Welcome to the Beyond funeral glossary: your ultimate guide to all the jargon, slang and technical terms you might encounter when arranging a funeral or settling an estate.

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A

Administrator (of the estate): The person legally appointed to settle the estate of someone who died without a will.

Alkaline hydrolysis: A relatively new alternative to burial and cremation, also known as bio-cremation, water cremation or resomation. Alkaline hydrolysis reduces the body of someone who has died to an ash-like substance using heat, pressure, water and potassium hydroxide. It is thought to be more environmentally friendly than traditional cremation.

Application for Cremation: Filled out by the family of the deceased and given to the crematorium, this form gives permission for the cremation to go ahead. Usually, the funeral director will find this form for you. Note that only the person who signs this form can pick up the ashes.

Ashes: The cremated remains of someone who has died.

Autopsy: A medical examination that takes place after someone has died, usually to find the cause of death.

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B

Beneficiary: Someone who is given something in a will or through life insurance.

Bequest: Property, funds, belongings or assets that are given to another person according to the terms of your will. For example, if you write your will so that Karen will get your stamp collection when you die, Karen is a beneficiary and the stamp collection is a bequest.

Bereaved: Someone who is mourning a person who has died; often used to describe the immediate family of the deceased.

Bereavement Support Payment: A form of government financial support for the spouse or civil partner of someone who has died. You may be eligible if you are under state pension age and your partner has paid National Insurance for 25+ weeks in a single tax year.

Bier: A kind of table, stand or frame on which the body of someone who has died is placed before they are buried. Some biers now have wheels in order to allow transportation.

Burial: The placement of the body of someone who has died in the ground.

Burial plot: A patch of land used (or intended to be used) for a burial.

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C

Casket: A container designed to hold the body of someone who has died. A casket has four sides, while a coffin has six. Both can be made of wood, wicker, cardboard and plastic.

Catafalque: A decorated wooden platform or frame on which the body of someone who has died is placed, usually during the funeral or when the body is viewed.

Celebrant: A person who plans, oversees and carries out a non-religious funeral service.

Cemetery: A place where the bodies or remains of people who have died are buried. Sometimes called a graveyard or burial ground.

Cenotaph: A memorial that commemorates someone whose remains are elsewhere. For example, many of those who died in World War II were buried in Europe, so cenotaphs were erected in the UK to honour them.

Chapel of Rest: A place where family and friends can visit their loved one before the funeral.

Chattels: A legal term used in wills to refer to personal belongings, such as jewellery. Technically, pets are also a kind of chattel.

Codicil: A change made to update or add to an existing will.

CoffinA container designed to hold the body of someone who has died. A coffin has six sides and is narrower at one end, whereas a casket has four sides. Both can be made of wood, wicker, cardboard and plastic.

Commissioner for Oaths: Appointed by the Chief Justice, a Commissioner for Oaths is someone with the authority to administer oaths and verify affidavits. They are often (but not always) solicitors.

Committal/ committal service: A memorial service (or part of one) that takes place just ahead of the placement of the body in the ground or a crematory. A graveside funeral service.

Columbarium: A columbarium is a wall, room or building with niches for holding urns. The term comes from the original name for a dovecote, a house with niches for doves or pigeons. The Latin term for dove is “columba”.

Conveying: Moving someone who has died. For example, taking them from the hospital to the funeral home, or from the funeral home to the funeral service.

Coroner: The Coroner’s job is to investigate any deaths where the cause is unknown or suspicious.

Cortège: Another word for the funeral procession, during which the deceased is taken from the funeral home to the service, then the burial ground, with the family and friends following behind.

Cremains: Another word for ashes; cremated remains.

Cremation: Cremation turns the body of someone who has died into ashes using heat.

Crematorium: A room or building in which bodies are cremated. Many crematoriums also provide a space for funeral services to be held.

Cremator/y: A machine used to cremate the body of someone who has died.

Crypt: An underground chamber (often beneath a church) used to house the remains of people who have died.

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D

Death Certificate: The official certificate stating that a death has taken place, given to the family by the Registry Office in which the death was registered. Not to be confused with the ‘Medical Certificate of Cause of Death’.

Death duties: An older way of referring to Inheritance Tax, a one-off government payment from the estate of someone who has died. Only applicable if the estate’s value is over a certain threshold.

Death notice: A public announcement that someone has died, also sharing the time and location of the funeral. Usually published in a newspaper for a fee.

Direct burial: When someone is buried without a funeral service, sometimes without family present at the burial.

Direct cremation: A less expensive cremation, where someone is cremated without a funeral service or any family present at the cremation.

Disbursement fees: Funeral costs for services not provided by the funeral director, such as for the burial or cremation, hiring a minister or celebrant, catering, or flowers.

Disposition: The way in which a body is finally laid to rest. For example, a burial or a cremation.

DIY funeral: A funeral arranged without the help of a funeral director.

