Funeral Terms What Does That Jargon Mean?

Funeral Terms
Explaining funeral jargon and terminology.

Funeral terms / jargon: Prepaid Funeral Review tries to explain some of the commonly used terms in Funeral Jargon.   If there is a term I haven’t covered, please use the enquiry form to ask, and I will add it for all the other people who will be similarly confused: most of us deal with a very few, if any, deaths where we are responsible for the arrangements.  I try to make it easy, and affordable, for you to shoulder at least the majority of that burden in advance.

To enquire about prepaid plans, go here. So here goes with common funeral terms, and some of the funeral director terminology which puzzles many people:

Funeral Jargon: Disbursements:

There are two sets of costs for a funeral.  The direct costs of the undertaker – his overheads, staff, equipment and profits. And third party costs which either the undertaker pays for and recharges to the clients: the crematorium fee, the burial ground fee for digging and refilling the grave, choir, organist, ceremony video, flowers, doctors fees, flowers, printing, local paper announcement, sometimes embalming, limousine hire. These are just examples of third party costs or disbursements as they are known in the trade.

Caskets and Coffins

Caskets are just a variety of coffins, on which you can spend an absolute fortune if you so wish. A common issue is families wishing to save money by buying coffins online.  The trouble is that such coffins may not meet current standards, and could damage a million pound cremator (the working part of the crematorium) or worse, collapse at an embarrassing moment and ruin the undertakers reputation.

Order of Service.

The Order of Service just guides people through the ceremony.  Some families will produce an print their own on a computer.  Others will pay to have them especially printed as souvenirs.


It is traditional to have a collection which would typically be for the deceased’s favourite charity but might need to be towards the funeral costs if money is tight, and I am told that funerals are the largest single item on credit cards. That is just part of the reason prepaid funerals are so popular.

Removal of Pacemakers etc.

Pacemakers and other implanted electronic devices may explode when cremated, or shock the coroners doctors, so they have to be removed beforehand.

Funeral Term: Coroner

The Coroner is an official who looks into more that 4 in 10 deaths in the UK, in order to check the cause of death. It is not nearly as worrying as you might expect: one of the most common is that the family doctor is away on holiday or hasn’t seen the deceased for a couple of weeks.

Funeral Term: Autopsy or Post Mortem.

An autopsy is an investigation the Coroner organises to determine the cause of death when it is unexpected or if the deceased has not seen a doctor close to the time of death.  It should not be taken as a sign of suspicious circumstances.  It is probable that some delay will occur, and it will not be possible to have a funeral until the Coroners investigations have been completed.  The Coroners Officers deal with liasing with the family and specialist doctors or surgeons may be involved. More information.

Funeral Jargon: What is embalming? 14.

(opens another page – you may not want to read all of it!) Embalming is needed when the body is to be preserved for viewing by the family.

Funeral Terms: Chapel of Rest. 

A Chapel of Rest is a dedicated setting in which bodies can be viewed.   This is why appointments to view are generally needed so the deceased can be placed in the Chapel of Rest instead of being viewed in rather industrial surroundings with the other trappings of the funeral trade around.   Clearly, it costs more to have viewing outside normal office hours as staff have to come in specially to prepare the body and open up.

Funeral Jargon: What is an Obituary?

An obituary is an advert in the local paper that reports the recent death of a person, typically with information about the upcoming funeral if there is time.

Two types of paid advertisements are related to obituaries. One, known as a death notice, omits most biographical details and may be a legally required public notice under some circumstances. The other type, a paid memorial advertisement, is usually written by family members or friends, perhaps with help from the funeral director. Both types of paid advertisements are usually run as classified advertisements.  The word is often confused with the next part of our funeral terms glossary:

Funeral director terminology: The Eulogy – the heart of the funeral service.

The eulogy is often the part of the funeral service which leaves family and friends complaining that the person giving it clearly did not know the deceased.  To be fair, no one knew the deceased as well as the deceased did – which is why we are currently offering access to a professional funeral service planner. A professional celebrant who will discuss your own wishes for the actual service, and prepare a written plan to guide your family.  That part is free of charge, but we have also negotiated half price on working with you to prepare a eulogy or even – if you fancy it – a This is Your Life style Celebration of Life – which you can attend!  Could make a great gift too!

