The difference between attended and unattended funerals


Until the time comes you often know little about how to arrange a funeral. One of the most common questions that arises at the time of a loved one’s passing is the difference between an attended and unattended funeral.

An attended funeral refers to presence of mourners during the burial or cremation funeral service, whereas an unattended funeral is when the deceased is either buried or cremated without any formal gathering of mourners.

Knowing where to turn when it comes to funeral planning or arranging a funeral at the time of need, can be challenging. We’ve put together a guide to help you understand the key differences between attended and unattended funerals and what to consider when making a decision.


What happens during an attended funeral?

At an attended funeral mourners may be able to view the body, will pay their respects in person, and will participate in any religious or cultural rituals or ceremonies that are part of the funeral service. Typically, this is either before or during the funeral service, and there may be a separate viewing or visitation period where family and friends are able to spend time with the body of the deceased in private, to pay their own final respects and say goodbye.

It is common for attended funeral services to include religious or cultural rituals, readings, prayers, music, and eulogies; giving family and friends time for reflection, remembrance, and time to honour the life of the deceased. The service is often led by a religious leader, officiant, or designated person who guides the proceedings, and family members and close friends may share memories and stories about their loved one, highlighting their life, achievements, and the impact they had on others.

If the deceased is to be buried, a committal ceremony may take place at the graveside following the funeral service. This ceremony typically involves prayers, final blessings, and the lowering of the casket into the ground. If the deceased chooses to be cremated, the committal may take place at the crematorium. Later, after the funeral service and burial, there may be a reception or gathering where mourners can come together to offer further condolences, share memories, and provide support to the family, either in the form of a formal wake, or a more informal gathering.


How much does an attended cremation and burial cost?

In the United Kingdom in 2023, the average cost of an attended cremation was £937, with the additional funeral director’s fees bringing the average total cost to £4,176.[1] In general across the United Kingdom a burial is more expensive than a cremation.[2] This is because there are two components to the cost of the burial. The first, the fee for digging the grave and the second for the exclusive right of burial.[3] On average a burial costs around £5,493, however you can reduce the costs by choosing a wicker or cardboard coffin rather than a traditional one, as well as removing additional items. You might also consider natural burial grounds, which can further reduce costs when compared against a cemetery burial.


What happens during an unattended funeral?

An unattended funeral service typically involves a service or ceremony that takes place without any family members or friends involved. During an unattended funeral clergy members may still conduct a brief ceremony or service which could include prayers, readings, or other rituals, depending on the religious or cultural traditions of the deceased.

However, there will be no attendees present at any stage and these ceremonies are typically very short. After the service, the deceased is usually buried or cremated according to their wishes or those of their family, if known. In the case of a direct cremation, which is the most common type of unattended funeral, the ashes of the deceased can then be collected by the family of the deceased, hand delivered back to a family member, or scattered in the gardens of memorial by crematoria staff.


What happens in a direct cremation and how much does it cost?

During a direct cremation the body of the deceased is cremated without a formal funeral service beforehand. This can be done for several reasons, but is often chosen due to its simplicity and cost-effectiveness. After a loved one has passed away, if they or their family have opted for a direct cremation their body is transported from their place of death to the crematorium.

Once the deceased has been taken into the care of the crematorium, the necessary paperwork and permits are then completed, and the body is placed inside a cremation chamber. This process reduces the body to bone fragments and ashes, with the remains being placed into an urn and made ready for collection or delivery. Throughout this process the body of the deceased is tagged and respectfully handled right until the final stage when ashes are collected or returned to the family.

On average in the United Kingdom a direct cremation is cheaper than a cremation with a funeral service. A direct cremation costs around £1,511[1], reflecting the fact that there is no formal funeral service associated with the cremation. Families may choose to hold a memorial service or celebration of life at a later date to remember their loved one.


What happens in a direct burial and how much does it cost?

In a direct burial, the deceased is buried shortly after death without a traditional funeral service, much like with a direct cremation. Similarly, the cost effectiveness and simplicity of a direct burial makes it an attractive option for those who want a straightforward, no-fuss send off.

During a direct burial the body of the deceased is placed in a simple casket and if there is likely to be a delay between death and burial the body can be embalmed. The body is then buried in a grave at the cemetery. The graveside service is typically brief and may include a few words or prayers from a religious or spiritual leader, family members, or friends. Following a loved one’s burial, family and friends may gather informally to offer support to one another and begin the grieving process. They may also choose to plan a separate memorial service or celebration of life at a later date to honor the memory of the deceased.

In the United Kingdom a direct burial costs on average £1,657, and is a popular choice as it provides a straightforward and dignified way to lay a loved one to rest, without the need for an elaborate funeral which can be costly. However, family members may also choose to hold a separate memorial service or gathering at a later time to celebrate the life of their loved one.


What might be some other considerations for an attended or unattended funeral?

Deciding between an attended or unattended funeral involves several considerations. These include family and friends’ availability and proximity, logistical considerations, emotional needs, financial considerations, religious customs, and more.

When deciding between an attended or unattended funeral it is important to consider the availability of close family and friends. If family and friends live close by and are able to attend having an attended funeral may bring peace and comfort to those grieving. However, logistical considerations such as the location of the cemetery and potential travel arrangements for attendees may affect people’s ability to attend; if attendees may face significant challenges in getting to the funeral perhaps an unattended funeral may potentially be more suitable.

It is also important to consider the emotional needs of family and friends. Some may find solace in the presence of loved ones during the funeral, while others may prefer a more intimate or private setting to grieve.

Everyone grieves differently so it is important to have open conversations, and make decisions based on your personal circumstance. If possible, it is also important consider what the deceased would have preferred. Some individuals may have expressed preferences for either an attended or unattended funeral in advance of their passing.

Additionally, it is also important to give thought to the religious and cultural beliefs of the deceased. Some religions can dictate funeral arrangements; for example, some cultures or religions may have specific traditions regarding attendance at funerals such as burying the deceased within a certain timeframe which may make family attendance particularly challenging. In these circumstances it is likely traditions will govern the formalities surrounding funeral activities.

Another vital consideration when deciding on an attended or unattended funeral are any financial constraints. Attended funerals typically involve more expenses due to factors such as venue costs, catering, and transportation. If there are budget limitations or concerns, opting for an unattended funeral might be more feasible for the family; relieving some stress at a time when emotions are likely to be running high.

However, ultimately, the decision between an attended or unattended funeral is a deeply personal one that should reflect the needs and preferences of the deceased and their loved ones. It’s essential to communicate openly with family members and consider the various factors before making a decision.

[1] Legal and General, 2023. Paying for your burial or cremation. Available at: Last accessed March, 2024

[2] Legal and General, 2023. Paying for your burial or cremation. Available at: Last accessed March, 2024

[3] Legal and General, 2023. Paying for your burial or cremation. Available at: Last accessed March, 2024

[4] Reassured, 2024. Average cremation costs 2024. Available at: . Last accessed March, 2024.