What is an informal funeral service?

four older people standing together and chatting in a garden at an informal funeral

If you’re looking for a less traditional way to celebrate a loved one’s life, an informal funeral service could be a good choice.

In this article, we’ll explain what an informal funeral is, what your options are and how you can get help arranging one.

What is an informal funeral service?

Informal funerals don’t have the fixed structure and rituals of traditional funerals. An informal funeral service can take place almost anywhere and can follow any structure you like.

Often, these kinds of funerals are more like celebrations of life. They might have a happy or uplifting feeling instead of the sombre feeling that people often associate with funerals.

Why choose an informal funeral?

There are lots of reasons to choose an informal funeral service.

  • The person who died didn’t want a lot of fuss: while traditional funerals provide a dignified send-off, they can feel quite solemn and serious. The person who has died may have asked for an informal funeral because they felt it better suited their personality.
  • The person who has died wasn’t religious: traditional funerals tend to be held in places of worship like churches and synagogues. An informal funeral can happen in almost any venue and doesn’t have to be religious.
  • You need to save on costs: an informal funeral can be a good choice if you need to keep costs down. Lots of the costs for traditional funerals are for things like flowers, food and transport. An informal service gives you more flexibility to choose what to include.

What are the different types of informal funerals?

When people say ‘informal funeral’, they could mean one of several types of funeral. These include memorial services, civil funerals and family-led funerals.

Memorial services

A memorial service is similar to a funeral, except it takes place after the body has been buried or cremated. If there was a cremation, the person’s ashes might be there when the service takes place.

Memorial services don’t have to be informal. They can follow a traditional structure and be led by a faith leader if you prefer. However, memorial services can happen at any time after the person has died, when feelings of grief and sadness might not be so raw. For this reason, many people prefer a memorial service to feel more relaxed and celebratory than a traditional funeral.

Often, informal memorial services are held in non-traditional venues like family homes, hotel function rooms and pubs. They can be led by a celebrant or a family member who will do most of the talking. Or they can have a relaxed structure where people can get up and speak if they want to.

Civil funerals

A civil funeral is a very flexible type of funeral. It can follow any structure and take place in almost any location. You can include religious elements or have a completely non-religious service. It’s up to you.

Like memorial services, civil funerals don’t have to be informal. But because they’re so flexible, they’re a good choice if you want something less structured and more casual.

Civil funerals are led by professionals called civil celebrants. It’s their job to conduct a service that suits the life and personality of the person who has died. This means you can choose any poems, readings and songs you like. You can also ask for special acts of tribute that wouldn’t be possible at a traditional funeral – as long as the celebrant is comfortable with them.

Family-led funerals

A family-led funeral is arranged without help from a funeral director. This means it’s up to family or friends to hire a venue, handle paperwork and look after the body. Often, the funeral service will be led by a friend or family member too.

Organising a family-led funeral is hard work and can be emotionally demanding. However, if you feel up to it, you’ll have almost unlimited options for the funeral service. Family-led funerals are the most flexible kind of funeral – you’re free to organise a send-off that’s completely tailored to the person who has died.

For this reason, family-led funerals can feel very intimate and special. They often take place in a venue that meant a lot to the person who has died. For instance, it might be held in the person’s home with just a few close friends and family members.

What should I wear to an informal funeral service?

Informal funeral dress codes are often less strict than for traditional funerals. The person organising the funeral might suggest casual funeral attire like bright colours or t-shirts. They may even ask people to wear fancy dress outfits or football shirts.

Don’t assume there’ll be an informal dress code, though. Unless the funeral invitation says casual clothing, it’s safest to wear smart clothes in dark colours. If in doubt, ask the person organising the funeral.

How much does an informal funeral cost?

Informal funerals generally cost less than traditional funerals, because you have more flexibility over what to include. However, costs will vary a lot depending on the type of funeral you choose.

The cheapest option is a direct cremation followed by an informal memorial service. In a direct cremation, the body is cremated without a funeral service. Nobody attends except for the staff at the crematorium. In 2022, the average cost for a direct cremation was £1,511. This doesn’t include the cost of a wake or memorial service.

Alternatively, you could have an attended funeral service. In 2022 these cost an average of £3,953 (SunLife 2022). This doesn’t include the cost of a wake or memorial service.

Informal funeral ideas

If you’re arranging an informal funeral, think about how you can pay tribute to the person who has died.

Would they want something quiet and reflective or would they prefer a big celebration of life? Could you hold the funeral in a place that was special to them? Would they appreciate a non-traditional dress code or a unique act of remembrance?

These informal funeral ideas might help inspire you:

Get help planning an informal funeral service

Here are some resources you might find useful:


Photo by leah hetteberg on Unsplash