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E

Eco-friendly funeral: A funeral that is meant to have the least-possible impact on the natural environment. An eco-friendly funeral might include an electric hearse, a woven or cardboard coffin (or a shroud), and a ‘natural’ burial in a green space, such as a woodland. They don’t include embalming, and often don’t include a headstone or physical grave marker.

Embalming: A process used to preserve a body for longer after death. Sometimes called ‘hygienic treatment’ instead.

Entomb: To place a body in a crypt.

Estate: Everything owned by the person who has died, such as their money, stocks, shares, belongings, land and property, as well as any funds in pension schemes and life insurance policies. A will can be created to determine who will receive which part of your estate.

Estate administration: The entire process of settling the estate after someone has died, from collecting and dividing up assets according to the will (see ‘Probate’) to notifying companies and paying debts.

Eulogy: A speech given at a funeral celebrating the person’s life.

Eulogist: The person giving or writing the eulogy.

Executor (of the will/estate): Named in the will, the executor is the person who has been chosen to settle the estate of someone who has died.

Exhumation: To take a body that has been buried back out of the ground. Most often, this is for reburial in another location, but bodies are also exhumed for autopsy when new evidence challenges the original cause of death.

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F

Funeral: A ceremony that commemorates and celebrates the life of someone who has died.

Funeral director: A professional whose role is to organise funerals. Depending of the level of help and support a family needs, this can cover a wide range of services – primarily collecting and storing the body before burial (or cremation) and arranging the burial or cremation, but also sourcing the coffin, flowers, catering and transport as needed. You can compare local funeral directors here.

Funeral Expenses Payment: Financial assistance given to the recently bereaved by the government. To apply, you must be receiving certain benefits (such as income support).

Funeral procession: See ‘cortege’.

Funeral spray: A floral arrangement that is usually placed on top of the coffin or casket. While flowers are traditional, some pretty creative and unique alternative funeral sprays (such as vegetables) are now available.

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G

Gratuity: In a funeral context, this is a voluntary payment for services that have been given for free.

Grant of probate: An official document that establishes your right to access and settle the estate of someone who has died. A grant of probate is only applied for in cases where there is a valid will. If no will exists, you need to apply for letters of administration, which will serve the same purpose.

Grant of representation: A catch-all term used to refer to both grants of probate and letters of administration. A grant of representation is an official document that establishes your right to access and settle the estate of someone who has died.

Grave marker: An object placed to help visitors find and visit the place someone has been buried. While gravestones and tombstones (permanent stone grave markers) are the most common type, there are alternatives, such as plaques or planting trees.

Gravestone: A permanent stone marker placed over the spot someone has been buried, usually bearing their name and a few words about them

Graveside service: See ‘committal service’.

Graveyard: See ‘cemetery’.

Green Certificate for Burial / Cremation: This form is given to the family by the Registry Office after the death is registered, and should be then given to the funeral director. It confirms that the cremation or burial can go ahead.

Green funeral: See ‘eco-friendly funeral’.

Guardian: In the context of a will, a guardian is someone you nominate to take care of your children if both you and their other parent die before they turn 18.

Guardian’s Allowance: A small weekly tax-free payment given to anyone looking after the children of someone who has died by the government.

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H

Half-couch casket: A casket with a lid that is divided into two parts, so that the head and shoulders of the person who has died can be viewed while their body remains covered.

Headstone: See ‘gravestone’.

Hearse: A vehicle designed to transport the bodies of people who have died. While most hearses are simply cars with a long platform at the back, some funeral directors now offer interesting alternatives, such as hearse carriages driven by horses, motorcycles, lorries and electric hearses.

Humanist funeral: A non-religious funeral that follows Humanist principles: celebrating and commemorating the life of the person who has died without speaking about religion or any kind of afterlife.

Hygienic treatment: See ’embalming’.

Honorarium: See ‘gratuity’.

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I

Individual pet cremation: A cremation for a pet that guarantees that they are the only pet in the crematory chamber. This is important if you’d like to be certain that you’ll receive the ashes of just your pet, and no others.

Inheritance Tax: A one-off tax taken from the estate of someone who has died in cases where the estate is worth more than the established threshold.

Interment: The burial of the deceased.

Intestate: If someone dies without leaving a will, they die ‘intestate’. In these cases, their estate goes to the closest family member by law.

Inurnment: The act of putting ashes in an urn, and then placing the urn in its final resting place.

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J

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K

Keepsake: A container designed to hold a very small amount of ashes, usually worn. For example, a locket or bracelet.

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L

Lair: Scottish in origin. A lair is a patch of land used (or set aside for) for the burial of someone who has died.

Lot: Another term for a burial plot. This term is usually used before the plot is occupied.

Letter of administrationAn official document that establishes your right to access and settle the estate of someone who has died. Letters of administration are only applied for in cases where there is no valid will. If a valid will exists, you need to apply for a grant of probate instead.

