Planning a funeral can be a stressful enough time without being bamboozled by difficult-to-understand jargon and terminology. To make things that little bit easier, here’s a glossary of the most common terms you’re likely to come across when making funeral arrangements or settling an estate.
Aftercare – a catch-all term for the services provided to care for the body of the deceased by a funeral home.
Alkaline hydrolysis – a new process involving heat, pressure, potassium hydroxide and water to convert the body to an ash-like substance, which uses only a fraction of the energy that traditional cremation does.
Apportionment – the division of ashes into “portions” for distribution or storage in different places.
Ashes – the powder-like remains of a body after being cremated.
Autopsy – a medical test undertaken after death (usually by a coroner) to determine the cause of death.
Beneficiary – anyone receiving an inheritance from the deceased’s will.
Bequeath – the act of leaving something to someone in a will.
Bequest – the thing that is bequeathed; i.e. the inheritance.
Bereavement Support Payment – a government payment introduced for those who died on or after 6th April 2017 to help those under pensionable age and whose partner was a National Insurance tax payer.
Bier – a wooden structure upon which the body is placed before being buried.
Bio-cremation – see Alkaline hydrolysis.
Burial plot – a specific piece of land used for a burial.
Casket – a four-sided receptacle for storing the body of the deceased.
Catafalque – a wooden structure upon which the body is placed for display during the funeral service.
Celebrant – an official who presides over a non-religious funeral service.
Cenotaph – a memorial commemorating the loss of a person or people whose body or bodies remain elsewhere.
Chattels – a legal term denoting belongings in a will.
Codicil – any updates or changes made to a will.
Coffin – a six-sided receptacle for storing the body of the deceased.
Committal service – the part of the funeral service which immediately precedes the placement of the body in the burial plot.
Columbarium – a room designed to store many urns through a series of niches carved into the walls.
Coroner – the individual in charge of discovering the cause of death in usual circumstances.
Cortege – the procession of the deceased and their family and friends from the funeral home (or other location) to the service itself and then the burial location.
Cremation – the process of converting the body of the deceased into ashes via incineration.
Crematorium – the building in which cremation takes place.
Crypt – an underground room used to store a body or several bodies, often found underneath a church.
Death Certificate – an official document confirming the death of the person in question.
Death notice – a public announcement of a death, often appearing in a newspaper.
Direct burial – the burial of the deceased without any funeral service.
Direct cremation – the cremation of the deceased without any funeral service.
Disbursement fees – any fees pertaining to a funeral which are not covered by the funeral director.
Disposition – the method of disposing of the dead body (i.e. burial or cremation)
Eco-friendly burial – a form of burial which has minimal impact on the environment.
Embalming – the process of preserving the body after death by removing internal organs and injecting it with a preservative fluid.
Epitaph – a short phrase describing the life of the deceased, normally found on their tombstone.
Estate – everything belonging to the deceased prior to their death.
Eulogy – a commemorative speech given at a funeral service remembering their life.
Executor – the person in charge of settling the estate, normally named in the will.
Exhumation – the process of digging up a body after burial, either to relocate it somewhere else or to conduct a post-mortem in circumstances where foul play may be suspected.
Funeral – a service commemorating the life of someone who has passed on.
Funeral director – an individual who takes care of the arrangements associated with a funeral, including storing and preparing the body, sourcing a location and overseeing the necessary arrangements on the day.
Funeral Expenses Payment – financial support offered by the government to help with the costs of a funeral.
Funeral plan – a plan put in place prior to death outlining the form the funeral will take, as well as setting aside money to cover it.
Funeral spray – an arrangement of flowers used to decorate the top of a casket or coffin.
Grant of probate – in cases where a will exists, a document which grants someone the role of executor of the estate.
Grant of representation – a catch-all term encompassing both grants of probate and letters of administration.
Grave marker – any type of memorial (tombstone, plaque or tree) used to indicate the location of a burial.
Gravestone – a permanent marker constructed of stone, marble or other material which contains the deceased’s name, dates of birth and death and other information, such as an epitaph.
Green certificate for burial or cremation – an official document confirming that a burial or cremation can go ahead.
Guardian – a person designated to care for offspring in the event that their natural parents die before the child (or children) are 18 years old.
Guardian’s Allowance – a small sum given by the government to a guardian appointed to look after someone else’s child after their death.
Half-couch casket or coffin¬– a casket or coffin divided into two sections, so that the upper half of the body can be visible at the funeral service.
Headstone – see Gravestone.
Hearse – a vehicle used to transport the body after death.
Humanist funeral – a non-religious ceremony celebrating the life of the deceased.
Inheritance Tax – a one-off tax imposed by the government in the case that the value of the deceased’s estate surpasses the allowed threshold (of £325,000).
Interment – another word for burial.
Intestate – a term used to describe someone who has died without leaving a will.
Inurnment – the act of placing an urn containing the ashes of a loved one in its final location.
Keepsake – a piece of jewellery or other accessory designed to commemorate a loved one. It can contain a small amount of their ashes.
Letter of administration – in cases where no will exists, a document which grants someone the role of executor of the estate.
Living will – a document outlining how a person would like to be treated if they become incapacitated or paralysed but not dead.
Mausoleum – a building used to house bodies above ground.
Medical Certificate of Cause of Death – an official document signed by a doctor or other medical practitioner at the time of death confirming the time, date and cause.
Memorial– any object or structure erected to commemorate the deceased.
Memorial service – similar to a funeral service, but without the body being present.
Mirror wills – wills created by two partners which closely resemble each other, normally bequeathing everything to the surviving partner.
Mortician – the individual in charge of preparing the body for display at a funeral.
Mortuary – the room in which dead bodies are stored prior to their burial or cremation.
Natural burial – see Eco-friendly burial
Next of kin – the closest surviving relative of the deceased.
Niche – a compartment in a mausoleum or columbarium which holds the body or the ashes of the deceased.
Obituary – see Death notice.
Officiant – anyone (religious or non-religious) who presides over the funeral service.
Pall bearer – the individuals (normally in a team of six or eight) responsible for carrying the casket or coffin containing the body of the deceased at a funeral.
Post-mortem – see Autopsy.
Probate – the process of carrying out the distribution of the deceased’s estate according to their will or, if there is no will, the wishes of the family and UK law.
Register – a book used to record names (and perhaps messages) of people who attend a funeral or funeral home.
Registry office – a government office which handles the registration of death.
Resomation – see Alkaline hydrolysis.
Repatriation – the act of returning the remains of the deceased to his or her native country.
Scattering– the distribution of the ashes of the deceased after their death.
Secular – another term for non-religious.
Survivors – a term used to refer to living members of the family of the deceased.
Tombstone – see Gravestone.
Undertaker – see Funeral director.
Urn – a small receptacle used to store the ashes of the deceased after cremation.
Viewing or visitation – any visit to the body of the deceased (in a funeral home or other location) made by family and friends before burial or cremation.
Vigil – a Catholic service conducted the evening before the funeral.
Wake – a gathering of friends and family to celebrate and remember the life of the deceased, normally involving food and drink.
Water cremation – see Alkaline hydrolysis.
Will – a legal document made by the deceased prior to their death, outlining what will happen to their estate.