Funeral Glossary of Terms
A glossary of funeral terms, including funeral directors, funeral homes, coroners, morticians, burial, cremation, estate management and bereavement support.
This glossary of funeral terms provides a comprehensive overview of the terminology associated with funerals, cemeteries, bereavement support, and probate; from ‘interment’ and ‘inquest’, to ‘memorial jewellery,’ ‘mortuary’ and ‘pallbearer’. Many of the definitions feature links to guides with helpful advice explaining these topics in more detail.
An administrator is the person responsible for managing the estate of a person who has died if they had not written a will, not named an executor in their will, or the executor they had named has renounced their responsibilities. See Executor and Letters of Administration. Read our guide to the roles of executor and administrator.
See Water Cremation.
An angelversary is the anniversary of a significant date in the life of someone who has died, such as their death, birthday or wedding. Read our guide to angelversaries.
Ashes are the remains of someone who has died after their body has been cremated.
A benevolent fund is a charitable trust established by trades, armed and civilian services, charities or individuals to provide financial support to people affiliated with it, such as members of a specific profession. Some benevolent funds provide grants to the eligible dependents of people who have died. Read our guide to benevolent funds.
The bereaved are people who are grieving for a person who has died, usually a member of their immediate family or a close friend.
Bereavement is the experience of someone close to you dying. Read our guides to bereavement support.
Bereavement leave is a period of paid or unpaid time off work after the death of a close family member, such as a parent, spouse, child or sibling, to attend the funeral and cope with the initial feelings of grief.
A bereavement policy is a guide to the rights and responsibilities of employees and managers after a member of staff has suffered a bereavement. Read our guide to bereavement at work.
A bereavement support organisation is a service, usually a charity, that provides practical information and psychological support, such as grief counselling, to people who are bereaved. See Grief Counsellor. Read our guide to bereavement support organisations.
A bereavement support payment is financial support from the government after the death of a spouse or civil partner. The amount, which can be paid in a one-off lump sum or monthly payments for a set period, depends on whether the recipient is caring for dependent children. Read our guide to the Bereavement Support Payment.
Book of Remembrance
A book of remembrance is a book kept in a crematorium to record the names of people who were cremated at it. Many crematoria turn the pages of a book of remembrance every day so that the names of people memorialised in them are displayed on the anniversary of their funeral. See Crematorium and Garden of Remembrance.
Burial is the act of placing a coffin or casket containing the body of someone who has died in a grave. Urns containing cremated ashes can also be buried. See Grave and Burial Ground. Read our guide to burial.
Burial at Sea
Burial at sea is the committal of a person who has died into the sea, usually in a specially adapted coffin at designated sites; mostly for people with a connection to the sea, such as fishermen or people who have served in the navy. A licence is required for burial at sea in the UK. See Burial. Read our guide to burial at sea.
Burial fees are the cost of leasing a grave to bury the coffin or casket containing the body of someone who has died, or an urn containing their ashes. See Grave and Burial Ground. Read our guide to burial.
A burial ground is an area of land owned by a council or private organisation where the bodies or ashes of people who have died are buried. See Cemetery, Natural Burial Ground and Garden of Remembrance.
A burial plot is an area of a cemetery reserved in advance by a person or family, for burial when they die. Sometimes they are large enough for multiple burials. See Burial and Burial Ground. Read our guide to buying a burial plot. Back to Top
See Funeral Celebrant.
A celebration of life is a funeral ceremony or memorial service that focuses on positive memories of the person who has died, rather than the protocols of traditional funerals; usually humanist or civil. See Funeral and Memorial Service. Read our guide to celebration of life funeral ideas.
A cemetery is an area of land for traditional burials, usually attached to a Christian Church or Jewish Synagogue, or owned by secular organisation such as a council or Commonwealth War Graves Commission. See Burial.
Cemetery symbolism are images carved on gravestones, such as angels, lambs and flaming torches, especially ones installed in the 19th century. Read our guide to cemetery symbolism.
A cenotaph is an empty tomb or monument in honour of a person or people who are buried elsewhere. The Cenotaph in London commemorates soldiers killed in the First and Second World Wars. See War Memorial. Read our guide to famous war memorials.
Certificate for Burial or Cremation
A Certificate for Burial or Cremation is a certificate issued free of charge after someone's death has been registered, in addition to a death certificate. It is a legal requirement for this certificate to be issued before they can be buried or cremated. See Death Certificate, Burial and Cremation.