Living will: Also referred to as an ‘advanced decision’, a living will is a document that states how you would like to be treated and what you’d like to happen in the event that you are incapacitated and unable to make or communicate your wishes. For example, a living will can can be used to refuse certain types of medical treatment.

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M

Mass card: A Catholic practice, mass cards are sent to let people know that a particular person (such as someone who has died) will be remembered and prayed for at Mass.

Mausoleum: A stone building used for burial above ground.

Medical Certificate of Cause of Death: Not to be confused with the Death Certificate (see above),  this form is completed by a medical professional – usually the doctor caring for your loved one at the time of their death – to officially confirm the time, date, and cause of their death. Families need this form to register the death at the Registry Office.

Medical forms 4 and 5: These medical forms release a body for cremation. Form 4 is completed by a doctor who cared for your loved one at the time of their death, while form 5 is filled out by a separate doctor with no prior involvement, These can be picked up by the funeral director, but families now have the right to view them if requested.

Memorial: A memorial is an object created or erected in order to commemorate or honour someone who has died. Grave markers, gravestones, monuments and cenotaphs are all types of memorial, as are benches with commemorative plaques or trees and gardens planted to help remember someone.

Memorial jewellery: Jewellery designed to help a bereaved person honour and remember someone who has died. While some types of memorial jewellery are designed to contain ashes or locks of hair, others are simply engraved with a name or initials, or contain a picture of the person who has died.

Memorial service: A ceremony help to commemorate and celebrate the life of someone who has died. Much like a funeral, but without a body present.

Mirror wills: Wills created by two partners that are extremely similar or identical, usually used so that the estate of whoever dies first goes to the other partner.

Mortician: Someone who takes care of the body of someone who has died, getting them ready for burial or cremation. Not all morticians can (or will) embalm bodies, but most can prepare them for viewing in other, less involved ways. While many funeral directors are also morticians, not all morticians are funeral directors, as the role doesn’t include making other funeral arrangements.

Mortuary: The room or building in which the bodies of people who have died are stored before they are buried or cremated.

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N

Natural burial: A kind of burial designed to have a minimal or even positive impact on the environment. Natural burials usually take place in green spaces, such as meadows or woodlands, and usually involve woven coffins or shrouds made from natural fabric. They do not include embalming or stone memorials. See ‘eco-friendly funeral’.

Next of kin: Your closest living relative. If you are married, your spouse is usually considered your next of kin. If not, it falls to your children, and so on. If you die without a will, and there isn’t anyone who can be considered your next of kin, the Crown (the state, essentially) receives your entire estate.

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O

Officiant: Someone who conducts a funeral service, such as a religious representative or celebrant.

Obituary: A news article announcing a person’s death. It usually describes their life and achievements.

Order for burial / cremation: Used instead of the Green Certificate when the Coroner is involved.

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P

Pallbearer: One of the six to eight people chosen to carry the coffin to the burial site or crematorium.

Post-mortem: A medical examination that takes place soon after someone has died, usually to find out the cause of death.

Pre-plan funeral: A funeral that is planned out and potentially also paid for before someone dies.

Probate: Part of estate administration, probate is the process of  accessing and dividing up the estate in the way set out in the Will, or (if there is no Will) according to family wishes and UK inheritance laws.

Procession: See ‘cortege’.

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Q

Sorry! Our glossary hasn’t any funeral terms beginning with q yet. Want to suggest a definition? Add it to the comments below, or call us on 020 8629 1600 for an instant response.

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R

Registry Office: A local government office that can help you register a death. Births, marriages and civil partnerships are recorded here as well.

Resomation: See ‘alkaline hydrolysis’.

Repatriation: In the context of a funeral, repatriation is a process that includes collecting the body of someone who has died abroad and bringing them back to their home country. National repatriation means collecting them from somewhere far away but technically in the same country. Many funeral directors offer repatriation, but some will charge extra for the service.

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S

Secular: Non-religious.

State room: See ‘Chapel of Rest’.

Survivors: A term used for the family members left behind by the person who has died.

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T

Tombstone: See ‘gravestone’.

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U

Undertaker: See ‘funeral director’.

Urn: A special container for ashes after cremation.

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V

Viewing: In this context, a viewing is a visit to the person who has died before they are buried. Usually, the family will ask the funeral director to arrange a viewing, and answer a few questions about how they would like their loved one to be presented. The funeral director will then prepare the body of the person who has died and place them in the Chapel of Rest to be visited.

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W

Wake: A memorial gathering for friends and family, usually with food and drink. Traditionally, wakes are held before the funeral, but many are now used to celebrate the deceased after the funeral.

Water cremation: See ‘alkaline hydrolysis’.

Will: A legal document that sets out what will happen to your estate (including your house, belongings and money) when you die. It also names an executor, who will have the job of making sure the wishes in your will are carried out.

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X, Y, Z

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