Funerals have traditionally been a time to celebrate the life of someone who has passed away. But, in recent years, there has been more and more discussion about whether or not funerals are necessary.
Some people find that they may be too sad to focus on anything but their loss at this point.
Others don't want to wait for an appropriate time because their loved one's death was sudden, unexpected or violent.
Funerals aren't for everyone. You might hate the idea and not want one for yourself, or you might be struggling to decide what to do for someone you love.
So, do you have to have a funeral? Here at Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals, we provide religious and traditional funeral services.
Summary of Australian Funeral Laws
In Australia, no law says you must use a funeral director or minister. A friend or family member can handle the arrangements if they so choose.
However, it is significantly easier to hire a director to help pull together the arrangements and ensure that all the laws are followed accordingly.
The following are some basic laws and procedures that must be followed when someone dies in Australia and is buried in native soil.
The Death Certificate Is an Absolute Requirement by Law.
Once a person becomes deceased, their death must be declared by a coroner or doctor who also notes the cause.
Typically if someone dies in their sleep at home, the family doctor is notified and will fill out the initial paperwork.
If the circumstances surrounding the death involve an accident or are unusual, then the body is remanded to a coroner for determination. When a body has to be examined by a coroner, there can be a delay when released to the family.
Either after a doctor or coroner's examination, the body is turned over to either the funeral director or whoever has been designated to oversee the burial.
Whichever route is taken, a death certificate must be requested and filed with the government offices of the territory in which the death occurred. It is processed and handled by the same department that keeps records for births and marriages.
Centrelink must also be notified as well; this is the agency that regulates social security benefits.
Typically the funeral director will handle all the paperwork and notices required. Otherwise, the offices make the paperwork available as downloadable forms filled out and sent or taken in.
Arrangements for Transportation to Burial or Cremation.
The amount of paperwork and requirements regarding proper etiquette in handling, containing, and transporting the deceased are another point in which a funeral director can help save a lot of hassle and time.
Once the body is ready for burial or cremation, it is then time to be transported, first to a temporary location for services and then to its final destination.
By law, the casket or coffin containing the body must be well constructed to keep the body and any potential emissions from its decay from escaping. If the deceased is to be cremated, the container must also be combustible.
It is possible to make a coffin at home, so long as it satisfies all the basic legal requirements.
Any vehicle transporting a body must not allow it to be viewable while in transit.
Curtained windows or panel-sided vehicles tend to be the best means of satisfying this requirement.
It is illegal to transport the deceased in any other manner, including such instances in which it is visible in the bed of a truck.
Burial, Cremation, or at Sea.
The law does not require any sort of ceremony or service from a religious figure. At its bare minimum, the cremation or burial can be performed the same or the next day once the deceased has been cleared by medical personnel and released to the family.
When it comes to being buried in a graveyard, there is a measure of paperwork required to procure a plot and gain permission for the burial.
Each state has varying additional regulations, but the essential legal requirement is that burial must occur in an authorised cemetery and that the examining medical party must approve cremation.
For those who opted for cremation, the ashes can then be buried in a cemetery, retained at home by a loved one or friend, or dispersed in an appropriate location.
There are times when people wish for their ashes to be scattered in a particular location. The person disperses the deceased's ashes responsibility to ensure that they are not breaking any local laws or ordinances set forth by the Clean Air Act.
If the deceased wishes to be buried at sea, arrangements can be made, and the Sea Dumping Act must obtain a permit.
A strong connection between the deceased and the sea must be established for a permit to be granted.
This could be done either after or before the deceased's death wished to make arrangements ahead of time.
If the deceased was cremated, no permit is required to scatter their ashes to the sea.
The Laws Regarding Internment of the Deceased Can Be Quite Strict.
While some minor differences exist between the states regarding local requirements, most laws regarding properly interning the deceased are stringent.
Failure to properly file paperwork or follow all the regulations can result in heavy fines.
One of the easiest ways to avoid these potential consequences is to either have planned ahead of time or obtained the services of a qualified funeral director.
Do You Have to Have a Funeral?
No law says you have to have a funeral, but the law does state that you must "dispose of the body of the person who has died by burial, cremation or any other means" (Births and Deaths Registration). Generally, your options are:
Traditional Funeral: Cremation/burial
Approximately three-quarters of people opt for a cremation funeral. There are a few legal requirements that need to be adhered to.
For most people, the practicalities and emotional strain of carrying out a funeral without support are too much, so a funeral director is appointed.
You can search for funeral directors in your area using our free search tool.
A direct cremation allows for the separation of the body disposal and the memorial/funeral service. Some people may also opt not to have a memorial.
It is generally the lower-cost option and often a choice made for reasons beyond the lower cost.
The funeral director will arrange the cremation with the crematoria and return the ashes to the family within a few days.
A burial can take place at a natural or woodland burial site. This allows for more flexibility over timings and funeral ceremonies.
Natural burial grounds also provide families and friends with a peaceful location for subsequent visits.
