A step-by-step guide to planning a funeral service or celebration of life


Planning a funeral can be overwhelming, especially if it is something that you have never done before. The following information outlines things you will need to think about.

Whiteballoon's free PLANNING TOOLS enable you to save your own personalised collection of ideas to a folder. To create an Ideas Folder, please REGISTER and LOGIN here. Our PLANNING A FUNERAL checklist can be printed out and used as a guide.

This will vary depending on the type of service, but a funeral usually takes 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 will need to be booked as soon as possible to make sure you get a suitable date. If you are appointing a Funeral Director they will be able to help you, or you can search for Funeral Locations on whiteballoon to compare local sites and costs.


One of the first things to do when planning a funeral is to consider your budget as this may have an influence on the size and format of the funeral and the post-funeral gathering.

Funerals can be expensive. According to Sunlife's Cost of Dying 2022 Report*, the average cost of a basic funeral in the UK in 2021 was £4,056*. This can vary considerably depending on the location (the cost is substantially higher in London) and the type of service.

By the time you have accounted for other possible expenses, such as flowers, coffin, the post-funeral gathering and fees for hiring someone to administer the estate, the total 'cost of dying' can often double.

For a more detailed break-down of the cost, plus information on who is responsible for paying for the funeral, please see Costs & Financial Support. This section also has information on where to find financial help and support. 


To enable you to keep track of costs, you may wish to use the whiteballoon Budget Planner in Planning Tools. Here you can set a budget, list expenses and calculate how much you have spent to date. Please note that you will need to Register or Login to access this facility.

* for SunLife's Cost of Dying 2022 Report click here.


If you have yet to appoint a Funeral Director, please visit Appointing a Funeral Director for more information.


Increasingly, people are choosing to record details of their wishes, specifying whether they would like to be buried or cremated (or perhaps one of the other options, such as leaving their body to science).

This information can usually be found in their Will, in a Letter of Wishes, or they might just have expressed it verbally. If this isn't the case, either the next of kin or the executor will need to decide. Whiteballoon's Burial or Cremation section has a comparison chart and other information that might help with this choice. 


The ceremony you choose will depend on the wishes and beliefs of the person who has died, or of those closest to them. Some people will take comfort in the traditions and rituals of their faith, others may want a non-religious ceremony that allows for greater flexibility in location and content.

Many services are centred around burial or cremation of the body, although this does not have to be the case.

Please go to our Types of Funeral Service section to find information about ceremony options and the content and protocols for different faiths and religions. 


Who leads the funeral service will depend on the type of ceremony and the location.


If you would like a traditional religious funeral, a Vicar, Priest or other religious leader can officiate (lead the service). Contact the place of worship of the person who has died to discuss the options.


Civil Celebrants are happy to conduct a service with either no religious content at all, or with some religious content such as prayers, hymns and readings.

Humanist Celebrants focus on celebrating the life of the person who has died and they will aim to conduct a service that captures and reflects the deceaced's unique character and personality. Generally, religious elements are not included in these services, however some Humanist Celebrants are open to doing so.

A family member or friend can take the service, depending on where it is held.

For more information on ceremony options, see Types of Funeral Service and Burial or Cremation.



A celebrant is a qualified person who officiates formal ceremonies, such as weddings, funerals, memorials or baby namings. Ceremonies led by a celebrant tend to be non-religious, but may have some religious or spiritual elements.


A celebrant will help with planning and organising a funeral, memorial service or celebration of life. They can provide guidance and advice around all elements of the ceremony.

A good celebrant will spend time with the family, getting to know a bit about the life and character of the person who has died.  The focus will be on creating a service that meets the needs and wishes of the bereaved and that reflects the personality of the deceased. Emphasis may be on more of a 'celebration of life' and generally allows far greater flexibility than a traditional religious service.

As well as producing a script for the service, they may write and deliver the eulogy.

The style and service offered will vary from celebrant to celebrant, so it is worth looking at a few profiles before making your choice and speaking to any that you feel are right for you. Or get a recommendation from family, friends or others involved in preparations and planning.



Preparing the order of service can provide a helpful structure for arranging the funeral. If you are appointing a Vicar, Priest or Celebrant, they can assist with this. If you are preparing it yourself do check your thoughts and ideas with whoever is taking the service just to ensure that they are happy with what you have planned.


