ASHES

If the deceased has not made their wishes known, the next of kin will need to decide where the final resting place for the ashes should be. Some people take comfort in keeping the urn with them at home, either permanently or at least for a while until they are ready.

There are now lots of different options and our Inspiration and Provider pages show some of the possibilities and link you to people who can help, but here is an overview of some of the things you might like to consider:

 

As long as you own the land, you can scatter ashes in your garden. Otherwise, you will need the landowner’s permission.

Ashes can be buried at the base of a tree that will grow and provide a wonderful memorial to a loved one. Make sure that you will be able to revisit the location if the land is not owned by you.

You may need to mix the ashes with a specially designed compost to ensure that they provide a suitable environment within which the tree can grow.

There is a lovely selection of trees and plants on our Flowers & Plants Inspiration and Providers pages.

These orgaisations allow the scattering of ashes at many of their sites, but permission must be sought beforehand. Please go to The Woodland Trust, English Heritage or The National Trust for more information.

 

Ashes can be scattered or buried in crematoria Gardens of Remembrance. Memorials are not always permitted although a Book of Remembrance will usually be available and some have an urn wall (also called a columbarium) with memorial plaques.

 

Beautiful, traditional stone barrows can be a wonderful resting place for a loved one and a lovely, calm place to visit. See our Funeral Locations Inspiration and Providers pages for images and to check locations.

 

Some cemeteries have small plots where urns can be buried with a plaque or memorial, or the ashes can be buried in a family grave.

Ashes can be scattered in rivers and tidal coastal waters, either from a boat or from the beach.

Some people wash ashes out to sea through "beaching", where shallow trenches are dug in the sand, maybe spelling out their loved one's name or a personal message. The ashes are tipped into the trenches and family and friends wait until the remains are taken out to sea. Ideally this ceremony would take place early in the morning or later in the evening when the beach is empty.

There are also beautiful, biodegradable urns in many shapes (such as turtles) that can be placed in the water. They float for a short while, then slowly sink and disolve.

To find ideas and suppliers, see our Coffins, Urns & Ashes Inspiration and Providers pages.

Places such as racecourses, golf courses, stadiums and cricket pitches are popular but you will need to ask the owner. If you wish to return to the site, make sure that you will be able to get access.

 

The ashes can be made in to items such as jewellery and stones. This is a lovely way to remember a loved one and to keep them close by.

There is a beautiful selection in the Personal Touches & Keepsakes Inspiration and Providers sections, together with links through to the companies that supply them.

 

For something more unusual, an ashes firework may be a dramatic choice.  Or take to the skies in a hot air balloon or specially designed drone. Take a look at our Inspiration page.

Whatever you choose, we urge you to do your homework and ensure that you don't step over any legal or moral lines. We have a number of recognised and experienced Providers who can help guide you through.

LEAVING YOUR BODY TO SCIENCE

We all think about and deal with death in different ways. For some, knowing that donating their body will help teach and train future healthcare workers, or aid research to improve the lives and health of future generations, is a final altruistic and positive act.

There are a number of things to consider and it may be worth discussing this decision with those closest to you. It can be some time before your body is finally released for cremation, which may be difficult for those mourning your loss and trying to come to terms with your death. It is still possible to hold a memorial service or celebration of life without your body or ashes present, but not having a final resting place to visit can be hard for those left behind. 

Anyone can leave their body to science. You will need to obtain and sign a consent form from your local medical school. For further details, please see the Government information on donating your body to science.

CRYONICS

There are organisations both overseas and in the UK that offer the possibility of having your body cryogenically frozen. This technology is still in its infancy and has not yet been proven to work. If you are interested, it is essential that you research it thoroughly and extensively before making a decision. For further details, please see the Government information on the laws surrounding cryonics.