British funeral etiquette

Knowing proper funeral etiquette for a traditional British funeral can help you to express your sympathy and show your support for the bereaved during this difficult time.

It may also help you feel more comfortable at the funeral service, allowing you to focus on saying goodbye to the person who’s passed.

This is a simple guide to proper funeral etiquette for immediate family members, extended family, friends and other associates attending a funeral.

It includes information on the protocol for funeral flowers, what to wear to a funeral, what to take and what to do at a funeral, plus much more.

This article has been provided by award-winning UK life insurance broker, Reassured.

At Reassured, we provide a free service to help you compare quotes for life insurance which can be used to help cover your funeral costs.

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Who can attend a funeral?

In general, anyone can attend a funeral, unless the deceased’s family have stated that it’s a private event.

If there’s a public invite, such as a funeral notice or post on social media, this means that the invite is open to all family and friends, including those who didn’t know the person who’s passed.

A funeral notice or invitation may also provide the following information to help you follow the correct etiquette for the funeral

  • The date, time and location of the funeral
  • The preference for flowers and/or charity donations
  • Dress code
  • Whether children are able to attend
  • If the ceremony is religious or non-religious
  • The name of the funeral director and link to their website
  • Details of the wake

You can find funeral notices online, on the funeral director’s website or published in the obituaries section of the local newspaper.

Not sure when or where a funeral is being held?

We have this covered in our article on how to find out when a funeral is being held UK »

What to take to a funeral?

You don’t need to take anything to a funeral, unless the family of the deceased has asked you to bring something in particular.

However, some helpful items that you may wish to take with you include:

  • Tissues (it can be difficult to ask for these while the service is taking place)
  • Charity donation (or flowers, if appropriate)
  • Sympathy card
  • Sunglasses or umbrella (especially if the funeral includes a service outside)

1. Sympathy flowers etiquette

What’s the etiquette for sympathy flowers in the UK?

Those who are close to the bereaved family may wish to send them sympathy flowers before or after the funeral.

Lilies are one of the most popular sympathy flowers, followed by carnations and roses in colours such as white, pink, yellow or pale blue[1].

It’s good etiquette to send flowers with an accompanying sympathy card that includes a short message of condolence and your full name.

Those who aren’t as close to the bereaved family may find it more appropriate to send a card on its own.

If they’ve requested charity donations instead of flowers or cards, then it’s good etiquette to follow their instructions.

It’s recommended not to hand any sympathy flowers or cards directly to the family during the funeral the service.

2. Funeral flowers etiquette

What’s the etiquette for funeral flowers in the UK?

The funeral notice or invitation should say whether it’s okay to send funeral flowers or not.

Like with sympathy flowers, the family may request a charity donation instead of receiving flowers (which is very common these days).

If it’s okay to send flowers, then its good etiquette to arrange these through the funeral director or to send them to the funeral home prior to the service.

The funeral director can tell you which flowers are most suitable (as the family may have chosen a particular floral arrangement or colour theme) and at the funeral venue they’ll place them with the other tributes.

British funeral etiquette may include traditional English flowers and colours, but the etiquette will be different for other countries and religions. For example, for a Jewish funeral, flowers aren't appropriate at all.

For more information, see this guide on funeral customs by religion, ethnicity, and culture.

3. Funeral donation amount etiquette

What’s the etiquette for a funeral donation in the UK?

People tend to donate the amount they would have spent on flowers, although you could donate more or less than this, it really depends on what you can afford.

With most online funeral notices, a charity donation can be made along with a message to the family to express your condolences.

4. Chapel of rest etiquette

What’s the etiquette for visiting the chapel of rest in the UK?

What’s the etiquette for visiting the chapel of rest in the UK?

It’s good etiquette to ask the bereaved family, (or when that’s not possible, to ask the funeral director), for approval to view the deceased in the chapel of rest.

If the funeral is private, it’s likely that visitation to the chapel of rest is for close family and friends only.

5. Funeral dress etiquette

What’s the etiquette for funeral dress in the UK?

For a traditional British funeral, the etiquette is to wear something smart and in dark colours such as black or navy blue.

Usual attire for men is a black or dark coloured suit with a tie and shirt, for women, it’s a smart black or dark coloured outfit, such as a dress or smart trousers and jacket.

Some people like to add a subtle pop of colour to their outfit if it’s appropriate, perhaps with a different colour scarf or tie.