A chapel of rest is a room in a funeral home where people can view the body of a loved one who has died. Chapels of rest are not necessarily religious. Read our guide to chapels of rest.
A churchyard is a cemetery attached to a Christian church. See Cemetery.
A coffin is a box made from wood or biodegradable materials such as willow or cardboard, containing the body of someone who has died for burial or cremation. See Casket. Read our guide to choosing a coffin.
A colourful funeral is a type of funeral that ignores traditional protocols and practice, such as black clothing, to focus on celebrating positive memories of the person who has died. See Funeral. Read our guide to colourful funeral ideas.
A committal service is a ceremony at a graveside where the coffin or casket containing someone who has died is buried. It can happen immediately after a funeral service or on a different occasion. Urns containing ashes can also be buried at a committal service. See Urn and Ashes. Read our guide to a committal service.
A coroner is a local government official, usually a trained lawyer or doctor in England and Wales responsible for investigating the circumstances of someone's death if the cause or identity of the person are unknown. See Procurator Fiscal and Inquest. Read our guide to coroners.
See Funeral Procession.
A crematorium is a building in which coffins containing someone who has died are burned. Cremations are usually preceded by funeral services attended by the family and friends of people who have died. See Cremation, Funeral and Garden Of Remembrance. Read our directory of crematoriums.
Danse macabre is a genre of art, literature and music that started in the Middle Ages, which depicts death as an inevitable conqueror of life and a social equaliser. Modern musicians and artists are still influenced by it. Read our guide to Danse Macabre.
A death certificate is a certificate issued to confirm that someone has died when their death is registered at a registry office. Read our guide to registering a death.
A death mask is a mask made from plaster or bronze cast from an impression of someone's face after they have died. They were common until the 19th century, but are no longer made.
A digital legacy is the combined total of a person's assets that exist online or electronically after they die, such as social media accounts, email accounts, online payment accounts, air miles, digital music and films. Read our guide to digital legacies.
Disbursements are bills paid by a funeral director to third parties, on behalf of a family arranging a funeral. These cover costs such as crematorium fees, flowers and hire of a venue for a reception. See Crematorium and Reception. Read our guide to funeral costs.
A DIY funeral is a funeral organised by a bereaved family without the services of a funeral director, although they might receive advice from one. See Funeral and Funeral Director. Read our guide to organising DIY funerals.
An estate is everything owned by a person at the time of their death, including finances, money indebted to them, shares, property and personal possessions. See Will.
Read our guide to handling an estate after someone has died.
Exclusive Right of Burial (EROB)
Exclusive right of burial is the lease of a burial plot for a set period of time; usually 50, 75 or 100 years. The right of burial also includes the right to erect a memorial on the grave. Once the term of an EROB has expired, the owner of the cemetery will contact the closest living relatives of the person buried there to ask if they would like to extend the lease. If they do not, or they cannot be identified or contacted, the grave might be opened up for a new burial. If any remains of the person are still in the grave they will be re-interred below the bottom of the new grave. See Burial. Read our guide to buying a burial plot.
An executor is someone named in a will as the person responsible for managing the estate of someone who has died, usually a close friend or family member. See Will.
Read our guide to removing and substituting executors.
First offices is the process of making a person who has died suitable for their loved ones to view, such as cleaning and washing the body, dressing them and applying makeup. See Viewing and Embalming.
A funeral is a ceremony to commemorate someone's death, before they are buried or cremated, which can be either religious or non-religious, and can feature a eulogy, readings,and songs that reflect the person's life. See Eulogy, Burial, Cremation, Celebration of Life, and Memorial Service. Read our guide to what happens at a funeral.
A funeral arranger is a person who works for a funeral director to arrange the funeral for someone who has died. Funeral directors can sometimes be described as arrangers.See Funeral Director and Funeral.
A funeral celebrant is a person who leads a funeral service. Their duties generally include giving a eulogy in memory of the person who has died. They may be a cleric for a particular religion, or a civil or humanist celebrant. See Funeral, Celebration of Life and Humanist Funeral. Read our guide to celebrants.
A funeral director is a person who arranges a funeral for someone who has died on behalf of a bereaved family. They can organise every detail of a funeral, including preparing the person who has died for cremation or burial, completing paperwork, liaising with churches, crematoria and celebrants, providing funeral transport and pallbearers and arranging funeral flowers, orders of service and music. See Undertaker and Funeral Home. Read our guide to choosing a funeral director.
