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Glossary of funeral terms

Arranging a funeral can be a stressful and emotional time, without being confused by difficult to understand jargon and terminology. Our funeral glossary will guide you through the most common terms and their definitions you’re likely to come across when making funeral arrangements.


Administrator (of the estate): An administrator is the person legally appointed to manage the estate of a person who has died if they had not written a will, named an executor in their will, or the executor named in the will has renounced their responsibilities.

Application for Cremation: The form that gives permission for the cremation to go ahead, filled out by the family of the deceased and given to the crematorium.

Ashes: The ashes are the material that remains after a cremation. Sometimes known as cremated remains.

Attended Funeral: A cremation funeral with a family led funeral service in the crematorium chapel. This type of funeral allows for an unlimited number of mourners to attend. Learn more about the Attended Funeral.

Beneficiary: A person entitled to something in a will, whether it is money, property or possessions.

Bereaved: Someone who is mourning a person who has died, often used to describe the immediate family of the deceased.

Bereavement Support Payment: A form of government financial support for the spouse or civil partner of someone who has died.

Body donation: The decision of someone to donate their body to science for medical research after their death. You can make your wishes for body donation known, though it is not always possible for a body to be accepted. Learn more about donating your body to science.

Burial: The placement of the body of someone who has died in the ground.

Burial plot: A patch of land used for a burial.

Casket: A container designed to hold the body of someone who has died. A casket has four sides, whilst a coffin has six. Both can be made of wood, wicker, cardboard and plastic.

Catafalque: A decorate wooden platform or frame on which the body of someone who has died is placed, usually during the funeral or when the body is viewed.

Celebrant: A funeral celebrant it someone who officiates at a funeral service, overseeing and delivering the ceremony. They may, or may not, be a minister of religion. Both are a priest, and a civil celebrant are celebrants.

Celebration of life: A funeral or memorial service that is not driven by a religion and instead focuses on the life of the person who has died. See planning a celebration of life for ideas.

Cemetery: A place where the bodies or remains of people who have died are buried. Sometimes called a graveyard or burial ground.

Chapel of Rest: A place where family and friends can visit their loved one before the funeral.

Civil celebrant: A person who carries out a non-religious funeral service.

Coffin: A container designed to hold the body of someone who has died. A coffin has six sides and is narrower at one end, where as a casket has four sides. Both can be made of wood, wicker, cardboard and plastic.

Columbarium: A columbarium us a wall, room or building with niches for holding urns.

Committal: The committal is the final part of a funeral service during which the coffin or casket is buried, taken away for cremation, or remains in sight as people exit the church or crematorium.

Coroner: The Coroner’s job is to investigate any deaths where the cause is unknown or suspicious. Learn more about the role of the coroner.

Cremation: Cremation turns the body of someone who has died into ashes using heat.

Crematorium: The building in which bodies are cremated. Many crematoriums also provide a space for funeral services to be held. 

Cremator: The machine used to cremate the body of someone who has died.

Death Certificate: The official certificate stating that death has taken place, given to the family by the register office in which the death was registered. Not to be confused with the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death.

Death notice: A public announcement that someone has died, also sharing the time and location of the funeral. Often published in a newspaper.

Direct burial: When someone is burial without a burial service, and without any mourners present.

Direct cremation:  A direct cremation is when someone is cremated without a funeral service beforehand and without any mourners present. Learn more about direct cremation.

Disbursements fees: These costs related to a funeral that are not the funeral directors’ charges. For example: ministers fees, cremations fees, florist fees. The various fees are paid by the funeral director who is reimbursed prior to the funeral by the client. Also known as ‘third party costs’ and ‘third party fees’.

Disposition: The way in which a body is finally laid to rest. For example, a burial or a cremation.

DIY funeral: a funeral arranged without the help of a funeral director. Learn more about a DIY funeral.

Embalming: A process used to preserve a body for longer after death. Sometimes referred to as ‘hygienic treatment’.

Estate: Everything owned by the person who has died, such as their money, stocks, shares, belongings, land and property, as well as any funds in pension schemes and life insurance policies. A will can be created to determine who will receive which part of your estate.

Eulogy: A speech given at a funeral celebrating the person’s life. See our how to write a eulogy guide for more information.

Executor (of the will/estate): Named in the will, the executor is the person who has been chosen to settle the estate of someone who has died.

Floral tributes: Floral tributes are flowers purchased for the funeral of a loved one who has died, or sent to the family by mourners.

Funeral Director: a professional whose role is to organise funerals. Depending on the level of help and support the family needs, this can cover a wide range of services – including collecting and storing the body before the funeral, arranging the burial or cremation, and sourcing the coffin, flowers, catering and transport as needed.

Funeral Expenses Payment: Financial assistance given to the recently bereaved by the government. To apply, you must be receiving certain benefits (such as income support).

Funeral Plan: Also known as a prepaid funeral plan.

Funeral Planning Authority (FPA): The FPA is an organisation set up to regulate funeral plan providers in the UK and protects provider’s customers.

Funeral procession: A procession of funeral vehicles which often includes a hearse carrying the deceased and limousines carrying family members and close friends. They travel at a slow speed from the funeral home to the venue to the venue of the funeral service. Also known as a ‘cortege’.

Funeral service: A funeral service is the ceremony held to commemorate the life of the deceased. In some events at a different venue from the committal service; at others, with the committal service forming part of the commemorative service.

