Organising a funeral is difficult enough without the added frustration and confusion of trying to understand the complicated funeral jargon that is used by funeral homes, cemeteries, memorial masons, family solicitors, medical experts and the like.
From the moment a loved one passes away through to choosing a memorial, arranging and attending the funeral, and perhaps having some involvement in the managing of the estate, you are likely to come across various funeral, memorial and cemetery industry terms and phrases that seem foreign to you.
To save you from some of that confusion, we’ve put together this ultimate A-to-Z guide outlining many of the words and phrases that are used throughout the funeral industry by associated businesses.
So, if you’re preparing to organise a funeral or have some involvement in the memorial, will or similar, feel free to bookmark this page for you to refer back to the next time you’re unsure of the meaning to a word or phrase.
Glossary of Funeral & Memorial Terms
Administrator (of the estate)
An angelversary is a poignant anniversary date for people to remember their lost loved one, such as the day they died, their birthday, a wedding date etc.
An ashes casket is a box that is used to bury or store the deceased’s ashes.
An asset can be anything of value that was owned by the deceased, such as property, finances, jewellery, collectible or valuable items etc.
An autopsy is a medical examination that is carried out by a pathologist on someone after they have died to officially determine the cause of death.
A bequest is a gift that is left to a person or charitable organisation in a will, such as money, belongings, property etc.
A bereaved person is someone who is in mourning following a death.
A bereavement policy is a guide to the rights and responsibilities of employees in relation to when a member of staff has suffered a bereavement.
Bereavement Support Organisation
Bereavement Support Payment
Bereavement Support Payment is a benefit payment that is paid to qualified surviving partners whose wife, husband or civil partner has passed away as a way to ease financial concerns.
A body donation is when somebody agrees to subject their body to medical research after they have died.
Book of Remembrance
A casket is a four-sided container that holds the body of a deceased person and is most commonly made from materials such as wood, wicker, cardboard or metal.
Celebration of Life
Certificate for Burial or Cremation
A certificate for burial or cremation is a free certificate that is issued by the registrar following the registration of a death. It is a certificate that is legally required before the deceased can be buried or cremated.
Chapel of Rest
A coffin is traditionally a six-sided container that holds the body of a deceased person and is most commonly made from various types of wood, as well as other materials such as steel, fiberglass, and eco-friendly materials like bamboo or willow.
A condolence message is a message within a letter, card or other form of communication that expresses the senders sorrow for the grief that the receiver is experiencing following the death of their loved one.
A coroner is a government or judicial official who is responsible for investigating the manner or cause of a death, and to investigate or confirm the identity of an unknown deceased person.
A cremation memorial is a physical memorial that is typically a flat shaped plaque, vase, or similar, that is designed to honour and commemorate the life of a lost loved one at their burial plot where their ashes rest following their cremation, much like a headstone or gravestone. Many cremation memorials are also designed to store the ashes.
Read: Learn More About Cremation Memorials
Crematorium is the name of the room or building where a dead person’s body is cremated.
A death certificate is an official certificate or legal document that has been issued by a medical practitioner or the Registry Office to confirm the death. The death certificate declares the official date, location, and cause of death.
A death notice is an announcement typically found in a newspaper, online or through some form of public media that announces the death of someone, often with details of their upcoming funeral. A death notice is typically made by family members to share the news with a community about the passing.
Deceased is another way to describe that someone is dead.
An eco-friendly funeral is a funeral that considers its environmental impact to the planet with a focus on reducing carbon footprint. They typically make use of a biodegradable coffin, casket or urn, have minimal vehicle usage, and generally make environmentally friendly choices where possible throughout all funeral and memorial options.
Embalming is the preservation of a corpse from decay by an arterial injection of a preservative.
Exclusive Right of Burial (EROB)
Executor (of the Will or Estate)
Exhumation is the removal of a body from where it was originally buried. An exhumation typically takes place for relocation of the body, or if there is new evidence available which could challenge the original cause of death and a further investigative autopsy is required.
First Offices is the name of the process of making a corpse suitable for loved ones to view. It involves cleaning and washing the body of the deceased, dressing them and applying make-up so that they are presented in a visually acceptable and dignified manner.
