How long can a funeral be delayed?

A funeral service can be delayed for as long as you need to make the arrangements.

Generally, between one and four weeks is enough time to plan and hold a funeral.

Nonetheless, in some situations, a funeral may need to be delayed for longer (or postponed indefinitely).

If so, then you may consider having an immediate direct cremation, followed by a memorial service in several weeks or months when it’s a better time.

It’s important to bear in my mind that there’s no legal requirement to hold a funeral, especially to hold a funeral within a specific time frame.

Continue reading this guide by award-winning life insurance broker, Reassured, to learn more…

Key considerations if delaying a funeral:

  1. A funeral service is usually held within two weeks of someone passing, but it’s not uncommon for a funeral to take place within three or four weeks
  2. Embalming may be necessary, particularly if you wish to visit your loved one at the chapel of rest
  3. Embalming or refrigeration at the mortuary can help to preserve your loved one for some time but can’t prevent nature from taking its course eventually
  4. It’s possible to delay a funeral service indefinitely but a cremation or burial shouldn’t be delayed for more than six weeks after someone dies
  5. A direct cremation or burial excludes a ceremony, which saves money on traditional funeral elements and allows you to hold a memorial service at a later date

How long can you delay a cremation or burial?

Whilst a funeral service can be postponed for an indefinite amount of time, the cremation or burial element of the funeral is a little more urgent.

In truth, your loved one should be in their final resting place within six weeks of passing.

If delays for the funeral are expected, and you wish to visit them in the chapel of rest, then the funeral director may recommend that your loved one is embalmed for preservation.

Sometimes a cremation or burial is delayed for reasons beyond a family’s control, for example, an inquest into the death has deferred funeral plans.

In any case, if you’ve received the death certificate and you need to delay the funeral service but want to ensure your loved one is laid to rest as soon as possible, then you may consider a direct cremation.

This means an unattended cremation can take place within a matter of days and a separate memorial service or celebration of life can be organised at a later date when the ashes have been returned.

How long is there usually between death and a funeral?

The usual length of time between death and a funeral in the UK is about one to two weeks, although many funerals take place within three or four weeks.

Sometimes the time and date of a funeral is determined by the availability of the funeral director as it’s likely they’ll have prior commitments.

For a cremation funeral, you may experience minor delays if the crematorium is particularly busy and the chapel is booked up with ceremonies.

In general, burial funerals can be held quicker than cremation funerals - especially if the burial plot has been purchased in advance.

How soon you have a funeral after death may also depend on your religious beliefs, for example, Islamic families require a burial to take place as soon as possible after death.

How long does it take to arrange a funeral?

It usually takes a week or two to make all the preparations for a traditional send-off, however, families in the UK aren’t restricted to this time frame (unless there are religious factors).

Key funeral planning steps include:

  • Obtaining the medical certificate
  • Registering the death
  • Choosing a funeral director
  • Deciding the type of funeral
  • Planning the service (funeral music, flowers, photos etc)
  • Choosing the coffin and hearse
  • Inviting family and friends

With the help of a funeral director, many of the practical aspects of a funeral are taken care of by them which ultimately speeds up the whole process.

However, sometimes longer is needed to plan the funeral; for example, if family members have made special requests or the deceased wished for a unique or alternative funeral.

Why may you need to delay a funeral?

Whilst some funerals can be held a week or two after death, sometimes it’s necessary to delay a funeral.

No two situations are the same, but some of the reasons to delay a funeral include:

  • You need more time to make the appropriate arrangements. Whether that’s due to emotional, financial, or logistical reasons
  • Close family and friends aren’t living close by and they need time to travel to the service
  • You need to ensure that the funeral doesn’t coincide with another special event such as a wedding, christening, birthday, holiday or another funeral
  • Your loved one passed away overseas and they need to be repatriated to the UK before the funeral
  • Family members can’t agree on funeral arrangements, or it’s unclear who’s responsible for organising and paying for the funeral. See who has the right to make decisions about your funeral for information

There are some cases in which a funeral must be deferred, for example, if the death has been reported to a coroner.

It may only take a few days for the coroner to clarify the cause of death, however slightly longer delays can occur if they need to carry out further investigations.

Until the coroner is satisfied with cause of death, you won’t be able to obtain a death certificate - which makes it difficult to make firm arrangements for the funeral.

However, a coroner won’t keep hold of a person for any longer than what’s necessary for the inquest. They’ll arrange for the body to be transported to the funeral director as soon as possible so you can finalise funeral plans.

Things you can do before the funeral

It’s a difficult decision to postpone a funeral service, as some relatives may crave the closure more so than others.

However, there are some things you can do during this deferred period before you can officially say a last goodbye at the funeral service.

  • Create an online memorial or tribute. Websites such as 'Much Loved' or 'My Keeper' allow you to do this free of charge
  • Create a memorial book. You can ask family and friends to share photos and memories with you to be included in the book. It could then be brought to the funeral or memorial service for everyone to view
  • Create a Facebook memorial page. You can also create a memorialised account on Facebook with their profile, allowing family and friends to share new memories and photos on the timeline
  • Plant a tree or light a remembrance candle in their memory. Simple and low-cost, but deeply meaningful acts that commemorate a loved one who’s passed away

What you can do instead of a funeral

There are some situations in which holding a funeral service is a practical or financial struggle, along with being an emotional endeavour.

