Burial or cremation?

Read our guide on your funeral options.

Over 50s Life Insurance
  • Advantages and disadvantages of burial
  • Advantages and disadvantages of cremation
  • Direct burial and direct cremation
  • More options
  • Ways of paying for a funeral

Choosing your desired funeral – or that of a loved one if they haven’t told you what they want – can be an emotive topic. And with more diversity in what’s available than ever before, picking the right option can be tough.

In the UK, the two main choices remain burial and cremation, and other funeral ideas will be a variation of one of these (except medical donation).

So let’s take a look at the various merits of each.

Why choose a burial funeral?


Burial funerals are often very traditional (though not always – read on) and might involve a service. Committing a loved one to the ground is watched by the mourners and has a solemn finality. We see them being laid to rest, whereas cremation happens away from view.

Since burial funerals are often more traditional, they might take place in more traditional venues. Whether this is a church or at a designated plot, these types of service can have a formal and mournful atmosphere. If this type of service is important for your grieving process, then you might choose a burial funeral.

It might be a tenet of your religious beliefs that a burial takes place. If so, there isn’t much debate, however you can still do thorough research to find out where to conduct the burial that is most cost-effective and what your loved one would have wanted.


Burial funerals are normally significantly more expensive than cremation funerals. This is due to the shrinking availability of space for burials. Places that are popular for burial funerals are more expensive, and burials in Kensal Green in London reached £11,857 in 2018*

There is also a green argument to be made against burial funerals. Chemicals used both in embalming of the body and in the bonding of the wood can escape through the earth into the watercourse and be dangerous for flora and fauna.

Green burial options are available, but whether they will tempt you or not depends on what you want from a funeral, as they tend to be less traditional (though no less sensitive). Bio-degradable coffins are a good option for those who want a traditional burial but to be kind to the environment.

Why choose a cremation funeral?


A leading advantage of cremation over burial is its cost. It is cheaper to be cremated than buried in most UK locations.

Cremation funerals can also be traditional services, but they need to be performed at crematorium. If you want the service to be at a church, then you’d probably need to have the cremation elsewhere. It is possible to have a church minister perform a service at the crematorium.

Cremation services can be very diverse. A humanist funeral can have the same level of solemnity that a religious service has. In many ways, you are in greater control of how a cremation service takes place than when having a traditional burial funeral.

Like burial funerals, you can also create a memorial within a crematorium which you can visit if you wish. Some offer the option of planting a flower too.

And of course, the options for what you can do with your loved one’s ashes are vast. We’ve got a guide to a few ideas here, but your only limit is your imagination.

You are also able to hold a service in a manner, time and place to suit you and other mourners, particularly with direct cremation (which is expanded on below).


Cremation funerals are also environmentally damaging. The burning of the body requires the use of natural gas, which contributes to climate change, there is also the risk of environmental pollution from mercury (from the burning of a person’s fillings).

And the same chemicals that a burial funeral can release into a watercourse can be sent into the atmosphere instead if cremation is chosen. Coffins can be made from a broad range of materials now, and there are a few available that are less harmful.

While you can set up a memorial in a crematorium (or anywhere you choose), some people may feel that this isn’t the same as being able to visit your loved one where they are interred, as with burial funerals. With burial funerals, there’s a level of certainty that their loved one will remain undisturbed where they rest.

Direct burial and direct cremation

Direct burial and direct cremation are forms of service that are more cost-effective than traditional services. Of the two, direct cremation is normally cheaper.

The process is that a loved one is transported soon after death to their burial plot or a crematory and either interred or cremated without family or mourners present. This can save costs in a number of ways:

  • The location of the crematorium or burial site doesn’t need to factor the travel of mourners in, so can be somewhere convenient for the funeral director
  • The chemicals involved in embalming do not need to be used, which is also more environmentally-friendly
  • An elaborate casket or coffin is unnecessary, further cutting back costs
  • No funeral service is given (though you can request a few words be said), which eliminates the cost of a celebrant or minister
  • The costs associated with other funeral staples, like flowers, orders of service, catering and venue hire, and transport do not need to be incurred


Since mourners do not attend a direct cremation or burial, they may not undergo the same level of emotion that they would if the funeral was more traditional. This may be favourable for some, while for others the ritual of a funeral is an important part of the grieving process.

If you choose direct burial or direct cremation, you can choose how and when to celebrate a loved one. You can request that the ashes be sent to you (usually for a small fee) if you want to spread them, and any event you hold can be as formal or informal as you choose.

With direct burial, you may not be able to choose where your loved one is buried, however you will still have to pay for the plot. If it is very important that your dearly departed is buried somewhere they would have approved of, then a direct burial may not be for you.

Other options

Another popular option for what happens to a body after death is to donate the body to medical science. This is a generous and highly-valued way of committing your body to posterity.

Donated bodies are often used by students to understand the working of the human body. If they deem it of special medical interest, your body might be used by researchers investigating specific medical conditions. And in some cases, organs or their parts can be transplanted into living people.

To donate your body, you will need express written acceptance from a medical body – such as a medical school or research charity – which needs to be kept with your will. More information can be found from the Human Tissue Authority.

Don’t leave your family in debt

Whatever funeral you choose, you can gain peace of mind by knowing that your family don’t have to worry about the expense.

One way of doing this is to have an Over 50s Life Insurance policy, which can pay out to your beneficiaries once they have registered your death.

These are simple to set up, involve few (if any) medical questions and can help take pressure off your loved ones’ finances. You can pay a monthly premium which, if you maintain a valid policy, offer a payout which can be put towards your funeral or outstanding debts.

*Source: Royal London Funeral Cost Index Report 2018

More ways to get covered

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If you're aged between 50 and 80 Post Office could help you to leave your family the gift of a cash sum or help towards your funeral costs.

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