A floral tribute is when flowers are purchased and left to honour the dead. They are commonly left at graves, public memorial spots, and at the site of fatal incidents.
A funeral is a ceremony or service that is usually held in the weeks following someone’s death on the day they are laid to rest or cremated. Family and friends typically attend to pay their respects and the ceremony can be conducted in line with religious beliefs or in a humanist (non-religious) manner.
A funeral director is the person or team of people who work with family members to help organise a funeral. This typically includes preparing the body for burial or cremation, liaising with the church or crematoria, managing necessary paperwork, liaising with other third-party companies, providing transportation and carrying out other related duties. They are also often referred to as an undertaker.
Funeral Expenses Payment
A funeral expenses payment is a one-off payment that is intended to support those who receive benefits and need financial assistance with covering the cost of a funeral.
A funeral home is where funeral directors are located and where they operate their business from.
A funeral hymn is a song that is played at a funeral, many of which are religious. Some traditional funeral hymns include How Great Thou Art, Jerusalem, and Abide With Me.
A funeral plan is a payment scheme that can be taken out to pay for a funeral in advance so that loved ones don’t have to cover the costs.
Garden of Remembrance
A garden of remembrance is a section of land most commonly within the grounds of a crematorium where various memorials and floral tributes are installed or left to commemorate the life of someone who was cremated at the site. Ashes are also often scattered within a garden of remembrance after their cremation.
Grant of Probate
Grave subsidence is a naturally occurring process that involves loose soil settling into place within the burial plot over time and the coffin gradually collapsing. This results in the appearance of the grave sinking. Most modern cemeteries have cemetery staff that work to maintain graves and minimise grave subsidence.
A gravestone is a permanent inscribed memorial that is placed on a person’s grave. It typically honours their life and is inscribed with their name, date of birth, date of death, and a few words – perhaps a biblical verse if they were religious, or simply words of remembrance from the family. Also commonly called a headstone.
A graveyard is another way to describe a cemetery. The use of the word graveyard is often associated with cemeteries that belong to a church.
A green burial is another way to describe an eco-friendly funeral that considers the impact it has on the planet with an aim to minimise carbon footprint and cause as little damage as possible to the environment.
Grief is an emotional and physical experience of sorrow and loss that someone feels when a loved one dies.
Read: What Can You Do To Help With Grieving?
A grief counsellor is a trained therapist who specialises in providing support to people who are struggling with grief following the death of a loved one.
Grief therapy is a psychological treatment that people who are grieving can undertake to help them come to terms with the death of a loved one. Many grief therapies are carried out by specialist grief counsellors, though alternatives also exist, such as art therapy and others that are provided by bereavement support organisations.
A headstone is a permanent inscribed memorial that is placed on a person’s grave. It typically honours their life and is inscribed with their name, date of birth, date of death, and a few words – perhaps a biblical verse if they were religious, or simply words of remembrance from the family. Also commonly called a gravestone.
Read: Learn More About Headstones
A hospice is a home that specifically provides care for the sick or terminally ill.
A humanist funeral is a non-religious funeral that focuses on celebrating the life of a loved one and delivering them a dignified farewell.
A keepsake is an item that is purchased or made and kept in memory of someone who has died. Items such as jewellery pieces are also specifically made to act as a keepsake, such as a necklace with a container that is designed to hold a small amount of ashes. People also often keep belongings of the deceased due to sentimental value and to act as a keepsake.
A kerb set is a decorative option for burial plots that involves kerbs being placed around the perimeter of a grave. Most kerb sets are made from a stone material such as granite or marble, often with a decorative carved pattern that matches the headstone or gravestone.
Read: Learn More About Kerb Sets
A legacy letter, also known as a spiritual will, is a letter that people leave for their loved ones to read once they pass. The letter often includes writings about things that matter most to the writer and information they would like to share, such as their values, past intentions, and hopes for the future.
Letter of Administration
Life Insurance Policy
A life insurance policy is a contract between a policy holder and an insurer or assurer, whereby the insurer promises to pay a named beneficiary a sum of money upon the death of the insured person. Payment can also be triggered in some policies if a certain event should arise, such as a terminal or critical illness. Policies can differ from each other with unique terms and conditions.