A funeral hymn is a traditional religious song played at a funeral, such as The Day Thou Gavest, Abide with me or All Things Bright and Beautiful. Read our list of top funeral hymns.
A funeral plan is a scheme by which someone can pay for their own funeral in advance of their death so that their family does not have to do so. Read our guide to funeral plans.
A funeral procession is a ceremonial convoy of vehicles driving at a slow speed to the venue of a funeral. It is often led by the funeral director on foot, followed by the hearse carrying the coffin of the person who has died and other cars containing members of their family. See Hearse. Read our guide to funeral processions.
See Floral Tribute.
The funeral service is a ceremony, lead by a celebrant, before the burial or cremation of someone who has died, in which tributes are given by their family and friends, including eulogies, readings, and music. See Funeral Celebrant, Eulogy and Funeral Hymn. Read our guide to planning a funeral service.
A funeral train carries the coffin of a person who has died to a different location, such as their burial site. Until the early 20th century there were several lines, such as the London Necropolis Railway, that provided scheduled services to bring coffins to large, suburban cemeteries outside of the city. Most funeral trains are specially commissioned vehicles for individuals, such as the Union Pacific 4141 which carried George H. W. Bush’s coffin to his burial site. Read our guide to funeral trains.
A garden of remembrance is an area of land attached to a crematorium where memorials, such as plaques, remembrance roses, and private gardens, are installed to commemorate someone who was cremated there after they died. Ashes can also be scattered in there. See Crematorium, Ashes and Scattering.
A grave is a place in a burial ground where a coffin containing the body of someone who has died is buried, usually with a memorial erected above it. See Gravestone, Memorial, Burial Ground, Cemetery and Natural Burial Ground.
A stone marker for a grave. See Headstone.
An alternative name for a cemetery, usually one that is older or attached to a church. See Cemetery.
A green funeral is a funeral that uses environmentally-friendly practices and materials, such as natural burial and biodegradable coffins. It is sometimes referred to as green burial, natural burial or woodland burial. See Natural Burial and Natural Burial Ground. Read our guide to woodland burial and green funerals
A grief counsellor is a therapist who specialises in supporting people who are grieving after a bereavement. See Bereavement, Bereaved, Grief and Grief Therapy. Read our guide to preparing for your first grief therapy session.
Grief meditation is the practice of spending time focusing on being present in the moment and ignoring distracting thoughts and feelings caused by grief after a loved one has died. See Grief. Read our guide to grief meditation and mindfulness.
A grief retreat is a respite holiday for bereaved people to help them cope with grief after someone has died, in the company of people in similar situations, and supported by grief counsellors. See Grief Counsellor. Read our guide to grief retreats.
Grief therapy is a psychological treatment to help people cope with grief after a loved one has died. This can range from talking therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, to alternative practices such as art therapy, provided by a bereavement support organisation or private practitioner. See Grief Counsellor and Bereavement Support Organisation. Read our guide to grief therapy.
Grief Therapy Dog
A grief therapy dog is a dog that is used to help people, especially children, feel comfortable and relaxed when talking about someone who has died, including at a funeral, usually after passing an assessment. See Grief Therapy. Read our guide to grief therapy dogs.
A headstone is a memorial made from hard material, such as granite, marble, sandstone or slate erected above the grave of someone who has died,with details of their life and an inscription, such as a line of poetry or verse from the Bible. Sometimes called a headstone or tombstone. See Memorial. Read our guide to choosing a headstone.
A hospice is a medical facility that provides palliative care for adults and children with terminal illnesses and life-limiting conditions. See Palliative Care. Read our guide to how to choose a hospice.
A humanist funeral is a secular funeral based on humanist beliefs that focuses on the life and personality of the person who has died rather than the afterlife. Usually led by a Humanist celebrant. See Funeral Celebrant. Read our guide to humanist and non-religious funerals.
The Human Tissue Authority is a non-departmental public body of the Department of Health and Social Care.It regulates organisations that remove and store human tissue for post-mortem examinations and medical research. See Body Donation and Organ Donation. Read our guide to organ donation and tissue donation.
A hymn sheet is a piece of paper with the words and music for a hymn written on it. See Funeral Hymn.
An inquest is an investigation by a coroner in England, Wales and other countries with similar legal systems, such as the USA, Canada and Australia,if the cause of someone's death, or their identity, is unclear. See Coroner. Read our guide to inquests.
See Burial Fees.
Letters of administration is the legal authorisation to act as the administrator of the estate of someone who has died. See Estate, Administrator, Probate and Will. Read our guide to letters of administration.