Green funeral: An eco-friendly funeral or woodland burial that aims to be as environmentally friendly as possible. It often involves the burial of a biodegradable casket in a green space, such as a woodland burial ground.

Green Certificate for burial/cremation: This form is given to the family by the register office after the death is registered and should be given to the funeral director. It confirms that the cremation or burial can go ahead.

Hearse: A vehicle designed to transport the bodies of people who have died.

Humanist funeral: A non-religious funeral that follows Humanist principles; celebrating and commemorating the life of the person who has died without speaking about religion or any kind of afterlife. Learn more about a humanist funeral.

Inquest: A fact-finding legal investigation which takes place after a post-mortem if the cause of death is still unknown. During an inquest, evidence will be reviewed to determine how the person died and is prescribed over by a coroner.

Interment: The burial of the deceased’s body, or their ashes.

Intestate: If someone dies without leaving a will, they die ‘intestate’. In these circumstances, their estate goes to the closest family member by law.

Intimate Funeral: A basic cremation funeral with short time in the crematorium chapel for up to 12 people to attend. This allows for a few minutes of private reflection and the chance to say goodbye. Learn more about the Intimate Funeral.

Limousine: A chauffeur-driven vehicle generally used to transport mourners in a funeral procession. When used for immediate family, as on most occasions, they are sometimes referred to as family cars.

Mausoleum: A stone building used for burial above ground.

Medicate Certificate of Cause of Death: Not to be confused with the Death Certificate, this form is completed by a medical professional – usually the doctor caring for your loved one at the time of their death, to officially confirm the time date and cause of their death. Families need this form to register the death at the register office. Learn how to obtain a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death here.

Memorial: A memorial is an object created or erected in order to commemorate or honour someone who has died. Grave markers, gravestones, monuments and cenotaphs are all types of memorials, as are benches with commemorative plaques or trees and gardens planted to help remember someone.

Memorial service: A ceremony to commemorate and celebrate the life of someone who has died. Similar to a funeral, but without a body present. See how to arrange a memorial service.

Mortician: Someone who takes care of the deceased and prepares the body for burial or cremation. Also referred to as a mortuary technician.

Mortuary: The room or building in which the bodies of people who have died are stored before they are buried or cremated.

Next of kin: Often used to refer to the person who was the closest living relative to the deceased.

Obituary: A news article announcing a person’s death. Not to be confused with a death notice or funeral notice. See how to write an obituary

Officiant: Someone who conducts a funeral service, such as a religious representative or celebrant.

Order of service: An order of service is a printed summary of the content of a funeral service including the words to songs, hymns to be sung, poems to be read, and containing photographs or other graphics relevant to the deceased. It is given to mourners attending a funeral service. Also known as a service sheet.

Organ donation: Organ donation is the act of giving an organ to save or improve the life of someone who needs a transplant. You are able to donate some organs while you are alive, for example; a kidney, or part of your liver. However, most organ and tissue donations will come from people who have died. Learn more about organ donation in the UK.

Pallbearer: One of the four to six people chosen to carry the coffin to the burial site or crematorium, as part of a traditional funeral.

Post-mortem: A medical examination order by a coroner, that takes place soon after someone has died, usually to find out the cause of death.

Probate: The legal process of accessing and dividing up the estate of someone who has passed away, as set set out in the will.

Procurator fiscal: In Scotland, a procurator fiscal investigates the circumstances of a death, attempts to find out the cause of death and considers whether criminal proceedings or a Fatal Accident Inquiry is appropriate. Similar to the coroner in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Prepaid funeral plan: A funeral that is planned and paid for before someone pays for. Learn more about prepaid funeral plans.

Public health funeral: A public health funeral (also referred to as a pauper’s funeral) is a basic funeral organised by the local authority where relatives are unwilling or unable to pay for the funeral of someone who has passed away, or where no relatives can be traced.

Reception (funeral reception): A gathering held after a funeral for mourners to informally celebrate the life of the deceased. Food and drink is often provided. Also referred to as a wake.

Register office: A legal government office that can help you register a death. Births. Marriages and civil partnerships are recorded here as well.

Registrar: An official at the register office who will provide you with necessary certificates and forms, including a Death Certificate.

Registration: The procedure of recording the details of a death for government records. This is a legal requirement for all deaths before a funeral can go ahead and is carried out a register office and attended by a relative of the deceased, or other near associate.

Repatriation: In the context of a funeral, repatriation is the process of returning home a deceased person who has died outside of their home country.

Scattering: The process of spreading ashes over land or water. See our list of popular places to scatter ashes for inspiration.

Survivors: The family members left behind by the person who has died, such as a spouse, partner, children and grandchildren.

Third party costs: Third party costs are bills paid by a funeral director or other funeral provider to third parties, on behalf of a family arranging a funeral. These cover costs such as crematorium fees, flowers and hire of a venue for a reception.

Undertaker: See ‘funeral director’.

Unattended Funeral: A direct cremation with no service beforehand and no mourners present. Learn more about the Unattended Funeral.

Urn: A special container for ashes after cremation.

Wake: A wake is a gathering/reception held after a funeral, which is usually less formal than the service, where mourners can meet to celebrate the life of the deceased. Food and drink are often served. See how to organise a wake.

Will: A legal document that sets out what will happen to your estate (including any property you own, belongings and money) when you die. It names an executor, who will have the job of making sure the wishes in your will are carried out.


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