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Funeral and Memorial Planning Guide

If you have recently had someone dear to you pass away, I am sorry for your loss. I do understand how traumatic and difficult it can be to make decisions at a time when you are grieving.

I have lost both my parents and when planning their funerals I sadly found that there was a lot of misinformation that I had to sift through to create a DIY funeral for each of them, thus I was encouraged by friends to share what I had learned. This website is the result.

While members of the funeral industry offer the invaluable service of handling a situation most of us would prefer to avoid, it's important to remember that they are profit-based businesses and to stay in business they need to sell you (and those organising your funeral) as many services as possible, and at as high a price as possible.

The most important thing to remember is that a meaningful, heartfelt memorial doesn't need to cost more than your family can afford. Whether you spend $600 or $10,000, you'll love and miss the deceased just as much. It's the coming together of family and friends to laugh, cry, and love each other that makes a funeral meaningful, not the amount of money it costs.

And this is crucial: there is no charity or government organization that will pay off any debt you've accrued if you arrange a funeral that's beyond your means. It's your family's responsibility to spend within its budget.
Funeral homes are not required to let you pay in installments; some these days are asking for payment upfront. While this might seem frustrating, it's a responsible business practice and it prevents many grieving people from falling into a financial trap when they're not thinking clearly.
Sweating the monthly bills six months after the death because the funeral payments are high does not, I assure you, help lift the burden of grief.

Whether you are thoughtfully pre-planning your own funeral or are organising a funeral for someone who has died, this guide is designed to help you through the process.

Some things to consider

Your Funeral Organiser

According to case law in New Zealand it is the Executor of your Will that has the primary responsibility to either organise or delegate your funeral organisation. They also have the legal authority (established by the New Zealand Courts) to over-ride family wishes, and even your own wishes (unless those wishes are expressly directed in your will).
When writing your Will (and when pre-planning your funeral) choose your Executor carefully! And discuss with them what you want to happen, for both your Will and your funeral.

An interesting note here however is that if you do use a commercial funeral director, it is important to note that the person who rings / calls on the undertaker may hold liability to pay for the services hired - even though that may possibly be, say, a neighbour or even a helping hand stranger!

Legal Information

The person organising your funeral has to inform the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages of your death. There is a moderate amount of information needed by them. Click here for a full list of information required.

This information needs to be collected by the Next-of-Kin or family or the Executor of your Will whether you have a DIY funeral or you use a Funeral Director. A Funeral Director can fill in the form for you, but that is the easy part simply copying the information you supply. The hard part is finding and collecting the information - and the executor and family have to do that!

Demystifying the Paperwork

Anyone - not just a funeral director - can organise the burial or cremation of a body and deal with the paperwork. Normally there is actually far less paperwork than most people realise.

There are a number of forms that may be needed and used in different situations. This page (click here) should demystify the paperwork involved

Newspaper Obituary Advertisements

Newpapers will normally want proof of the death of the person before they will publish an Obituary Notice. Use the "Medical Certificate of cause of death (HP4720)". They generally (wrongly) use the term Death Certificate for this document which can lead to some confusion. For more information about Demystifying the Funeral Paperwork click here.

People to Contact

There may be a number of people and organisations that need to be contacted. Some of these may also become involved in the Funeral or Memorial Service. For example, RSA, service clubs, or sports clubs may wish to also pay tribute during the service.Some of the other people and organisations that may need to be contacted are: family, and extended family, WINZ, lawyer, clubs, organisations the deceased was a member of, RSA, significant friends ...

Funeral or Memorial Service

A Funeral Service is when the coffin or casket is present. The casket or coffin can be either open for viewing, or already closed.

A Memorial Service is when the casket or coffin is not present. For many reasons the deceased person's body may not be available, or may have already been interred or cremated at a private ceremony.
A Memorial Service can happen some days or weeks after their death, even in a different country.

There is no legal requirement to have either a funeral service or a memorial service. Funeral and Memorial services are a time when friends of the deceased can gather together to celebrate the life of someone they all loved and support each other in their grief.

Services can be a complex or as simple as your wish, and can incorporate whatever religious or cultural elements you desire.

Final Resting Place

There are many options available ranging from cremation to burial in a variety of locations such as: at sea, an eco-cemetery, in a private family cemetery or mausoleum, or a plot in a council cemetery. You may have a strong preference, based on religious or cultural views. If the deceased has already expressed their wishes then decisions will be easier for those who are organising the funeral.

The options available can be summarised as:
All of these burial options are governed by New Zealand laws and regulations. The major laws being:


...can often be the most affordable option. However, there are also personal, religious and cultural considerations that may affect your decision as to whether you have a cremation or a burial.

Cremation is a heat process which reduces the remains to ashes. The ashes can be stored in a urn, or buried, placed in a niche at a cemetery, kept at home, or scattered. There may be some restrictions on where ashes can be scattered.

Burial on Land and Entombment

...can vary considerably in expense. From a DIY funeral using a private cemetery (eg a registered private cemetery on a family farm) to as elaborate and expensive as you can afford, or are willing to go into debt.

Burial requires purchasing a cemetery plot, casket, coffin or shroud carrier, possibly a grave liner or vault, and (optionally) a grave marker or monument.
A family may choose to have the body entombed above ground in a casket placed in a tomb or mausoleum.

A body can be buried:
  • in a public burial ground e.g. a cemetery.
  • in an eco-cemetery.
  • in a Maori burial ground.
  • in a religious/denominational burial ground.
  • in a private burial ground that was used for burial before 1 April 1965 so long as written permission is obtained in advance from a District Court judge.
  • at a private burial place if there is no cemetery or burial ground within 32 km of the place where the person died or where the body is to be buried. Apply to the courts for permission.
  • any place (whether or not it was used for burials before 1 April1965) if the Ministry of Health agrees in advance that that place is appropriate and safe for burial.
  • at sea.
It may be very complicated to attempt some of these alternatives, and you should be aware that gaining consent for a private burial place can take some time. For instance if you would like to be buried at the family farm, you should obtain consent from the Ministry of Health.

If you would like to request burial in a private burial place, you would need to make a submission to the Ministry of Health and the local Council.

Burial At Sea

...can be an expensive option. There are a number of places where a body can be buried at sea around New Zealand. Generally the places are away from fishing grounds and, in some cases, have been used for ammunition dumps and dumping of other unwanted materials. Costs can be higher than for land burials because of the need to use an ocean-going boat or a helicopter.

If you wish to have a sea burial, you will need: An alternative option, and usually far more affordable and less restrictive, is to consider having cremated ashes spread at sea.

Bequest to Medical Science

This is an altruistic action by members of the public to maintain teaching of, and research into, human anatomy. The two medical schools in New Zealand are based in Auckland and Dunedin.

If you wish to do this you will need to have discussed this issue with your family and those who are organising your funeral, and also have made arrangements with your chosen Medical School. Even if you do bequest your body to a medical school, and have registered with the school, at the time of your death there may be a variety of reasons that your body is not able to be accepted by the medical school and your family will have to have a backup plan of burial or cremation. For more background information in The New Zealand Medical Journal on the bequest programme:

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Copyright © 2016 Robert C. Belmont.