Some reasons why a traditional funeral service may seem unsuitable:

  • Relatives are too elderly or unwell to undertake funeral planning or to attend a funeral
  • There’s very few relatives or close friends. Or maybe the family are estranged, live abroad or don’t keep in regular touch
  • There’s no money to pay for the funeral, either left behind in the estate or as a funeral plan or life insurance policy

What you can do instead of a traditional funeral with everyone present:

  • Have an unattended cremation or burial (known as direct cremation or direct burial). Once the ashes have been returned you can then hold a small memorial service at home or in a local venue, or you may choose a private location to scatter the ashes. After a direct burial, people can visit the graveside to pay their respects within their own time. Or, you could have a personal ceremony here. You may choose to plant a memorial tree instead of having a headstone
  • Have a virtual funeral arranged through the funeral director. You can have an attended funeral service (or even an unattended cremation or burial service led by a minister) and have this webcast live (or recorded and sent to you). The impact of the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions for funeral gatherings has meant that recording equipment at crematoriums and places of worship are now commonplace
  • Have a public health funeral. This is also known as a ‘Pauper’s funeral’. If you have difficulty getting in touch with the immediate family of the deceased, there’s no Will and there’s no money to pay for the funeral, then the local council can step in to take over the responsibility. Pauper’s funerals are very basic but provide a dignified send-off that family members can attend to say their goodbyes.
  • Get help with funeral costs. The government can help with funeral costs in some circumstances. The Funeral Expenses Payment is available to people on certain welfare benefits/tax credits and is designed to cover key funeral expenses

More about direct cremation

Direct cremation is the affordable alternative to a traditional funeral with full-length service.

With direct cremation, there’s no funeral service or ceremony before the deceased is cremated.

This means no hearse, no limousines, no pallbearers, no flowers and no mourners.

Direct cremation can resolve some practical issues of planning a funeral.

Once your loved one has been laid to rest after direct cremation, there’s no rush to organise the memorial service.

You can simply wait until there’s a better time, possibly when family and friends are able to get together for the occasion.

One of the advantages of direct cremation is that you can hold a memorial service or celebration of life that doesn’t comply with tradition and doesn’t come at the cost of a traditional send-off.

95% of funeral directors provide direct cremation services. It’s also possible to have a direct burial but these are much less common.

How long can you delay a funeral FAQs

We cover some other questions you may have regarding funeral delays…

How much will it cost to delay a funeral?

If you have chosen to delay a funeral, then you should speak with your funeral director regarding additional charges for keeping your loved one in their care.

The cost of your funeral services package may cover these types of circumstances. Especially if a funeral needs to be delayed for reasons beyond your control.

When can you hold a funeral?

The most common time to hold a funeral is around midday during the week.

Weekend and bank holiday services tend to cost more money and may not be possible with some funeral directors. Saturday morning is the most popular time for a weekend funeral.

Early morning weekday slots are the most affordable, but may not be convenient for everyone to attend.

How long after death can you have a viewing?

Family viewing at the chapel of rest usually takes place a few days after death. This allows enough time for the funeral director to prepare and dress the deceased beforehand.

If the funeral is delayed, then you may need to delay the viewing as well. This is possible but the funeral director will probably recommend that the body is embalmed for preservation.

How long does embalming last?

Embalming simply slows down the changes a body goes through after death.

How long it lasts depends on the condition of the body prior to embalming as well as the strength of embalming fluid. It also depends on where the body is held afterwards.

This means the lasting effects of embalming is largely unknown, but it could be from one week to many months.

How long can a body stay in the mortuary?

Usually, a body can stay in the mortuary at the funeral home or hospital for as long as needed before the funeral.

Cold temperatures in the mortuary help to preserve a body but like with embalming, it won’t stop nature from taking its course eventually.

How long can a body be refrigerated?

A body can be refrigerated for three to four weeks, but if you need to delay the funeral then it can remain there a little longer.

If the body is embalmed, then there’s no need for refrigeration.

Have you considered over 50s life insurance to help cover funeral costs?

Reassured aren’t able to provide you with a funeral plan or funeral cover. However, for UK residents aged between 50 - 85, we can help you secure an over 50s life insurance policy.

With over 50s life insurance, no medical information is required, guaranteeing acceptance to people in this age bracket.

Over 50s life insurance can provide a cash lump sum to your loved ones when you pass away, which could potentially be used to help cover the cost of your funeral.

The maximum sum assured is £20,000, although this is dependent on your age, smoking status and budget.

The most important thing about this product is that you’ll be covered until you pass away, guaranteeing your loved ones a pay out.

Reassured offer over 50s life insurance from some of the UK’s leading providers from as little as 20p a day + . Simply get in touch for your free quotes to secure cover today.

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