Who pays for a funeral?
The cost of a funeral is usually met out of the estate of the person that has died. If there are insufficient funds, the executor is personally liable. Where the deceased has not left a Will the person arranging the funeral (normally their next of kin) is liable to meet the funeral costs.
A person named as an executor in a Will is not under any legal obligation to act in that capacity. If, however, they do so, they are subject to certain legal obligations, the first of which is to make appropriate arrangements for disposal of the remains. The reasonable cost of a funeral is always the first thing that has to be met from a deceased's estate and takes priority over all creditors including the Inland Revenue. Further advice on the role of an executor can be obtained from a Solicitor or Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
The council's role
For those who have not made arrangements, or have not left the financial resources to pay for their funeral and there are no relatives in a position to make the arrangements, then it is the council's duty to bury or cremate the body. In such cases, Chesterfield Borough Council's Environmental Health team (telephone 01246 345161) takes on this role to fulfil a legal obligation under the provisions of the Public Health (Control of Diseases) Act 1984. The council may seek to recover expenses incurred in connection with the burial or cremation. In cases where there are assets that exceed the cost of the funeral, property clearance costs, etc., this would be taken from the estate of the deceased to limit the cost to the people of Chesterfield.
The council normally acts on written instructions received from the local coroner's officer. In some instances the managers of residential homes, and sheltered accommodation advise of circumstances where a death has occurred within their home/accommodation and, as far as they know, there are no relatives willing or able to make the funeral arrangements.
However, if the death occurs in a hospital the hospital trust is responsible for making arrangements and queries should be addressed to the unit’s manager.
What happens to the person's property and personal effects?
To begin with, the council will collect the deceased's personal effects from the police. Where known, the residence of the deceased will be searched to try and find a will or any other documents that will indicate the existence of any relatives, religious beliefs or funeral preferences. This particular aspect of our work is regarded as an extremely important service, which is carried out with considerable care and consideration. Where details of family and friends are found, these will be informed of the death and invited to make the funeral arrangements. Close relatives will be asked to confirm in writing that they are not prepared to make arrangements for the funeral.
If the deceased left furniture or other personal effects, the council will make arrangements for the disposal of these items. If possible, property is sold and the money offset against the cost of the funeral. Where the person's possessions are of little monetary value, the cost of clearing the property is normally met by the council as part of the funeral costs. At the discretion of the council, personal items such as photographs are normally offered to the family.
When and where will the funeral be held?
The services of a funeral director, nominated by the council, are employed and a burial or a cremation is then arranged to take place at one of the council's cemeteries or at the Chesterfield and District Crematorium. The cost of the funeral is met by the council but is limited to paying for the basic essentials only. If the wishes of the deceased are known, we will always endeavour to meet these. Both cremation and burial options are available and the council registers the death and takes responsibility for disposing of all the deceased’s belongings to recover its costs. Where relatives are known the balance of any estate, after all known debts have been settled, is paid to the next of kin. Where there are no relatives, the balance is paid to the chancellor of the exchequer.
Burial or cremation?
No matter whether the funeral is a burial or cremation, a committal service always takes place in either the crematorium chapel or at the graveside and, on those few occasions when no mourners are present, a council officer is always present. Any known family and friends will be advised of the date and time of the funeral and are able to attend if they wish to do so. In all cases, an appropriate religious or non-religious ceremony would be arranged in accordance (as far as possible) with the deceased's beliefs. Where possible, the minister or officiant conducting the service will have a chance to speak to the family before the service to make the service a personal one. Where there are going to be mourners present, a hymn may also be included.
Cremated remains of the deceased are usually scattered in the garden of remembrance unless other specific instructions are found amongst the deceased's possessions or in a will. For burials, an interment will take place in a non-private grave. No memorial is permitted on the grave unless the Exclusive Right of Burial is purchased.
Occasionally, families in receipt of certain state benefits may be able to obtain financial assistance towards meeting the cost of a relative’s funeral. In these circumstances, enquiries should initially be directed to the Department responsible for issuing your particular state benefit.
Where no other arrangements have been made, or if you require any further assistance, please contact Environmental Health Services:
Phone: 01246 345161
Fax: 01246 345760