What a funeral director does



The most commonly used professional helpers are funeral directors – sometimes called an undertaker or mortician.

See rules and options to be clear on what you must do and where you have choice. Get our Funeral Planning Checklist to help you prepare your thoughts.

A funeral director can take care of the body after a death and help plan the funeral. They don’t design or deliver the ceremony or service itself but can find a celebrant or funeral planner for you – or you can choose one yourself.

If you use a funeral director, you can still determine which bits you want to do yourself… like organise your own flowers, order and decorate your own cardboard coffin, put a notice in a paper, find a celebrant. Think about what you want before you contact them. Ask for a price breakdown and discuss options. This will also give you a sense of whether the funeral director feels right for you; if they are flexible enough to meet your needs and your budget.

You don’t have to use the first funeral director you speak to: though a remarkable 97% of people do just that.

You don’t have to commit immediately. Even though it’ll feel as if the clock is ticking, take time to reflect. You can compare other funeral directors’ services and costs before you decide.

Traditional services

Funeral directors or undertakers are usually based in a funeral home or funeral parlour, often with a shop front, so they are used to people walking in off the street or phoning when a death happens. They tend to respond quickly and efficiently to enquiries and are used to working to short deadlines.

Their experience and professionalism can be worth its weight in gold when you really need a steady hand. Here are the typical services on offer:

  • taking care of the body: collect and store the body in their own mortuary; provide a viewing space if you want; provide a coffin; transport the coffin to the burial ground or crematorium; collect and store ashes till you collect; sort out any paperwork. Many offer embalming as a ‘hygeine service’. This pumps preserving fluid into the body. It’s not environmentally friendly and is not a health and safety requirement. You can say no.
  • organising the funeral: meet with you and discuss preferences, take instructions and make arrangements; liaise with and book the crematorium or burial; book a celebrant; liaise with a hotel for catering afterwards.
  • paying fees: pay ‘disbursement’ fees – the fixed fees others charge eg for the doctor to sign the certificate needed for a cremation, the burial ground and gravediggers’ fees, the crematorium fees, the celebrant’s fees, any costs for newspapers, flowers etc.
  • sourcing, ordering and providing goods and services: source a coffin and robe; organise an urn for ashes or memorial headstone; organise printed order of service or thank you cards; order, display and remove flowers, keeping note of who sent what and their cards; organise transport and drivers; draft, book and organise newspaper notices advising on deadlines.

Changing times

It’s a traditional (though changing) industry and like any other business area, some are more flexible and open to new ideas than others.  If you want a cardboard or plain wooden coffin or fancy a motorbike hearse and the funeral director you first approach won’t provide it, try elsewhere.

Typical of the moves afoot in the industry, newcomer Poppy’s Funerals, offer a simple service. They will collect the body, cremate it (you can attend) and return the ashes to you so that you can organise a ceremony with the ashes in your own time.

Professional associations

Funeral directors are fully trained to do this challenging job.  The industry is not regulated and so most funeral directors join a professional association as a mark of quality and standards.  All are required by their professional association to offer a range of options, so if you want something, ask for it. Most funeral directors are members of one of two trade associations.

Member firms must provide you with a price list on request and cannot exceed any written estimate they give you without your permission.

Many family businesses are now owned by bigger groups like Co-op Funeralcare or Dignity. Ask the funeral director before you go ahead if it matters to you.

The Co-op had a bit of a rough ride in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme in 2012 and provided a useful Q+A on the back of that to help customers understand how they work.