Funeral Glossary of Terms

A list of commonly-used terms and definitions you may hear after somebody has died

Last updated: 1 February 2017

If this is the first time you have experienced the death of a loved one, you may come across lots of funeral terminology that you have not heard before. Doctors, attorneys and funeral directors may use some of these words when talking about the arrangements that need to be made in the coming days and weeks. Here are some of the most commonly used funeral terms with their definitions.

Administrator – The person responsible for managing an estate.

Beneficiary – A person entitled to parts of an estate, whether money, possessions or property.

Bequest – A gift laid out in a will, usually of a particular item or amount of money.

Bereaved – Those who have recently lost a loved one, usually used to refer to the immediate family of the person who has died.

Casket – Sometimes confused with a coffin, but distinguished by its rectangular shape.

Catafalque – A wooden stand or support on which to place a casket or coffin, sometimes decorated or covered with a decorative drape.

Celebrant – A professional who leads the funeral service by speaking to the congregation. They may give a eulogy or invite others to do so. They may belong to a particular religion, or they may be a non-religious or humanist celebrant.

Cenotaph – An empty tomb or monument in honor of someone who is buried elsewhere.

Chapel of rest – A room in a funeral home where you can view your loved one before the funeral. Not necessarily a religious place.

Coffin – Unlike a rectangular casket, this is tapered at both ends.

Columbarium – A building used for storing cremation ashes, usually with recessed niches for individual urns.

Committal service – A service where the coffin or casket is buried, or is taken away for cremation. It can happen as part of the funeral service or separately. It can also take place when an urn of ashes is buried.

Cortege – See procession.

Death Certificate – Certified proof that your loved one has died, issued after the County Registrar has been notified of the death and has duly recorded it. This government record details the date, place and cause of death and copies will be required by insurers, banks and other institutions when you are handling your loved one’s estate.

Death notice – A notice placed in a newspaper to inform readers of someone’s death.

Disbursements – Costs paid by the funeral director on your behalf to third parties, such as crematorium fees, flowers and venue hire.

DIY funeral – A funeral organized without the help of a funeral director.

Embalming – A technique using chemicals to preserve the body so that it may be viewed by the bereaved before the funeral.

Estate – Everything owned by a person at the time of their death, including finances, money indebted to them, shares, property and personal possessions. Usually managed by an executor or administrator as named in the will.

Eulogy – A speech given at a funeral in honor of the person who has died.

Executor – Someone named in a will to be responsible for the management of an estate, usually a close friend or family member of the person who has passed away.

Exhume – To remove remains from a burial site, usually for reburial elsewhere.

Funeral plan – A pre-paid plan that allows you to plan and pay for your funeral in advance, removing the stress and financial pressure for loved ones.

Funeral procession – Traditionally, a ceremonial line of vehicles driving at a slow speed toward the venue of the funeral, often led by the funeral director on foot, followed by the hearse. May also consist of limousines in which the bereaved are travelling.

Funeral spray – A type of floral tribute, usually sent to the bereaved directly or to the funeral home for inclusion in the funeral.

Grave marker – A temporary marker placed on a grave between the burial and the installation of a more permanent gravestone.

Green burial – Also known as eco-friendly funeral, woodland burial or natural burial. A funeral that strives to be as environmentally-friendly as possible, usually involving burial in a specially-designated green burial site.

Hearse – A vehicle specially designed to carry a casket or coffin

Humanist funeral – A funeral based on Humanist philosophy, with no religious elements. Focuses on the life and personality of the person who has died rather than the afterlife. Usually led by a Humanist celebrant.

Intestate – When someone dies without a will and special intestacy laws come into effect.

Internment – Burying a coffin, casket or urn of cremation ashes.

Living will – A document detailing how someone wants to be cared for in the later stages of their life.

Mausoleum – An above-ground building housing several tombs.

Medical Death Certificate – A document signed by a doctor or coroner, confirming death. This certificate is required in order to register a death and secure a government death certificate.

Memorial service – Similar to a funeral service, usually conducted without a body present.

Mortician – Also known as a mortuary technician, someone who prepares the body for burial or cremation. This may involve embalming, reconstruction and dressing.

Next of kin – A legally defined order of precedence, which determines an individual’s closest relatives.

Obituary – Usually posted in a newspaper or online, announcing someone’s death and giving a brief overview of their life and achievements. It may also include details of when and where the funeral is happening.

Pallbearers – People who carry the casket on their shoulders into the funeral service. These may be hired pallbearers or family and friends may be asked to carry the casket. An honorary pallbearer is given special mention but is not required to actually carry the casket.

Plot – A reserved space within a cemetery or graveyard, sometimes containing enough space for several graves and often shared between family member.

Post-mortem examinations – An examination of the body, ordered by a coroner and carried out by a pathologist, in order to discover the cause of death.

Pre-planned/Pre-arranged funeral – A funeral arranged in advance of a person’s death, sometimes pre-paid with a funeral plan.

Repatriation – The process of bringing a loved one back to the US if they died abroad, or taking them to another country after death for a funeral or burial.

Undertaker – An alternative word for funeral director.

Urn – A container for cremation ashes, available in many different shapes and styles.

Viewing – see Wake

Wake – A viewing held in the days between someone’s death and the funeral service, held in the presence of the deceased who may be in an open or closed casket. Traditionally held at home but now often held at a funeral home or chapel of rest. Wake is sometimes also used to describe a reception where food and drink may be served, immediately after the funeral.