Undertakers - The Complete Guide

  • Is there any difference between a Funeral Director and an Undertaker?
  • Can Undertakers be trusted and taken at face value?
  • Should you let such a service organise everything or do some yourself?

However, since the later 14th Century this has been the term used to describe an assistant and attributed to someone who deals with the matters of death.


It may even have stuck because of the connotation that not only does the person under take the death duties but also the body is placed under and then the soul presumably freed / taken. 


Over the last century the terms use has declined and has been overtaken by funeral director, home or parlour.

Why are undertakers called undertakers?


There are many names for an Undertaker, Funeral Director is one other.


Over the years we tend to move away from titles that are a reminder of the morbid affair of death and opt for a term that is a little more bereavement friendly.


An undertaker is named merely on the basis that he or she under takes what we don’t wish to. In modern day terms such a title may have been a lacky or wallah.


How much do undertakers charge?

  • The cost of a funeral today is around the low to mid four figures.
  • It would not be unusual to be charged between £2000 and £4000 for a funeral in a city. 
  • This cost may decline the further into the sticks and countryside you live. 
  • This would also depend on availability of burial plots and cost thereof.


You are not obliged to purchase all or any specific service from an undertaker, they serve the public just as any other business would. 


If you simply wish for the paperwork to be handled such as death certificate, government notices, death notices to newspapers and burial plot number organised with the local council that is all you need buy.


However do note that there will be a basic fee for the undertaker’s time and expertise. You don’t necessarily have to purchase the coffin, casket or urn through them. Nor take up offers of funeral cortege with vehicle hire, additional flower arrangements, catering or pallbearers but these are options for you to consider.


The good news about this service is there tends not to be hidden fees. Though the standard of each item may be upgradeable or ‘accessorised’ making individual purchases a little bit more costly.


Such as choice of wood for a coffin or material to be used within a casket, you could opt for simple order of service but request a further Graveside service at time of burial too. You can ask in advance for details on price and there is no rush to decide while the Undertaker is present.


Take your time, talk to family members and decide which price plan or funeral options are available to the budget. Whether money will come from the deceased’s estate, from a funeral plan or out of your own pockets.

What do undertakers actually do?

  • For many people in society Undertakers are the first port of call when they have been notified of someone's death.
  • If a relative passes away it is normal for proceedings to handle that person's death to have already begun, either by a coroner, a hospital or the police.
  • Depending on whether an accident, natural death or suspicious, the death certificate may have already been signed, in which case a funeral director or yourself, can arrange for a funeral to take place.

There are many elements involved in funeral planning, bring different parts, businesses and professions together to enact the final goodbye takes skill but foremost, knowledge.


Knowing who to contact at a local government level to notify of the death, submit paperwork for burial permission. Let’s see what else they can organise:


  • Oversee Embalming if necessary and religious rites where required and enlist the services of a funeral cosmetologist / mortician. Store the deceased, dress and arrange for viewings.

  • Due to extensive contacts in the industry and at a local and international level, can organise everything from ordering a mausoleum to repatriation either back to the UK or to another country, dealing with all paperwork as necessary.

  • Putting together a Eulogy, a speech about the deceased’s life is not an easy task.

    They will use the short time they have with you to discuss the person’s past, what motivated them in life, the achievements they made and what they cared most about, people, family, subjects, hobbies, politics. From this they can supply a celebrant the correct information and also notify publications for death notifications to the wider public.

  • Whether Cremation or Burial, an Order of Service can be put together, again based on the personal traits of the deceased. Readings, psalms, scriptures to reflect the person so that those in attendance can recognise and understand better the person who has died.

  • Undertakers tend not to be representative of a single denomination, therefore if Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Agnostic, wishing for religious funeral, green or non-denominational, a funeral can be arranged no matter the background.

Can I have a funeral without an undertaker?

Yes, you do not have to use a third party to arrange a funeral, especially if you wish to save costs or you have experience of organising a funeral in the past and would like to put that to good use. There are no laws pertaining to using external services, however you will need to do all the paperwork and funeral arrangements yourself.


Items of note will be: 


  • Obtaining death certificate and notifying authorities, 
  • Discuss with the executor of the estate or if you are one and the same, 
  • Ensure any payment for the funeral is drawn down on remaining balance ahead of time.
  • You will also need to decide what is important. 
  • Notifying family and friends via death notice, arranging a burial plot if required and obtaining permission and a plot number. 
  • Arrange a venue, Church, graveyard, crematorium and talk to a celebrant and local religious leaders to discuss Order of Service.
  • A coffin or casket or urn will need purchasing. 
  • Right down to organising how a coffin or casket will be buried, 
  • hiring people to dig a grave, 
  • pallbearers, 
  • transport and everything you’d expect of an undertaker.

