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Can you have a funeral without a service? Yes, you can. It’s called an unattended funeral and it’s becoming more popular in the UK.

What is an unattended funeral?

An unattended funeral is when a person is cremated or buried without having a funeral service. This means there are no family or friends at the funeral. Instead, everything is organised by a funeral director. It's sometimes also called a closed funeral or a no service funeral. You may also hear it called a funeral without a ceremony.

Why choose an unattended funeral?

Planning a funeral is a very personal choice. These are some of the most common reasons people choose to have an unattended funeral:

  • You know that the person who has died didn’t want a lot of fuss for their funeral.
  • You’d like to have a more personal or less conventional celebration of life – maybe in a less formal setting.
  • To save money on the cost of the funeral, as an unattended funeral costs a lot less than a traditional funeral.

Are unattended funerals popular?

More and more people are choosing an unattended funeral in the UK. According to SunLife, 18% of UK funerals were a direct cremation in 2022. That’s almost 1 in 5.

It’s not just about saving money on the cost of a funeral. Wealthy and famous people are choosing this option too. For example, the musician David Bowie chose an unattended cremation for his own funeral.

What happens at an unattended funeral?

With an unattended funeral, there’s no service and no mourners. Instead, the funeral director will collect the person who has died and take them to a crematorium or cemetery, depending on what you’ve chosen. The person is then cremated or buried without a service – which means there are no family or friends at the funeral, and no readings or music.

What are the main types of unattended funeral?

  • Unattended cremation: also called a direct cremation or a closed cremation. The person who has died will be taken to a crematorium and cremated without a service.
  • Unattended burial: also called a direct burial. The person who has died will be taken to a cemetery and buried without a service.

How much does an unattended funeral cost?

As you’d expect, an unattended funeral costs less than a traditional funeral. This is because you won’t need to pay for a venue, a hearse or a celebrant.

In the UK, the average price of an unattended cremation in 2022 was £1,593. The price of a traditional cremation was £3,673 and the cost of a traditional burial was £4,794 (SunLife 2023). So it’s clear that an unattended funeral is a good choice if you need to save money.

It’s also worth knowing that prices for an unattended funeral start from around £900-£1,000. This price will vary based on location, whether you choose an unattended cremation or an unattended burial, and if you have any optional extras such as delivering the ashes after the cremation.

If you’re worried about the cost of the funeral, you could:

  • Consider an unattended cremation instead of a burial. An unattended burial usually costs more than an unattended cremation. This is because you’ll need to pay a burial fee on top of the funeral director’s costs.
  • Look into direct cremation specialists. They may be able to give you a better price than a traditional funeral director, as they focus only on this type of service.
  • Shop around and compare prices. You can use our funeral price comparison tool to find funeral directors who organise unattended funerals in your local area.

Can you prepay for a direct cremation?

Yes, you can choose to pay for a direct cremation or direct burial before you die. Many funeral directors and direct cremation specialists have a pre-paid funeral plan. You’ll usually find details on their website.

If you choose a pre-paid funeral plan, make sure that family or friends know about it, so that they can use it to pay for the funeral. It also means they can respect your wishes and give you the funeral you want.

Can you attend an unattended funeral?

Usually you can’t attend an unattended funeral. This is because there is no service or ceremony to attend. Instead, the person who has died is cremated or buried privately, without any mourners.

However, family or friends sometimes choose to have a celebration of life that’s separate from the funeral. This might be a wake at a local venue, or a more informal get-together for everyone to share their memories. So there may still be an opportunity for you to pay your respects.

Some crematoriums and burial grounds do offer an attended option for unattended funerals. This means a few family or friends (usually no more than 12 people) can attend the cremation. If this is something you'd like, ask your funeral director about your options.

How do I arrange an unattended funeral?

To arrange an unattended funeral, you have three main options:

  • Choose a traditional funeral director. Most funeral directors have experience organising unattended funerals. To see the options in your area, you can use our funeral director finder and select ‘unattended funeral’ from the funeral types drop-down menu. You can then compare options and prices. Once you’ve contacted a funeral director they’ll take care of the arrangements for you.
  • Choose a direct cremation specialist. There are some companies who specialise in direct cremations and don’t offer any other type of funeral. These specialists often work nationwide and can be a low-cost option. You can find them by using our funeral director finder and selecting ‘unattended funeral’. Nationwide direct cremation specialists appear at the top of the list. Like traditional funeral directors, direct cremation specialists will take care of the arrangements for you. Keep in mind that most direct cremation specialists only offer customer service on the phone or online, so you probably won’t be able to meet them in person.
  • Work with a crematorium or burial ground directly. You don’t have to use a funeral director to help you organise an unattended funeral. Instead, you could contact the crematorium or burial ground directly. Keep in mind that this might mean you’ll need to organise things like the paperwork and transport for the body yourself.

After the unattended funeral has taken place, you might want to scatter the person’s ashes or have a separate celebration of life. If this is something you want to do, you’ll need to organise this separately.

If you want to organise an unattended funeral, you can find funeral directors in your local area who offer this option by using our funeral director finder. Simply type in your location and then select ‘Unattended Funerals’ as the funeral type.

Photo by Eli Solitas on Unsplash