Funeral Glossary of Terms

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

Last updated: 20 August 2019

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, solicitors 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 when there is no will, no executor named in a will, or the person named has decided not to act as an executor.

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 immediately 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 coffin or casket, 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 honour 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 – Sometimes confused with a casket, but is tapered at both ends unlike a rectangular casket.

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.

Coroner – A government official with the responsibility of investigating the cause of death if it is unknown, or if the person who has died is unidentified.

Cortege – See procession.

Death Certificate – Proof that your loved one has died, issued after you register the death with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Needed for managing an 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 organised 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 honour 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. Requires a licence in Australia.

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 director for inclusion in the funeral.

Grant of representation – Sometimes used to refer to probate or letters of administration; the legal authority to manage an estate.

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 coffin or casket.

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.

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

Letters of administration – Legal authorisation to act as an administrator of an estate.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

Probate – The legal authority to manage a loved one’s estate after they die.

Repatriation – The process of bringing a loved one back to Australia 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.

Wake – Traditionally, a vigil held in the presence of a loved one between their death and the funeral, but also a term sometimes used to describe the reception or funeral tea held after a burial or cremation ceremony.

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