Undertaker V Undertaker

If you don’t have a family undertaker – don’t worry they don’t to be passed along like doctors do but uncannily a family of funeral directors do tend to attend to the same kin over the years – then you’ll need to compare undertakers and their services as much as possible.


Many people work off the basis of recommendations, from work colleagues, relatives or friends. 


At such a difficult and emotionally stressful time we don’t need to be further hampered by other problems in such a short period of time.


There are a few comparison points to make marks against:

  • Are they attached to a specific religion or can they arrange to exact specifications of religious rites without being kept an eye on.

  • Cost will be an important factor, compare on the particulars you are most likely to purchase; coffin, transport, celebrant, death notice, flowers, headstone etc. Are they local or national?

  • Today even national undertakers are a chain, meaning that a funeral will be organised at a local level by either an independent funeral home with minimum standards met or one operating under the name of the chain, to their company standards.
  • The difference will usually be cost but tailored options may be higher.

Reviews of main undertakers

Like with many industries, a local business tends to grow and take on neighbouring businesses in an area.


Then it grows to encompass more facilities in a County, City until it can offer partner services nationwide based on a certain product, principle or service. In this instance a nationwide undertakers would focus on all three.


Here’s a quick run down of a select few of these funeral directors that work under the same umbrella company.


This is a network of over 1000 funeral homes and undertakers across the United Kingdom.

The nature of their business make up, a co-operative, means it is run primarily for its members and with their concerns at the heart.

Therefore whether you’re buying a funeral for the now or in advance with a funeral plan, you have local and national support if required.

This undertaker operations nationwide at over 800 locations but also oversees the organisation and upkeep of several dozen cemeteries and crematoria around the UK.


On top of the usual funeral service offerings you can also gain legal advice and support surrounding the legalities of death and finding comfort after bereavement.

Primarily a funeral plan provider, you can choose to pay up to 12 months to five years or more in advance. Not only can they offer above standard funeral service but also ECO and Green funeral services too.


Rather than an owning a network of undertakers, they have partners who resell their plans and accommodate funeral plan holders nationwide at the time of need.

Problems with undertakers - Tonight investigation

There have been documentaries in the last decades both on Channel Four’s Despatches and ITV’s Tonight programme. These sought to unearth the terrible behaviour and practices of some of the UK’s funeral director and Undertakers. In a cross between investigative journalism and reality TV – use of Camera recording, it shone a light into what is a very behind the scenes operation. Without a doubt if we as human relate to death on a daily basis, it would be nigh on possible for everyone to be without humour in their day job. That said, dealing with relatives and a body does require some sense of respect and these programmes unearthed various practices that shocked the audience. Without going into great detail, some embalmed bodies were not refrigerated, some customers abused verbally and others parted with sums of money deemed unnecessary. While programmes like this are correct to reveal the bad aspects of any business, we don’t feel it is the norm. Also do your research, get recommendations where possible and compare prices on services.

What is a body disposal ? How do you book a body disposal?

It is illegal in the UK to hamper any investigation into the reason for death. It is also illegal to get dispose of a body without first informing the authorities, gaining permission to do so and seeing out the processes in a legitimate manner.


Although body disposal appears a more functional term, burial and cremation are the two most common forms of body disposal and you book these processes either via an undertaker or yourself through religious leaders or employees and crematoriums and church graveyards.


While burying a loved one or cremating the deceased for storage in a Urn or for scattering is common place, there are other ingenious ways in which to return ourselves to the Earth and our surroundings. Let’s look at a few:


  • This may seem a little disturbing but Human Composting has been gaining support in some quarters, otherwise termed Recomposition it would be the enactment of turning a decomposed body into soil. It’s currently taking the legal route through American courts and may yet be a long way off inception.

  • A less matter of fact way to return to nature is via a Green Burial.

    By way of an unmarked grave a body can be laid to rest in woodland or a field where nature is left to run wild. No Graveyard, no mausoleum, just pristine countryside and a GPS co-ordinate of the burial site.

  • Taking the lead from centuries of urn and coffin usage, come two unique ideas.

    Eternal Reefs and Bios Urns. Both involve mixing ashes with other materials to form something new that is good for the environment and world at large. The latter seeing a urn planted with seedling, and tree growing from the ashes and the former, a reef side burial plot.

  • You may have taken a walk around a Church yard and noticed some headstones that have been present for a few hundred years.

    Today, people wish for the opposite and choose biodegradable coffins which once placed in the ground decompose quicker and as nature intended, freeing up the plot for someone else in several months time. Green embalming may also be used.

  • The stuff of Batman films is a reality, a body can now be freeze dried which could be said is a much better process than that of cremation.

    It’s named Promession and a body can be reduced to 30% of its original mass and 1 mm particles to be used in many different ‘return to Earth’ products. Technically, the body is frozen, encased in liquid nitrogen and shaken for two minutes and then freeze dried.
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