This Commons Library briefing paper considers who is responsible for arranging and paying for a funeral in England and Wales. It also considers the cost of a funeral and ways of reducing this.Jump to full report >>
This briefing paper deals with the position in England and Wales.
If a deceased person left a will and appointed executors, they have the primary responsibility for arranging the funeral. Where there is no will, the person who would be entitled to administer the estate (usually the closest relative) would generally have this responsibility. In practice, it is often family members or friends who arrange the funeral, sometimes on behalf of, and with the specific authority of, the executors.
The local authority or NHS may sometimes have a duty to organise and pay for a funeral. This is where it appears that no other suitable arrangements have been or are being made. Local authorities do not have power to reimburse funeral costs where a third party has already arranged the funeral.
It is sometimes possible to arrange a funeral at short notice, for example, to meet religious requirements. It is necessary to notify the coroner before the body of a deceased person may be moved abroad for a funeral.
Reasonable funeral expenses are payable out of the deceased’s estate in priority to the payment of any unsecured debts or liabilities. Anyone who arranges the funeral will generally be responsible for paying the funeral directors, so it is important to establish where the money will come from, especially if there is insufficient property in the deceased’s estate to pay for the funeral.
The insurance company Sun Life publishes an annual report on the “cost of dying”. Their report on the Cost of Dying 2017 was published in September 2017. It estimated that the average cost of a basic funeral was £3,897 (up from £4,078 in the 2016 report), but with considerable regional variations. This cost includes the fees for the funeral director, the fee for cremation or burial, the doctor’s fees, and clergy/officiate fees.
The Royal London has also published reports on the cost of funerals - most recently, in November 2017: Royal London National Funeral Cost Index 2017. This report found that, in 2017, the average cost of a funeral was £3,784, up from £3,675 in 2016.
The Money Advice Service has an online guide, How much does a funeral cost? This includes information about direct cremation and how to find a local low cost provider. Noting that a cremation usually costs less than a burial, the guide also provides information about how to reduce the cost of a funeral.
Payments from the Social Fund can be made to claimants of means-tested benefits and tax credits to help meet the costs of a funeral. The rules governing access to Social Fund Budgeting Loans have now been changed to provide additional help to low income families facing funeral costs, although these are repayable.
This briefing paper complements Library briefing SN01419, Social Fund Funeral Payments, which provides more detailed information about the Funeral Payments Scheme, and the introduction of a separate funeral expenses scheme in Scotland.