      • an appropriate and available date for the funeral
      • the type of service (traditional, modern or non-religious)
      • the location of the funeral
      • who will conduct the service
      • the arrangements for the burial or cremation
      • the choice of hymnsmusicreadings and prayers
      • who will give the eulogy
      • the arrangements for the reception after the funeral
      • whether to ask for a donation or a retiring collection for a particular charity instead of flowers 


Front page:

      • a photo of the deceased
      • their full name and the name they were typically known by
      • date of birth and date of their death
      • date, time and location of the service

Middle pages:

      • welcome and introduction and name of the Officient (Vicar, Priest, Celebrant or other)
      • details of songs, music and musicians (words are usually listed in bold for reference)
      • prayers and hymns (words are usually listed in bold for reference)
      • who will be presenting the eulogy or tribute
      • readings (with or without words) and who will be giving them
      • a photo or collage of family photos
      • meaningful or favourite quotations
      • a Blessing

Final page:

      • a photo or photos
      • departing music
      • expressions of thanks to those who have attended the funeral and provided support
      • a meaningful or favourite quotation
      • any preference of charities for donations 
      • details of the location of the reception that follows the service
      • details of, and thanks to, the Funeral Director or Funeral Company


For ideas and examples of style and design, please see our funeral stationery Inspiration section.  Creating an Ideas Folder (see Planning Tools) enables you to save all the content (readings, music, etc) in one place and to share it with those involved in producing the order of service.

If you have appointed a Funeral Director they can arrange the printing, or you will find both local and on-line printing companies in the funeral stationery Providers section of whiteballoon. If the number attending is not too high, some people choose to print the order of service themselves to keep costs down.


Poems, readings and prayers can provide great comfort, bringing friends and family together and reminding us of the shared experience of grief. Some poems and readings make references to God whilst others are chosen for their touching or meaningful words.

A wide selection of Poems, Readings and Prayers  can be found in the Inspiration section of whiteballoon. These can be printed out or can be saved to your Ideas Folder by clicking on the heart in the top right hand corner.


The hymns and music that we choose to remember and celebrate the life of a loved one can be the perfect way to reflect their personality and to capture what they meant to us.

From traditional hymns to favourite songs, it is sometimes comforting to choose music that meant something to your loved one and that will remind you of the important place that they hold in your heart. Please visit HymnsClassical Music and Contemporary Music for ideas and inspiration.

If you would like to have songs or music performed or played by a professional musician, please see below or visit Singers & Musicians in the providers section of whiteballoon.

COVID 19: On 19th July 2021 restrictions around singing and musical performances were lifted. However, venue operators may choose to set their own restrictions or limits.

To find out more about the current rules and regulations, please see the latest Government information.


Singing and music at a funeral can be both healing and uplifting and having a live perfoarmance of a meaningful song can be a beautiful tribute to a loved one. There are many possibilities from soloists and choirs, to violinists and pianists. Some people choose to ask a family member or a close family friend to perform.

Deciding what to have is a very personal choice but if you would like some ideas and inspiration, please look at the Singers and Musicians listed in Inspiration and Providers.

COVID 19: On 19th July 2021 restrictions around singing and musical performances were lifted. However, venue operators may choose to set their own restrictions or limits.

To find out more about the current rules and regulations, please see the latest Government information


Sometimes adding a few personal touches can spark memories and conversations or lighten the mood.

Displays of photographs of the deceased, their life, family and friends or movie clips to a favourite song can help mourners to remember the life of the person they are saying goodbye to.

Consider ways to invite participation from the guests - writing a memory in a book of condolence or posting it in a memory jar can be cathartic and will create lasting memories for the family.

Think about reflecting the life and personality of the person you are mourning - for a gardener or nature lover, packs of flower seeds for loved ones to take away and plant as a living reminder of the person who has died; releasing balloons or doves to represent a free spirit; fireworks, for someone who loved drama and spectacle.


There are some beautiful ideas for Personal Touches in our Inspiration pages. If you would like to link directly to local or national providers, please visit the Providers section of whiteballoon or use the search facility above.


Funeral stationery can help you to celebrate and remember your loved one and to create a lasting commemoration of their life.

Most people have an order of service which outlines the proceedings for the ceremony, but other personal touches such as a book of condolence, attendance or memorial cards are increasingly popular.

A printed thank you card with a favourite photo can be a lovely way to acknowledge letters and support and provides a lasting keepsake for family and friends.

There are some beautiful ideas and photographs for Funeral Stationery in the Inspiration section of whiteballoon.


