How you would like your funeral to be conducted is a very personal matter. It is possible to include a clause in your will stating that you would like to be buried or cremated. Alternatively, your will can be silent on the matter, in which case your executors will decide what to do with your body after you die (unless you leave them some guidance in a letter of wishes).
If you want to have a lot of input into what happens at your funeral, whether it’s the service itself or the reception after the funeral, the most effective way of doing this is to leave your executors a letter of wishes. This helps to keep your will as simple as possible, and allows you to go into more detail about your wishes. You may choose to include special instructions about where you want to be buried or have your ashes scattered, the type of ceremony etc.
How you feel about your funeral wishes may change over time. By using a letter of wishes you can make amendments whenever you want, without having to amend your will. A letter of wishes simply needs to be signed and dated by you, and does not require witnesses like a will.
However, funeral wishes in either a will or a letter of wishes are not binding on your executors. They can be altered by your executors depending on circumstances, preferences, or financial implications at the time of your death.
Pre-paid funeral plan
Another way of expressing your funeral wishes is to take out a pre-paid funeral plan. Make sure you let your executors know the details of the plan by including it in a letter of wishes. If you do decide to use a pre-paid funeral plan, it is important to carefully check what your plan includes. It will not necessarily mean that the full costs of your funeral will be met. Even some very common expenses – such as the cost of a burial or a church service – may not be included in the plan.
If you do not have a pre-paid funeral plan, any funeral costs will be paid by your estate. Your executors are allowed to use your estate to cover ‘reasonable expenses’, which can include things such as the cost of a wake, flowers, obituaries and headstones. If there aren’t sufficient funds in the estate to pay for the funeral, it is customary for the closest relatives to pay.
If you request a particularly elaborate or expensive funeral, the cost of the funeral will eat into your beneficiaries’ inheritance and your executors will need to get permission from the beneficiaries before using your estate to pay for it.
Donations instead of flowers
It is increasingly common to ask family, friends, and colleagues to make a donation to a charity instead of sending flowers. Many charities do not receive any government or lottery funding and rely on donations (whether they are lifetime gifts or ones left in wills) to keep going. It may be that you have a particular charity that you would like to support and, if so, you should set this out in a letter of wishes to your executors.
A common compromise is to have ‘family flowers only’, while friends and others are asked to make a donation instead.