Information about planning a funeral, burial or cremation after someone dies.

When someone dies, the first thing that needs to be arranged is the funeral or at home vigil followed by the cremation or burial of the deceased. It is not a legal requirement to hold a funeral.  

If you are arranging a funeral, you should consider the wishes of the de​ceased.

A deceased may have left instructions about what they want to happen at their funeral. These instructions could have been something that the deceased said before they died, or something they wrote down in a note or letter.

You cannot cremate a deceased person who has made a written direction that they are not to be cremated. Any other directions about a funeral that a deceased person made in their will are not legally binding.

A will is a written document that sets out the intentions of a person and explains how their estate will be distributed after they die. The person making the will is called the 'testator' (male) or 'testatrix' (female).

Not all wills have directions about the funeral. If the deceased did make directions in their will, this is simply a statement of what funeral arrangements the deceased wanted.

If you are an executor in the will you should ensure that you try to carry out the deceased's wishes and organise the funeral as directed in the will. This may reduce disputes among the families and friends of the deceased, who may feel strongly about the deceased's wishes.

The specific directions may include: 

  • whether the person prefers to be buried or cremated
  • the location of the burial or cremation
  • the type of coffin or floral arrangement
  • the type of music to be played at the service 
  • any special requests.

In some circumstances it may not possible to hold a funeral the way the deceased intended. For example, there may not be enough money in the estate, or the directions are unreasonable or difficult to carry out. If you are arranging and paying for the funeral, you may make arrangements that you consider to be appropriate.

If there is no money in the deceased's estate to pay for the funeral you should consider what other options are available.

If a deceased person has paid for their funeral before they died, the written agreement they made with the funeral director may include specific directions for the funeral.

The funeral director should ensure that the deceased's wishes are followed.

The person who organises the funeral is legally responsible to pay for the funeral. Visit the Paying for the funeral page for more information. 

Disputes often arise when a family member, relative or friend of the deceased is not notified of the death or funeral arrangements. If you have arranged a funeral, it may be a good idea to notify relatives or other people who may want to attend the funeral.

There are no legal rules about who can go to a funeral. If the family does not want a particular family member, relative or friend to attend the funeral or you are aware that the deceased did not want a particular family member, relative or friend to attend, it may be a good idea to try to contact the person to let them know before the funeral. They may be able to make other arrangements to say goodbye.

If you are having a dispute with another person and you are finding it difficult to talk to them on your own, you may consider attending mediation at a Community Justice Centre (CJC) to try to resolve the dispute.

If a destitute funeral is being held, NSW Health is responsible for contacting the next of kin so that relatives and friends have an opportunity to attend the funeral. 

If the deceased was cremated, the person who arranged the cremation is entitled to collect the ashes of the deceased from the crematorium or funeral director.

After collecting the ashes, there are many things that you may choose to do with them, including: 

  • scattering the ashes 
  • placing them in an urn 
  • burying the ashes at a cemetery or burial ground.

If you want to scatter the ashes, you must obtain permission from the owner of the land or relevant authorities such as Transport for NSW, NSW Department of Planning and Environment and local councils. If you scatter the ashes without permission you may be charged or fined. When you have permission, you may still have to comply with restrictions. For example, if you get permission to scatter the ashes in the ocean, you may need to do this a certain distance offshore.

If you do not want the ashes, you can ask the crematorium to dispose of them or speak with the deceased's family or friends about what they would like to do with the ashes.

Sometimes disagreements may arise between family members who want to keep the ashes or want some of the ashes. 

It is important to try to resolve disputes between family members. Some crematoriums may charge storage fees if the ashes are not collected within a certain time. If no one collects the ashes, the crematorium may dispose of them after twelve months.

If you are having a dispute with another person about the ashes and you can't agree, you may consider attending mediation at a Community Justice Centre (CJC) or get legal advice.

There does not have to be a headstone or monument on the grave. If the executor or next of kin arrange the funeral, they may choose a headstone or monument. The person who orders the headstone will be legally responsible to pay for it. Whoever orders the headstone may also choose what is written on it.

Sometimes disagreements may arise between family members who prefer a particular type of headstone or writing on the headstone. You should talk to other family members and take into account the deceased's wishes, especially if it was stated in their will.

It is important that you first contact the cemetery to check if they have any special requirements and also obtain their permission before you order the headstone or plaque from the monumental mason.

Headstones can be very expensive so you should also check if there is enough money in the deceased's estate to cover the expense.

It is important to recognise the cultural and spiritual practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

If you are arranging a funeral and having some difficulties, you may contact the Aboriginal Liaison Officer at the hospital or an Aboriginal Community Organisation which may be able to assist you.

If you want to bury the deceased in a special way, for example, without a coffin, you must contact the Local Health District Public Health Unit to ask for permission before you bury the deceased.

For more information, contact NSW Health

Aboriginal people who are ordinarily resident in New South Wales or members of the Land Council may be entitled to limited financial grants from the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council to assist with the costs of a funeral.

For more information on grants, see the Aboriginal Land Council website.