Your Funeral Director may be able to help you with the stationery. Alternatively, you can find localor national suppliers of Funeral Stationery in the Providers section of whiteballoon, or by using the search facility above.

If numbers required are low, some people choose to keep their costs down by printing the stationery themselves at home.


Immediate family and close friends are usually told about the death of a loved one before any thoughts about the funeral have taken place. The main thing is to make sure that all of the key family and friends are made aware before any announcement is made, or messages are posted on social media.

These days, details of the funeral are often incorporated within an announcement of death or obituary and, increasingly, on social media (see below).


Before letting people know you will need to finalise the funeral details, then it is best to inform people as soon as possible so that they can make the necessary travel arrangements.

Here are some of the things to consider:

  • whether you are having a small, private funeral, perhaps followed by a memorial service at a later date, or a service where everyone is welcome
  • a suitable date, time and location for the service
  • the location for the post-funeral gathering (if you are having one)
  • whether flowers are welcome, or if donations to a particular charity or charities is preferred
  • whether to include the Funeral Director's details to provide a point of contact should anyone have any additional questions nearer the day

If you are live streaming the service, don't forget to send login details to those who have been invited to attend remotely.


An announcement of death is often published by families in local or national newspapers (for example, The Times or The Telegraph). These can vary in length, but they tend to be quite short and to the point and usually include the time and date of the funeral and/or memorial service (please see Announcing a Death for further details).

Obituaries tend to elaborate more on the life of the deceased, but can also include details of the funeral and/or memorial service (please see Writing an Obituary for more information).


Social media has certainly made it quicker and easier to inform a larger number of people about the death of a loved one and the date, time and location of the funeral and/or memorial service.

Whether social media is used will depend on a number of factors, including the age of the deceased. A grand-parent may have fewer friends actively using social media than a younger person. Depending on the circumstances, a short notice on facebook or twitter may be an appropriate and efficient way to inform people.

For more information, please go to Announcing a Death.


Most Funeral Directors these days offer an on-line tribute service for families to both celebrate the life of their loved one, and to communicate the details of the funeral and/or memorial service.


To help with planning a funeral and to get some idea of numbers for seating and catering purposes, our free Notification Cards can be emailed to family and friends. Replies can be recorded on the whiteballoon Attendees form, helping you to keep track of who may be coming, together with any special requirements.


Live streaming and recording ceremonies is now available in many crematoria and churches, or there are companies that will set up equipment to order in one or more locations. Restrictions around funerals during the pandemic has led to increased demand for this service and it is likely that it will become more widely used in the future.

Providing a live stream (or webcast) that can be broadcast to family and friends around the world means those who are unable to attend in person (due to perhaps age, health or distance) are still able to participate in the service, pay their respects and say goodbye.

Often for those grieving the funeral will pass in a blur. Being able to watch a recording of the service at a later date, as a reminder of who was there and of the words of love and loss that were spoken, can provide great comfort.

Alternatively, a photographer can discreetly capture precious moments and memories. The images, together with other tributes and pictures, could be included in a biographical or memory book.

Your funeral director or chosen funeral location will be able to tell you whether they offer live streaming. Or to find companies who can provide these services, please go to Live Streaming, Photography & Videography in the Providers section of whiteballoon. Our Inspiration page also has ideas and photographs to help you choose.

You may find the Attendees form in whiteballoon's Planning Tools useful for recording the names and emails of those wishing to attend the service remotely.

The 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.


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

The approximate weight and height of the person who has died will need to be taken into account. If a standard sized coffin is not suitable it may be necessary to have one custom built, which may be more expensive.


There are a number of different materials available for coffins, shrouds and urns. What you choose may depend on how and where your loved one is to be buried or cremated (for example, some woodland burial sites have strict criteria). More information on this can be found in our Burial or Cremation section.


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



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)



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.

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

It it not necessary to buy a new container for the ashes. There may be a possession that has sentimental value that could be used, either temporarily or permanently. Perhaps a favourite vase, a treasured vanity case, or decorative biscuit tin.



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

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

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


A Eulogy is the speech made at a funeral or memorial service about the person who has died. It is usually made by a close friend or family member and is an uplifting tribute to the deceased in which their life is remembered and celebrated.

Please see Writing a Eulogy in the whiteballoon Information section for helpful tips and ideas on how to write and deliver a Eulogy.


Flowers represent a celebration of life. They can provide comfort in grief, add warmth, and lift the mood at a funeral.