If the funeral is a celebration of life, then the family may request that mourners wear bright colours or wear the deceased’s favourite colour, (if so, it would be polite to follow their wishes rather than arrive in something dark coloured).

It’s best not to wear anything too casual, such as jeans or trainers.

6. Funeral procession etiquette

What’s the etiquette for a funeral procession in the UK?

Sometimes there’s a question of who should go in the funeral cars for the procession.

The funeral cars follow the hearse in the funeral procession to the location of the funeral service, starting from the funeral home or from the home of the person who’s passed.

Limousines are the most common funeral cars, but not every funeral includes one.

The immediate family should be behind the hearse in the funeral car. This is: spouse, children, parents, siblings.

Other family and friends can travel behind in their own cars but there’s no particular order.

If you’d like to be part of the procession, then you’d need to get the details of the route and timings from the funeral director in advance.

It’s also not obligatory to travel in the procession. You can go straight to the funeral venue if you prefer (and haven’t specifically been asked to travel in the procession by the family).

7. Funeral service etiquette

What’s the etiquette for a funeral service in the UK?

One of the main concerns people have is what they should do and say at a funeral service.

Here are some tips:

  1. Make sure you leave with plenty of time for travel and parking before the service starts. Arriving late is poor etiquette, (as with any occasion)
  2. For a church funeral, guests may be able to take their seats before the coffin has arrived. For crematorium funerals, the coffin will arrive and be carried into the ceremony room, followed by the immediate family and then other guests
  3. The front row seats are reserved for close family and friends. Sometimes, they may already be seated before other mourners are guided in to take their seats
  4. A funeral service tends to last around 30 - 45 minutes, sometimes longer, so be prepared to sit quietly until the end., (this may be a little more difficult if you have children with you)
  5. Know what to expect by reading the order of service, this may also provide details of the wake
  6. If you have the opportunity, it’s good etiquette to offer your condolences to the bereaved family. It’s hard to know what to say at a funeral, but any kind words you can provide would be appreciated. For example, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’, ‘You’re in my thoughts’ and/or ‘I’m here if you need anything
  7. At the end of the service, immediate family members may leave the ceremony room first followed by the other guests. There may be a gathering in another room or outside the venue to view the floral tributes and reflect on the service; if you feel comfortable you should stay around for this
  8. If the funeral includes a burial, there may be a short service at the burial site following the main ceremony. The family will specify if this is a private service or not

8. Funeral tipping etiquette

What’s the etiquette for tipping at a funeral in the UK?

In the UK, it’s not customary to tip funeral staff or any other person that provides a service at the funeral.

9. Funeral wake etiquette

What’s the etiquette for a funeral wake in the UK?

The wake takes place after the funeral, either at a public venue or at the family’s home.

Anyone that went to the funeral can attend the wake if they wish.

It tends to be a less formal event, where there may be food and drinks served.

The etiquette is to continue to behave respectfully, and you may wish to share your own memories of the person who’s passed with family and friends.

If there’s no opportunity to speak to the bereaved family before the service, then it would be good courtesy to do this at the wake.

What should you not do at a funeral?

Whether you’ve been to a funeral or not, common sense should tell you that any of the following behaviour may be deemed inappropriate and disrespectful at a funeral:

  • Arriving late for the service or leaving early
  • Using your phone to text, make or receive phone calls and/or taking photos (and posting photos on social media). Having your phone switched off or on silent during the service is sensible
  • Bringing food into the ceremony room and eating, drinking or chewing gum during the service
  • Chatting loudly with other mourners or drawing attention to yourself in any way
  • Talking, laughing or smiling during the service unless its appropriate, for example when there’s a light-hearted speech
  • Making negative comments about the deceased or their family

Planning ahead for your own funeral

Many people have made financial provisions for their funeral, to help relieve the burden from loved ones when the time comes.

With the average cost of dying being £9,200 in the UK[2], which includes the cost of a funeral, covering this bill can cause financial strain for many families.

With an over 50s plan, you can secure a cash sum that will pay out to your loved ones after you’re gone to help with the expense of your funeral.

Acceptance is guaranteed for those aged 50 - 85 and no medical questions are asked during the application process.

It’s possible to secure up to £20,000 with an over 50s plan, depending on factors such as your age, budget and smoking status.

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