Burial or cremation?

Funerals: a step-by-step guide


Burial or cremation?

Whether or not you use a funeral director, you need to decide whether you wish to have the deceased cremated or buried. Often, your loved one may have specified a preference in their will, but you are not legally obliged to follow this course.

Whether you choose burial or cremation is completely your own choice, though around 3 in 4 funerals use cremation in the UK today. This is for a number of reasons, though it’s worth noting that cremations tend to cost significantly less than burials. The average cost of a burial in the UK is £1,645 and the average cost of a cremation is £683.

If you’re using a funeral director, they will look after the arrangements, once you have chosen burial or cremation. If you are arranging things yourself, here are some key points to remember about burial and cremation.

Burials: things to remember.

If you choose burial for the deceased person, you must find a plot. Remember that:

You can only lease a burial plot, not own it. However, you will be given the option to ‘top-up’ the lease at regular intervals. Depending on your local authority and place of burial, leases on plots and can last up to 50 years or more. 1

  • You can only lease a burial plot, not own it. However, you will be given the option to ‘top-up’ the lease at regular intervals. Depending on your local authority and place of burial, leases on plots and can last up to 50 years or more. 1
  • You’ll need a grave deed for the deceased, showing that they’re entitled to a grave in a churchyard, cemetery or elsewhere. The deed is obtained when you purchase “the exclusive right to burial” from the cemetery or burial grounds. 2
  • If the deceased didn’t live in the area that they wish to be buried in, the plot may cost more. This is called a non-resident pricing policy, this policy and the associated cost will differ from local authority to local authority. 3
  • Most cemeteries are non-denominational, so you can hold most types of service in their grounds.
  • Cemeteries vary in how they allow graves to be marked, for example some cemeteries may only allow you to place only one movable vase or memorialisation on the grave So if you want to use lots of decoration on a grave you may have to reconsider your cemetery choice 4.
  • People can also be buried on their own land. There are some rules but not as many as you might think, read our DIY burial guide for more information.

The average cost of a burial is £1,645.

One of the principal reasons that people choose burial is that it provides mourners with a physical location where they can visit and grieve.

Cremation: things to remember.

If the person who died is being cremated, some paperwork will be required before proceeding. Ask at the crematorium if you’re not sure, but you’ll probably need:

  • Application for cremation. The funeral director will help you with this, or ask at the crematorium.
  • Doctors’ forms. These include a form completed by the doctor who certified the death and another independent doctor. Both forms have to be paid for, but if you’re using a funeral director, it will be included in the disbursements. As of the 6th of June 2016 both forms (form 4 the Certificate of medical attendant & Form 5 the Confirmatory medical certificate) both cost £82.00 5
  • Authorisation of cremation. The crematorium doctor issues this form, which allows the cremation to proceed.

What is direct cremation?

Today, an increasing number of people are opting for ‘direct cremations’, in which the body is cremated almost immediately, without a traditional funeral service. Because it does not involve viewing or embalming, or require a standard coffin, the procedure is an economic alternative to a traditional cremation. Note that you can still hold a commemorative event afterwards if you like.

The average cost of a traditional cremation is £683.

Many people opt for cremation, as they don’t require the use of embalming chemicals, or take up space in the earth. This makes them an eco-friendly choice.

DIY Funerals: the essentials.

There’s no legal requirement to use the services of a funeral director – you can arrange a funeral yourself. This can save you a significant amount of money (this varies widely according to your choices) and allows you to have absolute control over the event. However, the logistics can be daunting. Some undertakers offer advice, though they will charge for this. The Cemeteries and Crematorium department of your local council may also be able to guide you through the process.

If you decide to organise a funeral yourself, you will be responsible for, among other things:

  • Collecting the body of your loved one from the place of death
  • Storage of the deceased until the time of the funeral
  • Registering the death
  • Deciding whether the service will be at a cemetery, crematorium chapel or other place
  • Booking the service venue
  • Appointing an officiant (person who delivers the service)
  • Arranging the transport of the coffin
  • Arranging the mourners, floral tributes and (if relevant) grave digging
  • Organising the wake/reception

Worth noting: If you find the prospect of organising a funeral overwhelming, but are concerned about the cost of a full funeral director service, don’t forget that most funeral directors are prepared to provide as much or as little help as you want.

What costs are involved?

Death abroad and repatriation


  1. City of London Corporation – Burial – Frequently asked questions
    Merton Council – Grave ownership and transfer of ownership of a grave space
  2. Sunderland City Council – Non-resident cemetery and crematorium fees and charges
  3. Rossendale Borough Council – Pre-purchasing a grave
  4. Flintshire County Council – Cemetery regulations PDF
  5. British Medical Association – Cremation fees and guidance

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