Flowers for the casket are typically chosen by the immediate family. This may depend on the preferences of the deceased or the season. Your Funeral Director may be able to help you find the right arrangement for you. Most florists have good working relationships with local Funeral Directors and they will be able to liaise with each other with regards to when and where the flowers need to be delivered.

Alternatively, you can order flowers directly yourselves. If you would like inspiration for different types and styles of flowers and plants, compare prices or order directly, please visit the Flowers & Plants sections in Inspiration and Providers.

There are a number of different types of funeral arrangements available, including, wreaths, casket sprays, standing sprays and baskets.

Different flowers can also be used to express particular sentiments, including:

  • lilies, which are popular for funerals and represent the restored innocence of the soul of the departed
  • crimson roses convey grief and sorrow
  • yellow roses represent friendship
  • pink carnations 'remembrance'
  • orchids represent eternal love and express sympathy


It is increasingly usual for friends and acquaintances to make donations to a chosen charity, or charities, instead. However, some people choose to send a plant or arrangement too, to let the family know they are thinking of them in their time of grief.


Customs vary according to the faith and culture of the deceased. If you aren't sure, ask a family member or guidelines can be found in the Types of Funeral Service section of whiteballoon.



On the day of the service, your loved one may need to be transported to (and maybe between) the church, crematorium, or wherever the service is taking place.

Whilst most people still want the solemnity of a traditional hearse, there are many more unusual options, such as a horse-drawn carriage or a motorbike and sidecar. Choosing a mode of transport that encapsulates the life and character of the person who has died can be uplifting and bring a greater sense of connection to what is a very difficult and unfamiliar occasion.

Find lovely ideas, photos and suppliers in whiteballoon's Inspiration and Providers sections. This information can be saved to your Ideas Folder which can be printed out and taken to your meeting with the Funeral Director.

In some cases the coffin is already in situ when mourners arrive and remains in place as they leave. Therefore, formal transporation is not needed.


As well as transport for the deceased, you will need to consider transport for close family and for the pall-bearers (if you are having pall-bearers).

A traditional funeral limousine seats 7-9 people and most processions will have at least two cars, with close family members in the first car and other family or close friends in subsequent ones.

To keep costs down many people choose to use their own cars for family and friends. If there are a large number of mourners, it may be necessary to hire a minibus or larger vehicle.

Again, your Funeral Director can help with the different options for this transport, but to find ideas and inspiration, compare prices or order directly from the companies, please go to the Providers and Inspiration sections.


Typically, six pallbearers are used to carry or escort a coffin, although depending on the weight you may require a different number. Some people choose not to have a procession and instead arrange for the coffin to be quietly placed inside the church, chapel or crematorium, ready for when mourners arrive.

Your Funeral Director may be able to provide professional pallbearers for you. Alternatively, you can ask family and friends. Both men and women can be pallbearers and it is a lovely opportunity for them to take an active part in the funeral. When choosing from family and friends, bear in mind how the coffin will be carried (on shoulders, at waist height, or on a wheel bier - a small trolly) and also the distance from the hearse to where the service is taking place. If it is to be borne on the shoulders of the pallbearers, choosing people of a similar height will be important. If the coffin will be placed on a wheel bier, then height, strength and distance is less important.


The person who has died may have decided which outfit they would like to be buried in. Their wishes may have been conveyed verbally or in a Letter of Wishes.

If not, it is up to the next of kin or family members to decide. Sometimes, families choose to leave this decision up to the Funeral Director.

This is a very personal choice. Some people are dressed in their favourite clothes, whilst others decide to buy new clothes - the main thing, if they have not made their wishes known, is to choose something that you feel your loved one would have liked.

The only restrictions to consider are any religious or cultural customs (check with your local religious leaders) and some crematoriums do not allow certain fabrics or materials.



It is a small thing and easy to forget, but signage may be needed to indicate where to park or to direct to an entrance. Ask family and friends to make signage boards or help people on the day, they are often only too pleased to provide support.

Remember to take account of the weather. If parking is in a field or on soft ground and it is very wet, mats may be needed or alternative parking found.


Most of us are conscious of the ecological and environmental impact of our lifestyle choices and make changes, both big and small, to reduce our 'footprint'. There are ways to reduce the environmental impact of our deathcare decisions too. 

Over the course of an average lifetime, deathcare choices may be a tiny percentage of an individual's overall 'environmental toll', but worldwide around 56 million people die each year, so even small changes can add up to make a big difference.

