Funeral wishes are no more than wishful thinking

Charles 8 Comments



‘You can decide everything in advance if you wish, down to the kind of music you’d like – and there’s no charge for changing or updating your wishes at a later stage.’ Golden Charter

‘…pre-planning your funeral is actually a thoughtful and responsible way to show that you care your family … your family are spared the emotional and financial burden of organising your funeral, with all the decisions and problems this can entail, at a time when they least cope.’ Golden Leaves

‘With a Liberty funeral plan you can … choose your own funeral arrangements for your own peace of mind.’ FPS

‘Where do you want your funeral to be held? Do you want readings and, if so, which ones and read by whom? Perhaps there’s even a particular route you would like your hearse to take. By taking the initiative and setting out what you want now, you can get on with living your life, knowing that when the time comes your loved ones will know what you wanted and be spared from having to make difficult decisions.’ ‘…by capturing your funeral wishes in writing you’ll know that your requests will be honoured.’ Dying Matters in association with the National Association of Funeral Directors

‘Nottinghamshire residents could soon be able to design and record their own funeral ceremony with the help of the County Council. The proposed service will allow individuals to work with registrars to make their own choices about their funeral ceremony and take away difficult decisions family members would otherwise have to make at a time when they are coping with a bereavement. The ceremony plan will be stored at the County Archive and accessible to the next of kin or the person arranging the funeral after their death. Mansfield and Ashfield Chad

What they don’t tell you, even in the small print (we’ve checked) is this: you can design your funeral, record your wishes, choose your music and your readings, select a route for the hearse and issue myriad such instructions to be acted on post mortem, but nothing you say or write or sign, however insistently, changes this one overriding fact: none of it is legally binding on the person with the responsibility to dispose of your body – or as all manner of information sources euphemistically and wholly inaccurately express it, “arrange your funeral”, an entirely separate and optional event).

You have no legal right to prescribe the manner of disposal of your dead body, nor can you prescribe the palaver that is to accompany that disposal (the funeral in other words).

You can issue legally binding instructions regarding the disposal of your property – this is the purpose of a will. But you cannot issue instructions regarding the disposal of your corpse because in law there is no property in a dead body, end of.

Sure, most ‘families’ will be grateful to learn that Mum wanted to be cremated and asked for the hearse to pause outside the village hall on the way to the crem. Most will want to do what the dead person wanted. But not all will want to.

Memo to anyone out there who sells funeral plans or encourages people to record their funeral wishes: tell them all the facts. They need to know. 


  1. Charles

    “spared the emotional and financial burden”
    “spared from having to make difficult decisions”
    “take away difficult decisions family members would otherwise have to make at a time when they are coping with a bereavement”

    Charles, I’m not trying to hijack your point about it not mattering a flying fig what you stipulate for your funeral, or about funeral plan salesmen duping you into peace of mind about being driven past the pub, but I’m like a dog with a bone on this issue of the damage funeral plans can do (see a post of mine here in 2011). What is arranging a funeral for, if not to help cope with bereavement by facilitating emotional catharsis through making decisions about how you want to palaverize the disposal of your dead person’s body?

    It’s not about being spared anything; the decisions you make need not be difficult if the funeral manufacturer stops telling you what they must be and hassling you to make them prematurely; it’s not a burden but a gift to the dead one, and it’s certainly not about needing to have something ELSE taken away, after losing the person herself along with your sense of control and agency and effectiveness.

    If I should die before the rest of you,
    having foolishly bought a funeral plan
    in a fit of absence,
    please shred it and do it all yourselves.

  2. Charles

    This is a nugget of information I always inform anyone thinking about their own funeral arrangements.

    Remember to that Pre-planning doesn’t have to mean pre-paying.

    I certainly advise anyone contemplating their own demise and its aftermath that they should choose the person they think most likely to respect their wishes to be their funeral arranger/booker. If not, who knows what will be chosen.

  3. Charles

    Jonathan, I couldn’t agree with you more. Memo to the living: we mustn’t plan our funeral. All we can do is be available for it. Write your funeral wishes in pencil. Hint, don’t prescribe. Die. Butt out. What other party given in your honour would you presume to micromanage? Everyone should get the funeral they deserve, and bereaved people should not be treated like girt lumps of blubbing uselessness.

    David, good for you. I think an awful lot of FDs and arrangers out there don’t know this. All decisions about anything should be made in full consideration of all the facts. Funeral wishes should be negotiated, not prescribed.

    1. Charles

      Mustn’t, Charles?
      I broadly agree with all that is said here and our own ‘wish list’ has a whole page explaining that nothing in it is legally binding etc etc so no quibbles at all about the information thing.
      What I would say, is that I have dealt with two terminally ill ladies who have coped with the loss of control their illness brought by planning their funerals. It was very therapeutic for them and I would be loathe to tell anyone what they mustn’t do.
      Having said that one of the ladies initially wanted direct cremation with no family present at all…which reflects on another recent post on here. Its true that a lot of folks ask for this for themselves for a variety of reasons…its often not what the family want. On this occasion the family looked so upset that I asked them how they felt about that option and they were very clear that they wanted to be present at the funeral. The lady was happy for this to happen once she realised how much it mattered to them.
      Nothing is ever as simple as it seems!

      1. Charles

        You make a very good point, Jenny; thank you. Yes, nothing is ever as simple as it seems, especially in the matter of funerals where unreason is often a powerful and necessary element.

        In the case of your terminally ill clients it’s easy to see the benefit. And in the case of your direct cremation lady it’s easy to see the motive: people do not want to give trouble.

        In the case of a sole survivor, of course, either they plan or no one will. I remember a FD telling me of a lady who required a horse-drawn hearse for her funeral. The FD reminded her that no one would be there so she could save herself the expense. She flashed her eyes and said, “No one will be there? But I will be there!” And who could possibly fault the unreason of that?!

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>