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6 common questions about planning a funeral

08 February 2022
the boyd renowden chapel in sunlight

"What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

Thucydides

Planning a funeral – whether you are organising your own in advance or are organising one for somebody you loved – can be a strange experience. On the surface of it, it seems like funerals are quite simple and the process will be very straightforward. But it’s important to understand that you have options and that every funeral can be as unique as you wish it to be.

Let's start with a very common question:

Do you have to have a funeral?

No. There are no laws in Australia that make you mark somebody’s death with a funeral service or ceremony. But there are rules around what you can do with their body.

It’s important to note here that if you have firm views about not having a funeral or even just how your funeral service should play out, you need to tell your loved ones or the executor of your will. While you might detail your preferences in your will, depending on the circumstances, your will might not be read until after you are buried or cremated.

While your executor is not obligated to follow your wishes (except when it comes to cremation vs burial – they cannot cremate you if you have expressly wished to be buried), in the majority of cases, families and friends will do as you ask.

Do you have to use a funeral director?

No, you do not. Throughout most of Australia you can legally arrange almost all aspects of a funeral without using the services of a funeral director. That said, it can be much easier to hire a funeral director to help pull together the arrangements and make sure the appropriate laws and procedures are followed.

Can you be buried at your own home?

In Victoria, you cannot bury human remains outside a public cemetery without approval from the Secretary to the Department of Health. The department will usually only consider private burials where pre-existing burials exist at that location.

You may bury cremated remains on private property without department approval.

Do I have to be buried or cremated?

Here in Australia, there are not many options available apart from burial or cremation. If you have a demonstrated connection to the sea (ex-navy, fisherman or mariner) you can apply for a permit to be buried at sea. Most other after-life options include the use of cremains (cremated ashes). There are a surprising number of options in this space which include anything from using your ashes to create organic tree pods to being transformed into a diamond.

You also have the option of donating your body to an institution such as a university for help with education and research. Donation of your body is different to organ donation as it involves the use of the whole body as opposed to a single part. There is not a single entity in Australia that manages this process, should you wish to donate your body you will need to make arrangements directly with your chosen institution. In addition to contributing to society, this option has the benefit of being cost free.

Can I have a funeral at the beach or in a park?

Funeral services can be held anywhere that it is legal to gather together with friends and families. Funeral services that are held at the beach or parks will generally need council permission and have some added logistics to consider such as the weather, how busy is it at different times of day and the like.

You might also like to hold your funeral service at your house or garden. Traditional services requiring the services of a priest, rabbi or minister might also have additional constraints but if a traditional service is your preference, we encourage you to discuss this directly with your place of worship.

Do I have to have a coffin?

No. There is no law that says you must have a coffin to be buried, but a body does need to be covered with a shroud or suitable covering. A body must be transported in the cemetery in a coffin or similar container, and cremations must also occur in a coffin or similar container. We recommend you contact your funeral director or cemetery to discuss their specific requirements for burials and cremations.

That said, there are many different options when it comes to coffins – from solid timber through to biodegradable eco options. If you are looking for greener or more personal alternatives, there are a number of companies across Australia that offer bespoke products.

If you have further questions, or for assistance planning a service, please contact us.