We all need to think about how we can lay our bodies to rest in a way that helps the living and the planet, whilst still respecting the needs, beliefs and cultural traditions of the person who has died and those mourning them.


There are now over 250 natural burial sites throughout the United Kingdom (also known as 'green' or woodland sites). They are usually on privately owned land, often in beautiful meadows or 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.


With a green burial, the body is returned to the land in as natural and uninhibited a way as possible. The materials used for the coffin or shroud must be environmentally friendly and readily biodegradable (for example, cardboard, banana leaf, bamboo, willow or coffin). At many sites, ashes can be buried or scattered too.

A woodland setting or meadow can be a beautiful place to lay a loved one to rest or to sit and remember them. Not all natural burial grounds mark the exact spot of each burial, however they all keep a register of individual locations. Some allow memorialsiation with a tree, stone or plaque, but this varies from places to place.


Manicured memorial parks may rely on chemical fertilizers and pesticides and require a great deal of water and maintenance to keep them green and tidy, whereas natural burial sites encourage ecological biodiversity and the burial plots blend into the natural surroundings.

Green burial sites insist that all materials are readily biodegradeable, so no metal, concrete, fibreglass or hardwoods are allowed.

For more information, visit The Natural Death Centre.


Most people in the UK are cremated, but flame-based cremation uses a lot of energy, so has a high carbon footprint. It also releases harmful particulates into the air. These problems are being addressed with more effective filters and the introduction of electric cremators, which have a reduced carbon output. So, if you can, choose a crematorium with an electric cremator. Remember though, that location is important. If you have to travel further to do this, you may be cancelling out the benefits of choosing an electric cremator.

Cleaner, flameless alternatives are being developed, such as 'water cremation' (also known alkaline hydrolysis or by its trade name, Resomation). This is not yet available in the UK but initial research suggests it has a lower 'lifecycle' carbon footprint than conventional burial and cremation.



The first zero- emission, fully-electric hearses are now available. There is also a good selection of hybrid vehicles, providing a greener alternative to conventional transport.


Holding a funeral locally and live-streaming the service can cut down on travel miles. Many people will want to attend the service in person, but if they can't due to health reasons or because they live abroad, live-streaming allow them to participate and feel part of the day.

Choose local stone for headstones and memorials rather than stone imported from overseas to reduce its transportation footprint. Or plant a tree or shrub in place of a headstone.

Source locally grown flowers rather than imported ones and those grown in a hothouse.  If you or your friends and family have a garden, then branches, seedheads, ornamental grasses and cut flowers can all be used to make a beautiful display.

Alternatively, adorn the coffin with much loved personal possessions, for example sport kit and equipment, gardening paraphernalia, items from a favourite hobby.


There is now a lovely range of biodegradable coffins and urns available, made from materials such as cardboard, willow, banana leaf, wool felt and bamboo. The ecological impact of these materials varies and, particularly if it is a 'green' burial, you will need to check whether there are any restrictions at the location you have chosen.

A carboard coffin can be used as an insert for a more traditional, rented hardwood coffin. This is removed before burial or cremation and the hardwood coffin can be used many times.

Avoid metal or plastic handles for the coffin and other metal components such as hinges.

A simple shroud made from linen or cotton can be used in place of a coffin.

If you are burying the ashes, choose a biodegradable urn then plant a tree or shrub to mark the spot. Or use an existing vessel, such as a favourite biscuit tin or vase, particularly if it is a temporary recepticle.


Embalming is a way of preserving the body. It may be considered if there is to be a viewing, if the body requires transporation or if it has been donated for medical or scientific research.

Traditionally, a cocktail of chemicals are used, including Formaldehyde.  Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring organic compound which is potentially carcinogenic and is highly toxic to humans and animals.

There are alternatives to this:

  • Eco- or green-embalming is now available with Formaldehyde-free, biodegradable fluids, usually made from essential oils
  • To slow decomposition, the body can be kept cool in a refrigerated unit or cold room
  • To allow for a viewing, a cold bed or blanket can keep the body cool for a short time
  • Direct cremation or burial soon after death removes the need to preserve the body


These are a few of the things you can consider if you want a 'greener' service. The demand for eco-friendly funerals is growing and new ways of approaching deathcare are evolving all the time. For more information on green developments, read our blog Green in Life, Green in Death.

Whiteballoon's Inspiration pages show examples of biodegradable coffins and urns, greener forms of transport and natural burial grounds and flowers and plants. Or go to our Provider section to find businesses and suppliers.