About three-quarters of UK funerals involve a cremation, and although the ceremony might be short, you can make it as personal as you wish.

Forms required for a cremation

If you’re using a funeral director, they should deal with the necessary paperwork on your behalf. When you registered the death you should have been given a certificate for burial or cremation (green form), which you should pass to the funeral director.

They should go through certain forms with you, such as Cremation 1 (the application for cremation) and the Particulars (what you would like to do with the ashes). The funeral director should send all the forms to the crematorium in good time for the service so that they can authorise the cremation.

If you’re organising the cremation yourself, the crematorium will supply forms to apply for a cremation and to give you instructions about what happens to the ashes after the service. Ask the crematorium when they need the forms returned by. Some ask for the forms to be there two to three days before the service, while others only ask for 24 hours.

What happens at a cremation?

There is most commonly a funeral service prior to cremation, and this can be held anywhere – at home, in a community centre, a church or in the crematorium chapel.

On arrival at the crematorium, the mourners usually assemble outside and follow the coffin into the crematorium. Sometimes people prefer to enter the chapel and sit down before the coffin is brought in, or have the coffin brought in before the mourners arrive.

When the words of committal are spoken, the coffin may be concealed from sight by a curtain or doors, or left in place until the mourners have left. In most crematoria the coffin will only be moved to the committal room to await cremation once the service has ended, and family and friends have left the room.

Each coffin is loaded individually into a cremator after the name on the coffin plate has been checked by the crematorium staff. Once the committal has been made, it’s illegal to remove the coffin or anything from it, other than the flowers.

When the cremation process is complete, after two or three hours, the ashes are removed. Any metals, such as hip implants, are separated out. The human remains are then ground to evenly textured ashes, which are put into a labelled container.

Staff ensure that there is correct identification of the remains throughout the cremation process, because people are often anxious to know they have the right ashes.

How long will the service last?

Crematoria work to a strict appointments system, so services must be fairly short, unless a special booking is made for a longer period, which will cost extra.

Most crematoria allow 30 minutes between ceremonies, some allow 45 minutes, and a few only 20 minutes. If you want more time, some people choose to have the committal first and then hold a longer, more celebratory event afterwards at another venue.

Pacemakers and other implants

You will be asked whether your loved one had a pacemaker or any other medical implants. Some of these items have to be removed before cremation as they can cause damage. This can be done by the hospital or the funeral director, and there may be a charge.

Music at the crematorium

Music is often part of the service, from having something playing as people come in, during a time of reflection or prayer and to mark the departure of the coffin. An organ is usually available (you will need to pay for an organist) or music can be played over a sound system or performed live, allowing a more personal choice.

If you’d like to bring CDs or a music player, it’s strongly recommended that you give these to the funeral director in advance of the service. Make sure they are clearly labelled and specify which tracks are to be played and when.

Disposal of the ashes

The ashes are normally given to the funeral director. You can ask the funeral director to look after them at the funeral home for a while if you need time to decide what you’re going to do.

If you’re collecting the ashes from the crematorium yourself, they are usually ready on the day following the funeral, although they may be obtained on the same day if the funeral is taking place before midday. A Certificate of Cremation will be provided with the ashes.  

Scattering the ashes at the crematorium

The crematorium grounds are usually known as a garden of remembrance. Such ground is not usually consecrated and the place where ashes are scattered is not normally marked. Some crematoria scatter the ashes around on the surface of the grass or earth, while others bury them under the turf.  

Disposal of the ashes elsewhere

Ashes can be buried in a casket in a graveyard or green burial grounds (see planning a burial). However, there is no law about what happens to cremated remains and they can be scattered anywhere, provided this is done respectfully and with the consent of the owners of private grounds.

The funeral director can arrange to scatter the ashes for clients in a chosen site, but many people choose to scatter the ashes at a location that was special to the deceased. You can either choose to scatter the ashes very soon after the funeral, or at a later time, perhaps on a significant date, such as a birthday or anniversary.

If you dispose of the ashes yourself:

  • make sure you have the landowner’s permission
  • bear in mind that many people are surprised at the volume of ashes when they scatter them
  • check the wind direction so that the ashes will scatter away from the mourners.

Scattering the ashes at sea or in the sky

There are companies who deliver and scatter ashes almost anywhere in (or beyond) the world – including into space via fireworks or rockets – but be aware that not all courier companies will agree to transport cremated remains.

You can ask the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI)  to help scatter ashes at sea. This is at the discretion of the coxswain of the local crew, and a donation to the RNLI would be expected.

What if we don’t collect the ashes?

Some crematoria will keep ashes for up to one month, or longer, before making a charge to store them. Before this happens, the crematorium must give 14 days’ notice by writing to the person on the documentation at the time of cremation. If there has been no prior instruction, the ashes are strewn in the garden of remembrance.

Related pages

  • What to do after someone has died: while there is no need to rush to do anything in particular when a loved one has died, there are a few necessities over the following days; read this article to find out what to do.
  • Choosing a funeral director: find out the best way to choose a funeral director and the key questions to ask to ensure you get the funeral you wish for. 
  • Looking after yourself: advice for looking after both yourself and others following the death of a loved one.

The EPiC Resource Centre is kindly sponsored by Cleenol: working for a cleaner, safer, kinder world.