By Paul Dwyer
Consultant to Axa Sun Life Direct
Paul Dwyer says families should draw up a checklist
There are more than 570,000 funerals in Britain each year and most of us will be responsible for arranging at least one during our own lifetime.
We all tend to avoid thoughts of family deaths and our own mortality. However, some clear-sighted forward planning will make a difficult time easier to cope with.
You may want a very simple ceremony, or this funeral could be the opportunity to say goodbye in style - perhaps with a beautifully carved coffin or a hearse drawn by a team of magnificently plumed black horses - a suitable touch of theatre.
After the funeral service for my uncle, I remember the doors of the church opening.
Standing there was a solemn, beautiful young woman with dark hair and blue eyes, dressed in immaculate black morning coat and knee breeches - the next generation from a family firm of funeral directors.
Even in death, my uncle liked things done with style!
Compile a checklist of the component parts of the sort of funeral you want.
Is it to be a burial or cremation? Will there be a religious ceremony followed by a wake? How many people?
And not forgetting, how much will it cost?
Mintel Research conducts an annual survey into funeral expenses and other end-of-life costs.
This study, commissioned by Axa Sun Life Direct, analyses the average cost of a standard burial and cremation in each of the 10 government-defined regions.
The 2008 figures show that the average cost of a funeral in the UK was £2,549, but hit £3,424 in London. Over the past five years, average UK funeral costs have increased by 32.8%.
A standard funeral would include the collection of the body within a 20-mile radius, care and preparation of the body by a funeral director, use of the chapel of rest for viewing the body, general administration and the payment of disbursements.
It would also include provision of a hearse with one director and four bearers, one limousine for the family of the deceased, and a mid-range oak veneer coffin.
If the funeral is a cremation, remember fees for doctors' certificates, clergy fees and the crematorium charges.
For a burial, there is the cost of a double-depth grave and clergy fees.
Component costs in the standard funeral include an average £444 fee paid to the crematorium, £142 for doctors' fees needed for cremation. The basic average burial cost is £1,124, with clergy fees for conducting a service typically being about £92.
Additional services that are often used include the death notice, a funeral notice, service order sheets, extra limousine hire, flowers, venue hire and catering at a wake, a memorial or Book of Remembrance and probate - the administration of the estate.
A funeral is a difficult time to think about costs
The cost of using all these services would add an average of £4,149 to the funeral bill.
I suggest you go through your checklist with the funeral director and get a price for each part.
This can be confusing because some items are covered by the fees. Others are called disbursements and paid by the funeral director to third parties that the crematorium charges.
Coffins prices go up into the thousands of pounds for an elaborate, decorated, satin-lined casket. Alternatively, veneer chipboard will be very modestly priced.
If you are organising a cremation, the simpler coffin option may be more appropriate.
The total at the end of the checklist will show you what has to be paid. The Mintel survey shows that funeral directors are highly regarded by clients for their professionalism and sympathy.
Nine out of 10 clients get only one price quote and then use that funeral director.
However, it is worth getting two or three quotes from local funeral directors, because a saving of £200 to £300 can often be achieved for a like-for-like funeral.
Paying for a funeral
Funeral directors are like the rest of us and prefer prompt payment.
Usually they will ask for half of the total payment when you are making the arrangements and the remainder within seven days of the funeral.
If the cost is to be met from the estate of the deceased, ensure there are funds available that are not subject to probate, because it can take weeks or months for money to come through.
Many people have whole life insurance policies to cover funeral costs and other end-of-life expenses. These can pay out immediately after confirmation of death.
The Mintel Research reveals that the cost of funerals has risen by more than the rate of inflation over the last five years. Based on my experience, I can confirm that this rate of increase is in line with the increases of the previous 20 years.
Therefore, every few years it is sensible to review the amount you have allocated for funeral costs.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.