Since becoming legal in the late nineteenth century, cremation has risen in popularity in the UK. Spurred-on by initiatives after the Second World War, cremation (typically involving a dignified service in an approved crematorium, followed by the burning of the body and coffin at very high temperature), is now the preferred means of disposal for more than 70 per cent of deaths.

Planning a cremation

A full religious or civil service may be conducted at the chosen crematorium (within the time allowed for each service, which is typically about 45 minutes). Alternatively, a brief committal service (or 'cremation service') follows a longer service held at a different place of worship.

When planning a service and cremation ceremony, the family of the deceased can ask their regular minister of religion to conduct both services. Alternatively, the funeral director might help the family to choose a suitable minister of religion or a civil celebrant to lead the ceremony.

As with any death, various arrangements have to be made, with responsibility usually falling to the deceased's executor(s) or the nearest surviving relative. It is usual to draw heavily on the chosen funeral director for support at this point. As a professional specialist, he or she will have detailed knowledge and skills required to undertake many tasks on behalf of the family. These include the following:

  • Planning the cremation service
  • Completing the required statutory and non-statutory forms
  • Collection of the deceased's body
  • Obtaining required medical certificates
  • Preparing and dressing the body before the cremation process
  • Providing information required to register the death

While there is no legal requirement to hold a cremation service, many people will have some form of ceremony. Because many people are unaware of what happens at a cremation, many crematoriums (or 'crematoria') encourage prior inspection of the cremation process, either by individuals or by groups.

Typical cremation service

A typical order of service for a cremation is as follows:

1. Entry of the coffin
2. Welcome and introduction to the service
3. Readings and sermon
4. Prayers
5. The committal

Where the cremation takes place at a different place to the first part of the service, the celebrant, deceased and mourners will travel to the crematorium before the brief committal service and subsequent movement of the coffin to the crematorium's committal chamber. Here, following strict controls to ensure the correct identification of the deceased's remains, the actual cremation takes place within about three hours of the committal.

After the cremation, the ashes, minus any ferrous metal (from the coffin or medical implants), are given to the family of the deceased for disposal as they wish. Under current codes of cremation practice, non-ferrous metals are not salvaged; they are normally disposed of by burial in the crematorium grounds instead. Disposal of cremation ashes is typically done in one of the following ways:

  • Burial in small cremation plots
  • Interment in a family grave (requires permission)
  • Scattering of ashes in a garden of remembrance or similar named environment
  • Scattering in another favourite place or at sea
  • Storage in cremation urns or cremation keepsakes

In addition to books of remembrance, some crematoria and cemeteries have special cremation memorials including the following:

  • Benches
  • Remembrance through planted flower bulbs
  • Memorial plaques
  • Hymn and service book dedications
  • Memorial vases and tablets
  • Memorial vaults
  • Memorial planters

Any of these can provide a comforting reminder of the life and personality of a loved one and a valuable focus for future contemplation and remembrance.

Where can you scatter human ashes?

Cremation laws (the Cremation Act 1930) put no restriction on where people can scatter the ashes of their loved ones once they've been cremated. The only constraints on scattering ashes are likely to be those relating to littering or their placement on private land without gaining permission. In practice, though few people are likely to have the contents of their cremation urn put into fireworks and launched into the sky like writer Hunter S. Thompson, the only limits are likely to be family wishes, available budgets and the imagination.

Cremation costs

According to the oft-quoted American Life survey of 2006, based on research amongst UK undertakers, the average cost of a cremation in the UK in 2006 was £1,954. As with burial, by choosing a less elaborate casket or coffin and keeping the service as simple as possible, it should be possible to ensure a relatively cheap cremation.

It's hard to give a definitive guide to the prices of cremation caskets, cremation vases and urns for ashes (if required). Depending upon individual preference, the price you'll pay ranges from a few pounds to several hundreds of pounds. The choice really is yours; it's another important detail for your next of kin to know about...

How will your loved ones know what you want?

The above points are included as a general guide to your cremation options. If you are taking the enlightened step of planning your funeral in advance, you might wish to do further research into the options open to you are and make your requests known to those who will be asked to carry our you requests.

As well as providing information to help you with your cremation planning, The Well Planned Funeral offers you the opportunity to document and store your most personal funeral wishes. You can do this easily with our Your Funeral Plan and Wishes product. We also have products to help you prepare a legal will or create a CD of memories or even create an online memorial for those who survive you.

Perhaps you want to have your ashes scattered in a special place or you fancy being buried or cremated with a special piece of cremation jewelery? Whatever you desire, The Well Planned Funeral is the perfect way to make sure your funeral wishes are fulfilled exactly. By doing this, you'll spare your loved ones from unnecessary worry about your wishes at a time that will already be emotionally charged for them.

Further Research For You to Do

What are humanist funerals. Is a celebration of life service something you should consider? What about woodland burials? Are you interested in different funeral beliefs?