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In the UK, some 72 per cent of the population choose cremation rather than burial. Simon Allen looks at the practicalities of arranging a cremation.


The reasons families and individuals choose cremation are usually:

  • Cost - cremation is less expensive than burial;

  • Family tradition - cremation has become increasingly popular since the 1940s and has now become accepted for several generations;

  • Lifestyle preference - cremation matches a more modern approach to life (and death);

  • Religious beliefs - Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists have to be cremated;

  • Convenience - if a person’s remains have to be transported to the family home in another country or continent, it is more convenient to transport cremains (the ashes) than the body, if culturally acceptable.


When selecting cremation, the funeral director will arrange for the paperwork to be completed - the Application for Cremation. This confirms that the death has been properly certified by medical doctors and registered by the Registrar of Deaths.

This leads to a procedural difference between burial and cremation. For a cremation to go ahead, the funeral company must obtain two Doctor’s certificates issued independently of each and after the death certificate is signed and the death registered.

The Doctor’s certificate confirms the details of death by an independent medical practitioner who is unknown to the first, as a check against unlawful killing, since a cremated body cannot be exhumed.

The fee doctors charge for this is known as 'ash cash'.

The sequence of forms varies depending on whether there has been a post-mortem examination, or an inquest, and the precise wording may vary slightly from one part of the country to another.

The funeral director will explain and complete these forms for you to sign.


The amount of time that is needed to complete this sequence of papers and examinations is a couple of days.

If you ask a funeral director on a Monday morning for a cremation that Friday afternoon, it can be done. Shorter times may be possible but require everyone to cooperate and for the forms to be correct first time.

However, it is advisable to add three or four days to the date you originally thought of, because of the amount of details that need organising, including the travel and accommodation of the mourners, and the availability of a 'slot' at the crematorium.

It may be an unwelcome realisation, but funeral directors and crematoria (and cemeteries) have to plan their time to meet their business requirements including the availability of the staff and the vehicles.

In virtually all cases, the arrangements that are agreed suit all parties and result in a dignified and efficient event.

Coffins for cremation

Coffins used for cremation are made from materials that will not pollute the atmosphere.

The funeral director will advise on the types of cremation coffins. Bear in mind that cremation is the least environmentally friendly type of funeral.

You can reduce the amount of damage to the environment by ensuring the coffin is made from wood from sustainable forests, or from materials such as cardboard, wicker, bamboo,

Hardwood coffins are rarely chosen for cremation as they are unnecessarily expensive. 

All external fittings, such as handles are made of non-polluting materials and are burnt at the same time.

There are also strict rules about what can be put in the coffin to be cremated with the deceased.

Restricted items include plastics and other materials that give off toxic fumes; glass or items that would damage the cremator.

These include heart pacemakers, as their batteries explode in the heat. The funeral director can arrange for a qualified person to remove pacemakers.

Coffins for cremation will be sealed at the funeral director’s premises and remain virtually untouched, apart from when lifted by pall bearers, until going into the furnace.

Cremation process

Some people wish to see the start of the cremation process.  For some this may be an imperative of their religion, for others it is a need to understand the process or simply to feel that matters are 'complete'.

All crematoria permit family members to witness the coffin being placed into the cremator but this must be requested at least a day in advance.

Final destination

You should think carefully of where you want the final destination of the cremated remains to be.

There are many choices, and they are increasing all the time, ranging from cremation jewellery to being scattered at a particular sentimental location. For more information, see Memorials.

Planning ahead

Cremation is straightforward and accepted by a large majority of the UK population. If you are planning your own funeral, make sure your wishes about burial or cremation are included among the funeral instructions you put in your Lifebox.

This is a secure area in which you put your wishes, your death plan, your life story, information you want your family to see on your death. Only you can open your Lifebox and add and edit the contents.

You must nominate a second key holder who opens the Lifebox on your death or when you give permission.  He or she cannot edit the contents, but can access the information and carry out your instructions.

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