A living will, officially called an advance directive, is a document recording someone's advance wishes for end-of-life care, if they become unable to state their own wishes at the time. See Palliative Care. Read our guide to advance directives.
Medical Certificate of Cause of Death
A Medical Certificate of Cause of Death is a certificate issued by a doctor confirming the cause of someone's death, which must be presented to register someone's death. See Death Certificate. Read our guide to getting a medical certificate of cause of death.
A memorial bench is a bench dedicated to someone who has died, usually installed in a public park, garden or riverside. Read our guide to how to dedicate a memorial bench.
A memorial mason, sometimes called a monumental mason, is a stonemason who specialises in carving and maintaining headstones. See Headstone.
A memorial service is a ceremony to commemorate the death of someone in addition to a funeral, such as the anniversary of their death, or instead of one. See Funeral and Celebration of Life. Read our guide to memorial services.
Miscarriage, sometimes called pregnancy loss, is the natural death of an embryo or fetus before it can survive outside of its mother's womb, usually at less than 20 weeks. The death of a baby after 20 weeks is usually called stillbirth. See Stillbirth. Read our guides to coping with miscarriage and supporting a parent after a miscarriage.
A mortuary is a room, usually in a hospital or funeral home, where the bodies of people who have died are kept and cared for before they are collected for their funeral. The family of a person who has died can usually view their loved one in the mortuary. See Viewing and Chapel Of Rest.
A mortician, sometimes called a mortuary technician, is someone who prepares the body of a person who has died for burial or cremation, which may involve embalming and dressing them. If the person died as a result of injuries in an accident the mortician might also perform reconstructive surgery, so that their family can view them before the funeral. See Embalming and Viewing. Read our guide to postmortem surgery.
Mourning clothes is a dress code for people in mourning after a loved one has died, such as a spouse, child or parent, that was especially common in the 19th century. The rules for Victorian mourning clothes were largely applied to women and required dressing in black for at least 6 months, and mostly black for several years. See Mourning Jewellery.
Mourning jewellery is a type of jewellery worn in memory of people who have died. It was popular from the Middle Ages until the early 20th century, especially the 19th century. Victorian mourning jewellery was generally black, often made from jet, and decorated with meaningful symbols, such as teardrops, urns, hearts and snakes. See Mourning Clothes. Read our guide to Victorian mourning jewellery.
National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD)
The National Association of Funeral Directors is an organisation that represents funeral directors and suppliers to the funeral profession in the UK and overseas. See Funeral Director, Embalming and Mortician. Read our guide to how to choose a funeral director
Natural burial is a type of burial that requires strict conditions to protect the environment, such as not embalming the body of the person who has died, using biodegradable coffins and memorials made of natural materials, including wood or slate. See Green Funeral. Read our guide to woodland burial and green funerals..
Sometimes called woodland burial grounds, a natural burial ground is a burial ground that only permits natural burials. Many woodland burial grounds are private, but some are managed by churches or councils. See Natural Burial
The next-of-kin is a person designated as someone's closest living relative, who has responsibility for making decisions for them if they become incapacitated or die. See Executor. Read our guide to all you need to know about next of kin.
An obituary is an announcement in a newspaper or website, announcing someone’s death. Often it will describe their life and how much they meant to their family. It may also include details of when and where the funeral is happening. Read our guide to writing an obituary.
See Funeral Celebrant.
Order of Service
An order of service is a sheet of paper with information about a funeral for people attending it, including a brief obituary for the person who has died, and words for prayers, readings and hymns. See Funeral, Obituary and Funeral Hymn. Read our guide to planning a funeral service.
Organ donation is the act of having organs and other body parts, such as heart, lungs, kidneys, or retinas, transplanted into another person; some organs, such as a kidney, can be donated by a living donor, but transplants are usually taken from a person who has died. See Human Tissue Authority. Read our guide to organ donation and tissue donation.
An ossuary is an above-ground container or chamber that contains the bones of people that have died. Read our guide to ossuaries.
A pall is a decorative drape traditionally spread over a coffin at a funeral.
A pallbearer is someone who carries or escorts the coffin at a funeral. Usually either close family or friends of the person who has died, or professionals provided by the funeral director. Pallbearers are traditionally male, but women sometimes do it, regardless of whether the coffin is carried or escorted. Many funeral directors provide their own pallbearers for a funeral. Read our guide to being a pallbearer.
