Ditch the funeral director? Aussies could save thousands with DIY services

Many Australians are choosing to forego funeral directors and go for a DIY option. Source: Getty

The thought of planning a funeral after a loved one dies can be stressful and heartbreaking – not to mention the costs that come with it. But the process may not be as difficult or pricey as some may think, with many Aussies now choosing to ditch funeral directors all together, an investigation has found.

Instead of hiring the services of a professional, a growing number of Australians are opting for a DIY option, organising everything from transporting the deceased person’s body to even lowering it into the grave.

In fact, throughout Australia you can legally arrange almost all aspects of a funeral without using the services of a funeral director, the first of a three-part investigation by Choice found. Along with washing and preparing the body for viewing, in most jurisdictions you can also transport the body from a hospital or nursing home into storage or interstate and drive it to the ceremony and the crematorium or cemetery.

Australians are also allowed to keep the body at home until the funeral, or choose not to move it from there at all by having the ceremony in the comfort of their home.

When it comes to arranging the finer details of the funeral, people can easily arrange the funeral themselves and organise speakers, the investigation claimed. You don’t need a funeral director to buy a coffin either, with those in Tasmania even able to instil the help of a coffin club to help build their own.

From there, the option for family and friends to carry the coffin as a pallbearer is available, while they can also lower the body into the grave or watch it go into the furnace at the crematorium.

Although it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, according to Jenny Briscoe-Hough, the founder of a nonprofit funeral home, the trend has really taken off with a number of clients choosing to be more involved in carrying out the funeral.

Since it was first created, the social enterprise has organised hundreds of funerals with almost half of its clients choosing to come into the mortuary to help prepare the body.

“They sometimes start out not wanting to do anything and by the end of it, they’re doing everything, including washing and dressing the body and helping us place it in a coffin,” Briscoe-Hough explained.

However, there are a few things to consider before choosing the DIY method, with a number of small details usually requiring the assistance of funeral directors.

First off, registering a death isn’t made easy for those who aren’t in the funeral business. While the forms themselves are straight forward, several offices for births, deaths and marriages allow only funeral directors to use the online registries.

Read more: Planning your own funeral: The basics you need to cover

Things can also get tricky when it comes to state regulations. In Australia, cemeteries and crematoriums often won’t deal directly with customers and will tell you to book through a funeral director with a registered business.

This is particularly common in Western Australia where you have to use a licensed funeral director – or obtain a permit by a cemetery board to arrange a funeral without one.

While in NSW if you want to prepare and place the body in a coffin anywhere other than a mortuary, you’ll need approval from NSW Health. As for those in Tasmania, legislation requires that a body comes from the “premises of a prescribed business” in order to cremate it.

Overall, when it comes to storing, transporting and caring for a body, getting together the range of forms required for cremation or burial, as well as event planning, hiring a funeral director can become the easier option.

Meanwhile, the investigation found that a direct cremation – meaning no service and no attendance – is the cheapest option after a death, which many people may not be aware of.

Choice‘s investigation stated that many people often choose to call funeral directors for help because they’re simply lost with where to start with the planning process.

Speaking as part of the investigation, Ryan revealed his mother died in their home in Canberra in 2014, but there was no one there who knew what needed to be done.

“When you’re in that situation and haven’t been in it before, you don’t know what you have to do for cremation or other aspects, who needs to come,” he said. “A doctor comes to certify but then you’re like: What now?”

“There’s a certain price you are willing to pay to not have to worry about logistics.”

In Ryan’s case, the price was $7,500 paid to a funeral home.

According to a 2018 study by finder.com.au, the average professionally-planned funeral cost in Australia is $7,449, with some cities slightly more expensive. For example, if you live in Sydney, expect to pay around $8,357, while Hobart residents will pay about $6,832. Those numbers are based on the starting price for burials and cremations at the major service providers, though, so customisation such as cultural or religious requirements, flowers or funerals notices will increase the cost.

Have you considered a DIY funeral? Do you think it is a good idea?

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your financial or legal situation, objectives or needs. That means it’s not financial product or legal advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a financial or legal decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get independent, licensed financial services or legal advice.

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