Funeral terms: Funeral Procession. 

Sometimes the hearse will go direct to the cemetery or crematorium.  This reduces costs. Others prefer for the deceased to leave from the family home with the family following either in their own cars or in the undertakers limousines.

Funeral jargon: Funeral Conductor. 

The undertaker will generally be willing to conduct a brief service. However, it is more usual for their role to be restricted to the background organisation of the ceremony.  Therefore a religious or non religious “celebrant” who may have known the deceased is more common. Such folk normally have to be paid and there is no way of knowing what their fees will be. Typically a sum is set aside towards the cost which may or may not fully cover the fees.

Common Funeral terms: Church Fees. 

If a service is conducted in a Church, there will normally be church fees which can be substantial, with extra costs for Choir, Minister, Organist (and burial if in a churchyard). Typically, some allowance is made for each of these where requested.  It is generally inflation protected by not guaranteed to cover the full cost which is outside the control of the provider of the prepaid funeral plan.

Funeral Terms: Bearers.

Bearers are the people who carry the coffin from the hearse into the church/ cemetery etc. They are usually supplied by the undertaker, but some families prefer to undertake this themselves. Some firms dispense with this altogether to keep costs down, and the coffin is wheeled in before the doors open and put in position.

Funeral Jargon: the Catafalque.

At a crematorium, the coffin is placed on a raised structure so it can be seen easily, and that is the catafalque. A similar portable structure is likely to be used in a church, where it may be referred to as a bier. The catafalque etc may be covered by a decorative cloth known as a Pall.

Common funeral terms: Transport of Deceased. 

Some plans allow for the collection of the deceased from the place of death at any time.  Others cut the cost by allowing for collection only during office hours.  The cost of transport is quite substantial, both to the funeral home and from there to the cemetery, church etc.  The longer the trip, the higher the cost.  Different plans build in different mileage as standard, but most will accept a lump sum to cover unexpected extras in advance.  Alternatively, there may be some extras to be paid at the time of the funeral or shortly thereafter.  But at least the main costs will be prepaid.

What is a funeral Celebrant?

A Celebrant is the person leading the ceremony – the local Vicar, Parish Priest or relevant religious figure. As often or not these days it might be a family member who leads the service, sometimes the undertaker will, or more often a professional Celebrant.

Apart from leading the service, they will usually give the Eulogy, so the choice of a person who knew the deceased well is ideal, but the back up of a professionally drafted Eulogy could make all the difference.

 Jargon: Hearses and Limousines.

It is possible to have special hearses, horse drawn or motor cycle and side-car etc.   These will add substantially to the cost and it may not be possible in the future.  Perhaps better dealt with by an expression of wishes and an extra sum in the funeral plan calculated to cover the expected cost.  Limousines do take the load off the family, but they are far from cheap.  Your choice!

Jargon: The Grave or Burial Plot.

Few graves these days are freehold. They are purchased on a lease for a specific number of years, after which the freeholder has the right to reuse the plot.  Plots can be single or multiple, single depth or more. Sometimes it may be possible for the ashes of a cremated person to be buried in an existing grave, but that should be planned and agreed in advance with the cemetery managers.

If you have a family plot, it is crucial to ensure that it is in the right ownership, or it could take months (and sometimes a Grant of Probate) before the deeds confirming your right to use it can be put in the right name.  So check or you could find ownership is a generation or two back.

Burial Jargon: Interment 

Interment is the act of digging the grave, backfilling it after the burial and making good.   It is quite a significant cost of burial.


Removing or adding gravestones etc is an entirely separate matter dealt with by professional masons. Any existing gravestone must be removed before the gravediggers can get to work, and it cannot be replaced or a new one placed for many months after the burial as the ground needs time to settle, or the gravestone will topple.  Each burial ground will have its own strict rules which MUST be obeyed.  Green or Natural Burial Grounds are unlikely to allow stone or indeed any form of memorial/

Funeral Terms Funeral Jargon