Palliative care is medical and emotional support for a person who is dying, in a hospice, hospital or at home. See Hospice.
A pauper's grave is a grave provided by a local authority for someone who has received a public health funeral, sometimes shared with other people. See Public Health Funeral. Read our guide to public health funerals.
A post-mortem examination is a medical investigation of the body of a person who has died, ordered by a coroner or procurator fiscal and carried out by a pathologist, to discover the cause of their death. See Coroner, Procurator Fiscal and Inquest.
A pre-planned or pre-arranged funeral is a funeral organised in advance of a person’s death, often by the person themselves, and sometimes pre-paid with a funeral plan. See Funeral Plan. Read our guide to funeral plans.
A procurator fiscal is a legal officer employed by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland with responsibility for investigating the circumstances of someone's death if the cause or identity of the person are unknown. See Coroner. Read our guide to coroners.
A public health funeral is a funeral arranged by a local authority for someone whose family is not known, or who have renounced responsibility for them. See Funeral and Pauper's Grave. Read our guide to public health funerals.
A funeral service for a person who identified as a quaker in accordance with quaker beliefs and practices. Anyone can have a quaker funeral if they supported the values of quakerism, even if they were not a member of the Society of Friends during their lifetime. Read our guide to quaker funerals.
Sometimes called a wake, a reception is a gathering after a funeral, which is usually less formal than the service, where mourners can meet to reminisce on the person who has died and support each other. Food and drink is usually served. Read our guide to organising a wake.
Repatriation is the process of bringing a loved one back to their home country if they died abroad. Read our guide to repatriation of a loved one for a funeral abroad.
Scattering is the act of distributing the ashes of someone who has died, usually in a place that was important to the person and their loved ones. See Ashes and Garden of Remembrance. Read our guide to places to scatter ashes.
Social Fund Funeral Payment
A spiritual will is a letter to a loved one containing messages for them after you die. Read our guide to a spiritual will.
A state funeral is a funeral organised by the government of a country that follows pre-determined protocols, such as lying in state and military escorts.
Read our guide to state funerals.
Stillbirth is the birth of a baby that is at least 20 weeks old, who has died before they are born. See Miscarriage. Read our guides to coping with stillbirth and supporting a parent after stillbirth.
Suicide is death caused by someone choosing to kill themselves. Read our guide to coping with bereavement from suicide.
Thanatophobia is a persistent fear of death that can cause symptoms of anxiety and disrupt daily life. Read our guide to Thanatophobia.
'Undertaker' is an alternative, but old-fashioned, name for a funeral director. The term ‘undertaker’ was coined because they undertake to arrange a funeral for bereaved families. Brian Parsons has published a history of the funeral profession called The Undertaker at Work. See Funeral Director.
An urn is a container for keeping the ashes of someone who has died, available in many different materials, shapes and styles. Read our guide to choosing an urn.
A war memorial is a public or private monument to the memory of soldiers or civilians killed in armed conflict. Read our guide to famous war memorials.
Sometimes called alkaline hydrolysis, water cremation is the process of dissolving the body of the person who has died in solution that is 95% hot water and a 5% mixture of potassium and sodium hydroxide. Read our guide to water cremation.
A widow is a woman whose husband has died. Men whose wives have died are called widowers. Read our guide to coping with the loss of a spouse or partner.
Widowed Parent’s Allowance
A will is a legally valid document explaining how a person who has died would like their money and property to be distributed amongst family and friends. It must be signed by the person who has made the will and witnessed by people who are not going to receive anything from it. See Intestate, Executor and Beneficiary Read our guide to wills and probate.
See Natural Burial.
Woodland Burial Ground
Xhosa funerals are the traditional funeral rituals of the Xhosa people of southern Africa, who mainly live in the Republic of South Africa. The most famous Xhosa funeral in recent history was the funeral of Nelson Mandela, the anti-Apparteid activist and former president of South Africa.
Read our guide to famous funerals
Yahrzeit is the observation of the anniversary of a death in the Hebrew calendar, traditionally by Ashkenazi Judaism; it is customary for observers to attend Synagogue and recite Kaddish prayers. Read our guide to Jewish Funerals.
A Zoroastrian funeral is the traditional funeral practice of people who believe in Zoroastrianism. During a traditional Zoroastrian funeral, the bodies of people who have died, which are considered impure, are laid out in isolated platforms called 'Towers of Silence' to be eaten by vultures. Zoroastrians in countries where this practice is illegal have their loved ones cremated. See Funeral and Cremation.