A living will is a written legal document that records and details a person’s wishes for future medical and end-of-life care should they become unable to state their own wishes when the time arrives, especially an advance directive.
Lying in State
A mausoleum is a building that houses an above-ground tomb or a group of tombs.
Medical Certificate of Cause of Death
A memorial service is a ceremony that takes places to commemorate the life of a loved one who has died. The deceased’s body is not usually present for a memorial service in the same way it is for a funeral ceremony.
Mourning is the expression or feeling of deep sorrow following the death of someone.
Natural Burial Ground
Next of Kin
The next of kin is a person’s closest living relative, most commonly a spouse, or any children or siblings. The closest next of kin is designated the responsibility for making decisions should the person become incapacitated or die.
An obituary is a public notice of death, often published in newspapers, and typically including a brief biography or key details of the deceased person.
Order of Service
The order of service is a programme of events that are to take place during a funeral. This list of events is outlined in a leaflet or similar so that guests are aware of what is to take place. The leaflet often contains an obituary for the deceased as well as prayers, readings or hymns that are to be played as part of the service.
Organ donation is when somebody commits to allowing their organs or other body parts to be used as part of a transplant operation upon their death. Some organs can be donated by a living donor when medically possible, but in most cases a transplant uses the organs of an organ donor who has died. People in the UK can register their decision using the online NHS Organ Donor Register.
An ossuary is a container or room located above ground that contains bones of people who have died.
A pallbearer is a person who carries the coffin or casket from the hearse to the catafalque at a funeral. Pallbearers are typically part of the funeral directors team as around 4-8 people are usually required to carry the coffin or casket, though family members or close friends often volunteer to be a pallbearer.
Palliative care is the medical and emotional support that is provided to somebody who is dying. Palliative care most often takes place in hospices, hospitals or at the home of the dying persons.
A pathologist is a medical specialist who carries out a post-mortem examination on a dead body.
A post-mortem is a medical examination that is carried out on a dead body by a pathologist.
A quaker funeral is a specific type of funeral that is carried out for those who identify as a quaker with quaker beliefs and practices.
A registry office is a local government office where births, deaths, and marriages are officially recorded. Official marriages also take place in a registry office without a religious ceremony.
Repatriation is the transportation of a deceased body from one country to another, such as when somebody dies abroad.
A ritual washing is a religious process also commonly known as ritual purification that involves family and/or close friends washing and dressing the body of the deceased in line with specific rites and rituals.
A spiritual will, also known as a legacy letter, is a letter that people leave for their loved ones to read once they pass. The letter often includes writings about things that matter most to the writer and information they would like to share, such as their values, past intentions, and hopes for the future.
Survivors are living family members of the deceased, such as a spouse, partner, children, and grandchildren.
Thanatophobia is an anxiety disorder where people affected experience an intense fear of death or the process of dying.
Third-party costs, also known as disbursement fees, are expenses that are paid to a third party in connection with goods or services that they deliver. In a funeral example, these are fees that a funeral director may pay a third-party, such as a vehicle transportation company, on behalf of the family of the deceased.
A tombstone is a large, flat stone that stands over a grave, typically with information about the deceased inscribed into the stone. A tombstone is often referred to as a headstone or gravestone.
Read: Is There A Difference Between A Headstone, Gravestone & Tombstone?
A visitation offers family and friends the opportunity to visit the deceased for a longer duration, meaning visitation periods can take place for hours or days, while a viewing tends to be brief just a short time before the funeral takes place. Many visitations are also conducted with an open casket.
A Xhosa funeral (pronounced: know-suh) is a funeral ceremony for those who die while part of the Xhosa culture in southern Africa. Perhaps the most famous Xhosa funeral to ever take place was the funeral of Nelson Mandela.
Among Jewish people, yahrzeit is the anniversary of the death of a parent or other close relative. It is marked by the burning of a memorial candle.
A Zoroastrian funeral is a traditional funeral that’s carried out for people who believe in Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest faiths.