Unsupported Browser

Your web browser appears to be outdated. Our website may not look quite right in it.

Please consider updating your browser to enjoy an optimal experience.

Skip to main content

A helpful guide to planning a funeral

Dealing with the death of a loved one is one of the hardest things we can go through. Both long illnesses and sudden accidents can throw even the toughest people into a spiral of disarray.

Understanding in advance what is involved in arranging a funeral can help you get through this difficult time. Planning a remembrance event doesn’t need to be filled with sorrow, it can be a heartfelt and truly unique experience. With some planning and preparation, you can even organise your own, thereby saving your nearest and dearest from having to plan your funeral when they’re already trying to manage all the others things that come with the death of a family or friend.

Most funerals are arranged by a person’s nearest relatives and close friends. In cases where the deceased has no living family or friends who are able to make arrangements, the local health authority will arrange a simple, no-frills funeral. Ideally the person will have left behind instructions about the kind of funeral and burial they desired.

Most funerals are arranged through a funeral director from the funeral home you choose to use. Finding a good one is as easy: look for a funeral director who belongs to a professional association as they abide by strict codes of practice and have formal complaints procedures in place. Remember, you can shop around. You might want to contact several funeral directors in your area to compare prices and options and request written information about the cost of the services, and professional fees before finalising any plans. This is the time to discuss any religious or cultural preferences that you would like to be honoured during the service. The director will help you contact the individual you’ve chosen to perform the memorial service or help you locate one. You can also arrange the funeral yourself; it will just take more work.

When you start arranging a funeral the first thing you need to do is determine the kind of funeral you want as they each come with their own set of challenges and rewards. For example, you might want to have a wake at one location, and move to another for an ash scattering. If you plan on scattering ashes, you can wait to hold the ash scattering until everyone is able to assemble at a special location. You may decide to have a small event that is restricted to family members, or a larger event for everyone who knew the person who passed. Here are the most common types of funeral services in New Zealand:


A wake is gathering of friends and family before a burial. It can be held at the funeral parlour, at home, in a restaurant, or outdoors. Again, a wake can be a simple way of honouring your loved one or it can be a party, depending on the frame of mind you’re in.

Memorial service or life celebration

A memorial service is essentially a small number of people who come together at a location to say a few words about the deceased. It can either be small and intimate or a grand celebration – depending on the passed person’s wishes, or those of their friends and families. This event is held immediately after the death, or after several weeks, months, or even a year. From a private residences, lakefronts, or mountaintops, you can make your life celebration into a weekend event or a destination location, allowing family more time to grieve and bond over the loss. A life celebration is just that: a celebration of your loved one’s life. Make it personal, have their favourite music planning, their favourite drinks and snacks on hand, and photos or slides of your loved one’s life achievements.

Home funeral

A home funeral is held in the home with the person who passed present at the centre of the gathering. There are a number of legal requirements when someone dies, and if you would like to host the deceased’s body at home then it could be worth hiring a funeral director to take care of things like:

  • the legal requirement to dispose of a body in a timely manner

  • where a body can be disposed of, for example, cemetery, crematorium, burial at sea

  • the requirement to register the death

  • embalming or natural death care

Some people can find it unsettling to be confronted with death at home, but with a home funeral there is a comfort of being at your loved one’s home, surrounded by their possessions, and it gives you much more time to grieve and say goodbye.


Each iwi in New Zealand will have their own funeral traditions, and ways of honouring those who have passed. A tangi may incorporate many of the aspects written about above, and usually takes around three days, with burial being on the last day. After someone passes away, their body will be constantly accompanied by friends or family. The body will be taken to the marae where it will be welcomed on with a powhiri. Throughout the duration of the tangi, family, friends, and loved ones will stay alongside the body until it comes time for burial. Traditionally, there is a feast following the burial rites, and family and friends are given time to reminisce. Each tangi is different, and many families choose to incorporate both traditional iwi or Maori funeral rites, with more modern funeral traditions.

Ash scattering

Following a cremation, an ash scattering ceremony is a common symbolic gesture. When planning an ash scattering you’ll want to consider the method of scattering, the location, and who and how many people will scatter the ashes. Often scatterings take place on land, lake, or sea. You can also opt for a more unique scattering method, such as via hot air balloon, plane, or even a rocket. Please note that some areas have laws regarding ash scattering, so keep this in mind when you’re planning this kind of service.