Using a funeral director is not a legal requirement. You may wish to handle the arrangements yourself.
You can do everything from collecting the person who has died from the mortuary to taking care of them at home, transporting them to the funeral, and even arranging a burial or cremation.
You may come across resistance from professionals who may tell you that you have to use a funeral director. This isn't true.
People have been changing their attitudes to what happens after death, and there are now more alternatives to traditional funerals than ever.
If you're thinking that a traditional funeral service followed by a burial or cremation isn't for you, or want to arrange something a little bit different for a loved one, here are a few funeral alternatives.
A Direct Funeral
You may know someone (or you could be like this yourself) who dislikes fuss and attention and would rather have a more low-key funeral.
If this rings true, then a direct cremation or burial could be an excellent alternative to a traditional funeral.
If you have decided that you would like your loved one to be buried, this does not mean that a funeral service must occur beforehand.
Many registered cemeteries offer a direct burial option, whereby a person's body can be interred without any religious ceremony or service to mark their passing.
Likewise, it is also possible to have a funeral without a service beforehand, referred to as a direct cremation.
Instead of a structured ceremony or service that features readings, songs and other common funeral elements, a direct cremation takes place without a service beforehand and any mourners present.
There are a few benefits to a direct funeral: a fair amount of money can be saved compared to arranging a traditional burial. Still, the most critical use for many families is the flexibility a direct funeral offers. Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals will always find creative ways to pull costs in line with your budget.
A Celebration of Life
Celebrations of life are becoming more popular options instead of a traditional funeral service.
Families that opt for a celebration of life (or memorial service) will often arrange a direct cremation or burial for their loved ones before this.
Separating a celebration of life from a funeral provides many possibilities for a more personal goodbye.
Unlike a funeral service, which is often a more sombre occasion, a celebration of life is an event that will often focus on the positive moments of a person's life and the happiness they brought to others.
Although death can be challenging to deal with and often a time where happiness is difficult to find, sometimes taking a positive outlook can create memories that last longer. After all, humans are pretty good at remembering the happy times and forgetting the sad times.
Another alternative is to opt for a funeral party after the funeral instead of awake.
Many people are now choosing a happier ending to their lives, with funerals traded out for an event that pushes positivity and fun over respectful mourning.
Although wakes are common after many funerals, a funeral party skips the ceremony altogether and gets straight to happier times.
Whether it's a great selection of food and drinks or some of the person's favourite music, an atmosphere that is more of a family get together is becoming a popular option when people make choices about how they want their funeral to look.
Eco-Friendly (or Green) Funerals
The rise in environmental awareness over the past few decades has led to an increase in eco-friendly funerals.
The most popular option is a green burial, usually at a natural or woodland burial site.
The body is buried in a biodegradable coffin (or shroud) no more profound than two feet from the top of the coffin to reduce methane emissions.
Not only does a natural burial have less impact on the environment, but it also offers a more natural outdoor setting for a memorial service.
You can arrange a small service, or mourners could say a few words, as places offering this kind of funeral are often a lot more flexible than some locations with strict rules about the process around the service and burial itself.
If you are considering this option, you should be aware that some eco-friendly funeral locations do not allow a memorial or headstone of any kind to leave no trace on the land.
It is also possible to bury or scatter the cremation ashes of a loved one within natural burial grounds.
Burial at Sea
Another alternative to a traditional funeral, although uncommon, is sea burial.
Sea burials are often reserved for people who spent their lives at sea or who like the idea of being returned to the earth in an alternative way to land burial or cremation.
You'll need to obtain a license for sea burial, and the associated costs can be considerably higher, so more planning and discussion may be required if this is what has been chosen.
This option is not as accessible as some of the others we have listed.
Instead of spending money on a funeral service, many people would prefer you spent the money that would have been spent on a funeral with a service on a good cause instead.
As people become more aware of the high costs of having a complete funeral ceremony, many decide that a much simpler, low-cost direct cremation or burial is an excellent and often selfless option.
This way, you can make sure the money that would have been spent on a traditional funeral goes on to help others.
What to Do If You Don't Want a Funeral When You Die
You're creating an end-of-life plan, and you come to the sections about the funeral service.
Maybe it's already clear to you that a traditional service isn't the kind of memorial you want. Perhaps you want to consider some alternatives to decide for sure.
So what can you do if you don't want a funeral when you die? It all depends on how you want your family and friends to memorialise your death.
Consider Funeral Alternatives
You might go with one of the famous funeral alternatives described below:
- Scattering ashes. If you choose cremation over burial, you can ask your family and friends to say a few words while they scatter your ashes. Be sure to think carefully about where you want them to place your remains.
- Virtual funeral. Travel constraints, illness (or pandemics), and other problems can lead to a delayed in-person funeral. Some people choose to hold a virtual funeral for those who can't attend. (We recommend GatheringUs's virtual funeral planning service to help you with logistics, tech, and day-of-funeral production.)
