If you’re going to a funeral, you might have questions about what you should do or how you should dress. To help, we’ve answered some of the most common questions about funeral etiquette in the UK.
Keep in mind that this is just a guide, though. There are lots of different kinds of funeral and each comes with its own etiquette and expectations. So if you’re not sure about something, it’s usually okay to ask the person who is arranging the funeral.
Most of the answers below apply to traditional funerals, which are the most common type of funeral in the UK.
It’s my first funeral – what should I expect?
Read our article, what happens at a funeral?. It’s a step-by-step guide to how traditional British funerals work.
What is the proper etiquette when someone dies?
When you hear that a person has died, it’s considered polite to contact their loved ones and offer some words of sympathy. This could be a phone call, email, text message or condolence letter.
People might expect you to make contact or they might not. It depends on your relationship with the person who has died and their friends and family. For instance, you may want to offer support to a close friend who’s lost a relative, even if you didn’t know their relative very well.
Don’t be afraid to reach out even if you’re not a close friend. Most people will appreciate that you’ve made the effort.
Are funerals invite-only?
Some funerals are private, but most are open to everyone. Generally speaking, it’s okay to turn up without an invitation. But if you’re not sure, it’s best to check with the person arranging the funeral.
When is it okay to miss a funeral?
You don’t have to go to a funeral, even if you’ve been invited. However, it’s best to make the effort to attend unless you have a good reason not to.
It’s okay to miss the funeral if:
- You’re ill
- You live too far away and it would be impractical to go
- You don’t feel comfortable going to the funeral
If you’ve been invited and you can’t go, make sure to tell the person arranging the funeral. You could also send a sympathy card or flowers to show that you’re thinking of them.
Remember that many funerals are now streamed online, so you could watch the service at home even if you can’t make it there in person.
What if I’m estranged from the person or their family?
If you think you might not be welcome at the funeral, think carefully about whether or not to go.
Are you still in contact with someone who knew the person who has died? You could try asking them if you would be welcome at the funeral. You could also send a sympathy card instead of going to the funeral in person.
Use your judgement. It may be best to wait until emotions settle down before you say or do anything.
What is an appropriate age to attend a funeral?
People of all ages can go to funerals. You’re allowed to take children unless the invitation says not to. Though if you think your child might not be able to sit quietly or might find the funeral too upsetting, it’s fine not to take them.
Learn more in should children go to funerals?
When should I arrive at the funeral?
Everyone is expected to arrive at a funeral on time. Make sure you arrive at least 10 minutes before the service is scheduled to start. Or, if you’re following a procession to the funeral, make sure you’re ready to join the procession 10 minutes before it’s due to start.
Is it rude to leave a funeral early?
If you go to a funeral, you’ll be expected to stay for the whole service. Leaving part way through might disrupt other people. But you might not be expected to go to the funeral wake which happens after the service.
Do you need to leave quickly after the service? Make sure you offer some words of sympathy to the person’s family and explain why you have to go.
What is appropriate funeral attire?
In the UK, smart, dark clothing is still the most popular choice for a funeral. But there are many different types of funeral where you might be asked to wear something different. For example, some religions have white or light clothing as their traditional funeral colours. Or you might be invited to a non-traditional funeral where people are asked to wear bright colours or dress for a specific theme. For more advice, read our guide to choosing funeral clothes.
Is it okay to record a funeral?
Not without permission. If the family wants a record of the funeral service, they’ll usually film it themselves or hire a videographer to do it for them. Don’t assume it’s okay to bring a camera or film it on your phone.
You could always ask for a copy of the family’s video after the funeral.
Is it okay to clap at a funeral?
It depends. If it’s a traditional service in a place of worship, clapping is likely to be considered bad funeral etiquette. If it’s an informal celebration of life service, it may be okay.
The best thing to do is follow the family’s lead. If they clap after a funeral speech or reading or during a song, then feel free to clap along. Otherwise, it’s best to stay quiet.
What is an appropriate gift for a funeral?
In traditional British funeral etiquette, funeral gifts aren’t usually expected. You don’t have to bring one and people won’t mind if you arrive empty-handed.
That said, it’s common for people to bring flowers and sympathy cards to the funeral as a sign of respect. There’s often an area set aside where you can leave your flowers and card. Sometimes the person arranging the funeral asks people to donate to a charity instead of giving flowers.
You’re also welcome to send a bereavement gift to someone who is grieving. This could be a bunch of flowers and a card or something bigger like a care hamper.
What’s the correct etiquette for attending a funeral of a different faith?
Have you been invited to a funeral for someone who had different beliefs from your own?
Every religion has its own funeral etiquette and traditions, so it’s a good idea to make sure you know what to expect before you go.
You can start with our guides to different kinds of religious funerals. They explain what happens at the funeral service and give tips on what to do. If you have any questions, you can always ask the person who’s arranging the funeral. They’ll be able to explain the etiquette for the funeral.
- What happens at a Hindu funeral?
- What happens at a Sikh funeral?
- What happens at an Islamic funeral?
- What is a Quaker funeral like?
- Church of England funerals: a step-by-step guide