Graveside service

You have options when it comes to burial – you can bury your loved one on your private land but you will need to check local laws regarding private burial. Most burial grounds and cemeteries allow your family to be involved in the burial process. For a simple burial, you need a simple casket – these can be as simple as a cardboard box, or as lavish and extravagant as you like. Identify which friends and relatives can help conduct the necessary tasks, such as:

  • pall bearing

  • scattering earth over the grave

  • reciting a saying

You can conduct a full service at the graveside with the help of an officiant, or you can have a friend or relative officiate the ceremony. Your graveside service might follow a home funeral or an event dinner, or it can be the main event. There are a variety of ways to incorporate a graveside service into your remembrance event:

  • Burial: Requires purchasing a cemetery plot, casket, grave liner or vault, and grave marker or monument

  • Entombment: Requires entombing the body above ground in a casket placed in a tomb or family mausoleum

  • Cremation: Requires an extreme heat process which reduces the body to ashes. The ashes can then be stored in an urn and placed in a niche at a cemetery, kept at home, or scattered.

There are countless ways to commemorate life and death, and you can be as creative as you want to be. Yes, legal considerations might limit some of your choices, but how you remember and celebrate the life of your loved one is ultimately your decision.

Some families find themselves making funeral arrangements that aren’t necessarily the right option for their beliefs due to the rising costs of funerals.

Whether you’re arranging a funeral with a funeral director or doing it yourself, you and the family of your loved ones are responsible for the costs. Before you sign anything, consider asking to see a price list and get a written estimate. Explaining your budget to the director is helpful, too.

Once you’ve chosen the funeral you want, your written estimate will give you a breakdown of all of the costs involved. Comparing costs is wise, as not all funeral homes cost the same. While the costs may differ, a basic funeral is likely to include the following:

  • a coffin

  • transportation of the body via hearse

  • body services such as washing and dressing, and sometimes embalming

  • providing pallbearers if necessary

  • legal forms

  • flowers

  • press notices/obituaries

  • medical certificates

  • an organist

  • fees for religious services

  • a burial or crematorium fee

  • a memorial officiant

  • catering arrangements

Planning your funeral in advance allows you to design and specify exactly what kind of service you’d like so that your friends and family can celebrate the life you lived. By letting your family know about your ideal funeral or memorial service they’ll have less difficult and complex decisions to make during this difficult and emotional time. If you’re a planner at heart, then having your own funeral plans written out won’t be so difficult for you. It can be emotionally taxing to consider our own mortality, however if you can plan and pay for your funeral in advance of your death, you’ll only be easing the burden for your family and friends. Paying for your funeral in advance appeals to people who would prefer not to burden their families with crippling funeral costs. You don’t need to pay for services in advance but you can set money aside if you’re a good saver, or you can take out an insurance policy.

Even if you’re caring for a loved one who is terminally ill, you can plan their funeral in advance. And funeral cover is an option for everyone. Making good decisions can be hard when you’re grieving a loved one’s death, but having that difficult talk in advance can be worth it in the end.

If you’re planning your own funeral, you may want to talk with your family about your final wishes to make sure they know exactly what you want. Having a verbal conversation is a good start, but writing it down will help your family remember what you wanted.

Many people choose to incorporate their specific wishes for funeral arrangements in their Will. Consult with a lawyer or will specialist before you finalise anything and keep a written record of your funeral arrangements close at hand, perhaps in a clearly labelled file at home, rather than somewhere difficult to access, such as a private safe.

Thinking about your funeral isn’t as morbid as it sounds. It’s a great opportunity to really consider you final wishes and how you want to take care of your friends and family even after you’re gone. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you want a funeral followed by a burial or cremation?

  • Do you want a viewing, visitation or wake before your funeral?

  • Do you want a reception after your funeral?

  • What personal touches would you like?

  • Who will read the eulogy?

  • What poems or reading do you want?

  • What kind of music do you want?

  • Where do you want your funeral held?

  • Who do you want to officiate?

  • Who do you want to serve as pallbearers?

A good funeral service, no matter what the religion, or the price tag, or the planning in advance, is essentially a service about remembering and honouring a loved one. The best way to remember someone who has passed is to think of them in terms of how they lived their life.

If your loved one adored dress up parties, you could get the guests to dress up in their best costumes. It’s up to you how far you go in personalising this event. If your family is more conservative, a subdued funeral with guests dressed in black may be more appropriate.

A funeral doesn’t need to be a time of sadness. There’s an overwhelming comfort in coming together with others to remember and celebrate someone’s life. We are all so individual that more and more people are planning personalised and creative funerals in order to create memorable event. These events can reflect any spiritual or religious beliefs and can be tailored to suit the sensibilities of the person who passed and their family and friends. A meaningful remembrance event is the ultimate way to display your love and devotion to the deceased. It’s an important step in the grieving process – you’re celebrating the memory of your loved one and you’re letting them go.

The costs of arranging a funeral following the death of a friend or family member are financial cost and emotional.

It’s not a process you should go through alone, and we’re to help you protect your family. Give us a call and we can talk you through the steps of solid funeral cover.

Further reading and helpful links