- Home funeral. If you picture a more intimate experience than that offered by a funeral home, you could request a home funeral. This type of service requires a lot more involvement by your family members, and they might not be comfortable with it, so it's essential to check with them first.
- You are planting a tree. An alternative type of funeral service that's grown in popularity recently is the tree-planting ceremony. If you love nature, having a tree planted in your honour could be the perfect way to memorialise your passing. If you choose to be cremated rather than buried, you could also ask family members to add some of your ashes to a BioUrn or mix it with the dirt used to plant the tree.
- Memorial service and dinner. Maybe you don't want a traditional funeral held in a funeral home, but you still want some of the same aspects of a funeral. If that's the case, you can request that your family and friends hold a memorial service. It can be as similar to or different from a traditional funeral as you wish. Loved ones can give eulogies or not, and they can follow up the service by enjoying a meal together.
There are many more alternatives to traditional funerals, in addition to the few listed above.
With a bit of creativity, you can create an alternative to traditional funeral services that matches your personality and the life you've led.
Think About Other End-Of-Life Decisions
When creating an end-of-life plan, picturing how you want your funeral to go is an excellent first step.
But you'll also want to make sure your family has the information they need regarding other end-of-life decisions.
Many of these decisions will make it easier or harder for your family to carry out your funeral wishes.
Here are a few factors to consider:
- Burial vs. cremation. Whether you choose cremation or burial can have a significant effect on your funeral service. For example, a funeral alternative could be as simple as scattering your ashes if you choose cremation. Similarly, if you choose burial, family and friends could gather and share words at the funeral itself.
- Finances. Your financial well-being will also affect your funeral or memorial service. If you can, it's a good idea to set aside funds for the service. Once you know what kind of funeral alternative you want to go with, research the cost and set that amount aside for your family to use.
- Notifications. It can also be helpful to imagine who you want to attend your memorial. You could even make a list of invitees and their contact information. This can help your family members notify the people who are important to you.
Make Your Wishes Known
Finally, it's no good making a detailed plan for a memorial service if no one knows about it.
Talk with your family members about what you want to happen after your death. It can be a complex subject to broach, but it will relieve an enormous amount of stress in the end.
Create a written copy of your wishes, and keep it in a location where family members can easily find it.
Let at least one person know where you've stored the written copy of your funeral wishes in your home.
Additionally, you can create a Cake profile that makes sharing your end-of-life wishes with family and friends easy. It's still intelligent to talk with your loved ones in person about your wishes to make sure they're on board.
What to Do If a Loved One Opted Out of a Funeral
If your loved one passed away, and you know they didn't want a traditional funeral, you might not be sure what to do.
Maybe they left some guidance about their end-of-life care and memorial service, or perhaps they left nothing at all.
Below are some of the steps you can take if your loved one opted out of a funeral.
Look at the Rest of Their Wishes
When someone passes away, you want to gather up any information you can about their final wishes.
This could be in the form of official documents, like a will and final testament, or it might be a written letter they left behind.
The person's wishes might include information about funeral alternatives, like ash scattering or tree planting.
If it does not, there might be information about whether they wanted to be buried or cremated.
As mentioned above, whether a person chooses cremation or burial makes a big difference when you're planning an alternative memorial service.
Carefully review the person's wishes; you can even create an organised checklist of all of those items.
This will help ensure you've met their wishes later on when you're creating a memorial service.
Notify Friends and Family
Next, you'll want to notify your loved one's family and friends about their passing. You can do this via phone, email, or mailed letter.
Consider each person's relationship with your loved one when you choose the method of notification.
For closer relationships, a phone call may be in order. For more distant acquaintances, you may be able to send an email or a letter in the mail.
If you know when and how you're holding a memorial for your loved one, give that information to invitees, as well.
Let them know when and where they should show up to honour your loved one.
Write an Obituary or Death Announcement, If Applicable
You can also notify the general public by writing and posting an obituary or death announcement in the newspaper.
It's best to send this out after you've already informed close family members and friends about the passing.
In the obituary, you can include information about the alternative funeral or not. For example, you might state, "Mary's ashes will be scattered in Lake Park Forest."
Honour the Rest of Their Wishes
As mentioned above, other end-of-life wishes can have a significant impact on the memorial service.
For example, your loved one might have left behind a sum of money to cover their end-of-life expenses.
Additionally, they might have had specific wishes about whether they wanted to be buried or cremated.
If your loved one didn't include instructions on how they want you to conduct a memorial, you might find clues surrounding their preferences within these other wishes.
Is it Ok to Not Have a Funeral?
More and more people are choosing to forgo the traditional funeral home service.
Whether it's to avoid the high cost of caskets and body preparation, circumvent religious ideologies and traditions, or other reasons, it's entirely reasonable not to want a funeral.
When you're creating an end-of-life plan, think about how you want to be remembered. If you leave instructions for your memorial service, it's best to keep things relatively simple and easy to accomplish. Looking for funeral services in Melbourne? Look no further, Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals is here.
Most importantly, make sure your family members are on board and that they have easy access to your end-of-life plans when they need them.