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21 Dec 2020

Confronting death and talking about it can be an uncomfortable time - for those facing their mortality and their loved ones. Some people leave detailed plans for their funeral - from the venue to the music, the food, or the readings. Others don’t have an opportunity or enough time to do this. Are you someone who thinks from time to time “gosh that song would be perfect at my funeral!” or “I should tell someone that is my all-time favourite poem”. Short of adding these details to your will or sitting your loved ones down for a family meeting, there are increasingly other ways to celebrate a life.

What is a living funeral?

A living funeral, or living memorial is essentially the celebration of a life, while that person is still alive. What better life celebration could you wish for, than to be part of a gathering of friends and family, celebrating your life, just the way you planned it? A living funeral would typically take place near the end of someone’s life, whether that’s known from a terminal illness diagnosis or simply old age. It can take the form of a simple celebration of someone’s life, or a fun party - it’s a personal choice.

The concept of acknowledging death more openly, and taking control of one’s own funeral while alive are gaining in popularity overseas. Here in New Zealand, it is still a relatively new development when considering your end of life plans. Regardless, looking for novel or unique ways to celebrate a life are on the rise - from unique venues, coffins and decorative urns, to environmentally conscious funerals.

In comparison, a traditional funeral is more focused on supporting the family and friends of a loved one who has passed away.

Why would someone want a living funeral?

For people with time to plan their end of life, a living funeral actually makes a lot of sense. A key difference between your typical funeral and a living funeral, is that it is a celebration of life - an upbeat ceremony often focused on sharing stories, memories, love and passing knowledge down to younger generations.

A living funeral can be a supportive environment for family and friends struggling with the imminent passing of a loved one, as they get to share their love and memories in a safe place and with the person they care so deeply for. How wonderful to create an occasion where people come together to celebrate a life, and ensure the guest of honour hears firsthand how their guests feel about them!

It is certainly easier to plan for one’s funeral these days. And by planning your own service - whether a living funeral or traditional one, you can ensure that your wishes are granted exactly as you want them to be. Some people know that their close family may be too upset or not organised enough to create the type of special service they would like. Sometimes some guidance is necessary.

How does a living funeral work?

Unlike a traditional funeral, a living funeral or celebration of life ceremony does not have to follow a traditional format. A big difference can be the formality of the funeral, or the focus on celebration.


How formal a living funeral may be is totally up to the guest of honour. Often, a living funeral is more celebratory, festive or party-like, rather than a serious occasion. It is absolutely dependent on the person, and their personal wishes.

Religion & culture

If religion is a large part of someone’s life, then this can absolutely be incorporated into a living funeral. Religious readings, prayers and blessings are commonplace, and are likely to be favourite selections from the guest of honour, or particularly suitable for the occasion.

Cultural traditions can also be readily incorporated, or special family rituals. Non-religious readings, poems and blessings are also popular.

Speeches & stories

A highlight of any funeral is the sharing of knowledge about a person who has passed away. And how special that when having a living funeral, you get the opportunity for your guest of honour to hear these stories first hand, and even provide some of their own. People enjoy the opportunity of sharing a story or making a speech to pay their respects to a loved one, and ensure that everyone present is aware of their legacy.

Having someone confident in public speaking lead this section of the service can help ensure the service is kept on time, and that everyone who wants to share a special memory has the opportunity to.


Music can be a special part of any funeral service, especially if the guest of honour has been musical. Anything goes here - from a playlist of favorite songs, a family sing-along, or live music by way of a band or singer. Music can be a pleasant background device, or a focus of the service. Again, it’s up to you to decide what will suit the living funeral best.

Food & Refreshments

It is often joked about that some people come to funerals for a social catch up and the food. So why not make food and refreshments the focus of your living funeral? A traditional funeral would serve food and drinks at the end of the service, but a living funeral has the flexibility to make this the centrepoint of the event.

Anything goes, from casual snacks and drinks throughout the service, to sitting down to a formal meal part way through proceedings. It makes sense to match the food style with the sense of occasion you’re trying to convey - a casual, relaxed party atmosphere, or a more formal celebration.

Location, location, location

There are no rules! For practicality’s sake, it might make sense to host your celebration at a nursing home or hospice, but equally, hosting at the family home can make the celebration feel more personal. Other options include a church, community centre or a sentimental location that has special meaning for your guest of honour. Your choice of location is only limited by your imagination.

Personal touches

Small gifts, photos, or a written memory bring a wonderful sense of occasion to a living funeral. You can ask your guests to bring a special momento with them, or something to add to a scrapbook, that will help preserve the celebration for those that couldn’t make it on the day, and for people to reflect back on the guest of honour in the future.

Providing a guest book for people to sign and make their own impromptu comments is another great way to celebrate the moment. You may also want to organise a professional photographer or videographer to record some special moments with family and friends that everyone attending has a chance to receive copies of, or can be shared with friends or family members who are not able to attend.

Practical thing to consider when planning a living funeral

Like any event, organisation is key to a successful day. Have you thought through who will organise the event, and ensure that other end of life considerations are in place too?

Are funeral directors needed?

Much like a traditional funeral, a funeral director may be open to helping with a living funeral, and able to provide a venue for your event, be the master of ceremonies for your service and help with a photo montage of special memories. They certainly don’t need to be used, but can support you with the organisation of your event if needed.

If you choose not to use a funeral director, who will be in charge of planning the service? Someone (or a small group) is needed to plan the format of the day, issue invitations to guests, organise the venue and decide what food is needed.

Getting your affairs in order

If you’re planning a living funeral, don’t forget that a traditional funeral will also need to be planned for. At the same time as you’re working through wishes and requirements for a living funeral, you could check if there are also wishes for the traditional funeral too. These instructions can be given to close family, or documented more formally in a will, so you can ensure your wishes are carried out. If you don’t have a will already, they are quite straightforward to create.

Budgeting for a funeral

If you haven’t made your own plans for paying for your funeral, you could consider Funeral Insurance to take care of the costs when you’ve gone. As an important part of planning a living funeral is checking with the guest of honour as to who will pay for it. They might want to “throw their own party”, but if they’re not in a position to, think carefully about how you might finance it. Venue and food costs can add up. Perhaps multiple family members could all pitch in to help spread the cost.

It’s worthwhile discussing the costs of a traditional funeral at the same time, as these two events could end up being quite close together, and therefore difficult to budget for. You need to be aware that the average cost of a funeral in New Zealand is around $10,000. There are ways to reduce this cost, but it can be difficult for close family to think rationally at such an emotional time. The last thing your family needs is unexpected costs from a funeral director at an emotionally difficult time.

If you're interested in alleviating this financial burden for your loved ones, you could consider Funeral Insurance to support your family when you’ve gone. Funeral Insurance can help with the costs of a traditional funeral service, refreshments for your guests, burial plot or cremation, death certificate and so on. You can let your family know you have this in place in your will or funeral plan, so your family knows how to quickly access it when they need to.

Cigna Funeral Insurance

Having a funeral plan and Funeral Insurance or Funeral Cover in place is a simple gesture to support your family at a difficult time.

A Cigna Funeral Cover Insurance policy is available for New Zealand residents aged between 50 and 80 years of age. Depending on the type of funeral you want to have, cover is available from $5,000 to $30,000.

You’ll be immediately covered for Accidental Death, and fully covered after 2 years of having your policy with Cigna.

Hopefully we’ve helped you get your head around the difference between a living and traditional funeral. A growing trend that has plenty of merit as we become more open with each other about the end of life. We think it’s important to take a more proactive approach to funeral planning, whether that is for a living or traditional funeral. Please make sure you have an up to date will, and do consider Funeral Insurance to support your family to provide you with the funeral you wish for.

You can apply now for an instant Funeral Insurance quote. Unsure? Our team is always happy to talk through your options. Contact us today.