Funerals & registration of death 

What might I have to think about when planning a funeral?

It will be easier to plan a funeral if you have an idea of what the deceased might have wanted. Things to think about might include : 

  • whether the body is to be buried or cremated 
  • which outfit the deceased should be dressed in (it could be one that was their favourite)
  • whether to hold a funeral service (in which the casket or coffin is present) or memorial service (in which the casket or coffin is not present, which can take place at a suitable time after the body has been interred or cremated) - or neither
  • where to hold the funeral and/or memorial service 
  • what should happen at the service, e.g. who will speak or perform, what symbols of the person’s life will be displayed, what music should be played or hymns should be sung
  • who will be the celebrant or spiritual leader for the ceremony 
  • which friends and family can contribute mementos and photos for the service
  • how you will notify friends and family about the venue, date and time of the service 

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What can a funeral director do to help me organise a funeral?

A funeral director can guide you through the decisions you will have to make about the funeral and other issues related to the death. The usual services a funeral director offers are:

  • transport of the body
  • registering the death
  • ensuring the legal requirements for burial or cremation (including bookings for a cemetery or crematorium, and filing the necessary forms for cremation) are met
  • the embalming, care and presentation of the deceased’s body
  • placement of death notices and/or funeral notices in the paper
  • organising the funeral service
  • providing a venue for the service
  • recommending and arranging the minister or celebrant and the organist
  • flowers
  • catering facilities for after the funeral
  • support services for bereaved families and friends
  • applications to government agencies for funeral grants

You can choose to perform some of the tasks yourself, or ask the funeral director to take care of everything. They may charge a flat fee per funeral, or a fee only based on the specific tasks they perform for you. It’s good to check what you are paying for first, by getting an itemised quote.

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What are some of the normal costs of a funeral?

The average cost for a funeral is around $8,000 - $10,000 but can vary widely.

Some of the normal costs associated with a funeral are:

  • newspaper notices to inform friends of the deceased
  • the burial plot or cremation fees
  • the coffin or urn
  • embalming
  • transporting the body, including hearse fees
  • venue fees for the church or funeral home
  • the celebrant's or minister's fee
  • the organist's (or other musician's) fee 
  • catering for the reception afterwards
  • presentations e.g. audio-visual gear for videos, slide shows or audio presentations
  • printing costs for service programmes
  • flowers  
  • portrait of the deceased to be displayed during the service 
  • thank you cards to send to attendees after the service
  • death certificate

If you are using a funeral director to arrange to have the above tasks completed by a third party (e.g. printing service programmes), the funeral director will usually pay for the associated costs on your behalf at the time and pass them on to you in their invoice. 

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What are some more affordable options for a funeral?

If you want a funeral director to organise the funeral, it is worth shopping around and getting some quotes - preferably itemised so you know exactly what you would be paying for. Be clear with the funeral director about your financial limits. 

You can also choose to organise the funeral yourself.

Whether you do it yourself or with the help of a funeral director, you can consider the following options for saving money:

  • Caskets:
    • The cheapest type of casket is made of plain, untreated pine or plywood. A cardboard casket is cheaper still, if you can source one.
    • A casket is not mandatory; the body may be wrapped in a shroud instead
  • You can ask that the body is not to be embalmed - if burial or cremation will not be within two to three days, you can ask for the body to be packed in ice or refrigerated until ready
  • Funeral service:
    • Use flowers from your garden or ask people to bring flowers  
    • Organise the catering yourself or ask people to bring a plate
    • Conduct the service in your own home
    • Transport the body in your own vehicle, as long as the body is in a coffin and you comply with the relevant health and safety regulations
    • Opt to not have the funeral recorded, or ask a family member or friend to do it
    • You can choose not to have a funeral service at all. 
  • Burial or cremation?
    • It costs more to buy a burial plot near a large city than in a rural area
    • Cremations are less expensive than burials because you don’t have to worry about the cost of a burial plot (if you can choose to bury the ashes in a plot you won't need as large a plot)
    • If the deceased is to be cremated you can make the necessary arrangements directly with a council crematorium.

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What is a funeral celebrant?

A funeral celebrant is a person who leads the funeral ceremony, and is an alternative to a minister or spiritual leader. To find a funeral celebrant, search the Celebrant Association of New Zealand's celebrant database.

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What are the legal requirements for a burial or cremation?

The main legal requirements are that a doctor’s certificate or coroner’s order has been issued before burial or cremation, and that the death is registered with the Department of Internal Affairs within three days of the body being buried or cremated.

For cremation, you will need a cremation certificate from a doctor and to file this with the cremation authority before the body can be cremated. A cremation authority is someone who has permission from the local council to perform cremations.

For burials, there are rules about where a body can be buried. In general a body must only be buried in a cemetery, denominational burial ground, private burial ground or Maori burial ground - and there are restrictions as to who can be buried in a denominational, private or Maori burial ground.

You’ll need to get permission from your local council to conduct a burial or cremation, as they look after the public burial and cremation facilities.

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How do I register a death?

If the funeral arrangements are being organised by a funeral director then they can do this for you.

If you are doing this yourself, then you must register the death with the Department of Internal Affairs, Births, Deaths and Marriages Office within three working days of the body being buried or cremated. It doesn't cost anything to register the death.

To register a death, you need to fill out a Notification of Death for Registration (BDM28). If you contact the Births, Deaths and Marriages Office they will send you a copy of the form.

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Where is the death registered if someone dies overseas?

The death is registered in the country where it occurred. More information on what happens when someone dies overseas is on our Death: general information page.

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Who can request a death certificate?

Anyone can request a death certificate. This is done through the Department of Internal Affairs, Births, Deaths, and Marriages office. If the family does not want the details of the death given out, they can request a Non-Disclosure Direction, which will expire after five years unless it is renewed or withdrawn.

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What options are there for funeral pre-payment plans?

Funerals can be paid for in full or in part:

  • from the estate of the deceased (if grant of probate is not required) 
  • from an insurance policy claim, for instance life insurance or funeral insurance 
  • by the person organising and authorising the funeral, or other family members
  • with a grant from Work and Income, ACC or the Veterans' Association (if you meet the eligibility criteria) or
  • by the deceased’s pre-paid funeral plan if there is one.

Below we describe in more detail the main types of funeral pre-payment plans:

Funeral Insurance
This is a type of life insurance; if you already have life insurance, it may be enough to meet your funeral costs.

The conditions of a funeral insurance policy will vary depending on the provider, so be sure to ask a lot of questions:

  • How much cover you can get? 
  • What will happen to the policy if you miss a payment? 
  • Under what conditions will you be able to cancel your policy? What fees would apply, and what will happen to your payments? 
  • Is there a stand-down period during which you can’t make a claim? 
  • Can the value of the policy be adjusted according to inflation i.e. to keep up with the rising cost of a funeral? 
  • What will happen if, when you die, the value of your policy is not enough to cover the cost of the funeral? 
  • What happens to the excess money if you end up paying more than the amount of the insurance cover? 
  • Will your payments be held in a trust, or by the insurance company (if it’s held in a trust then your money is more secure if the insurance company goes under)? 
  • What proportion of your payments will go towards the funeral costs, as opposed to administration fees?


Funeral Trusts

If you have a funeral trust, you can make payments into the trust whenever you want to and the money (plus any interest earned) is made available on your death. There may be a minimum amount you have to pay at the beginning. You’ll probably also be charged an establishment fee plus annual management fees, but this will vary depending on the provider.

Prepayment plan with a funeral director
The Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand has a prepayment plan, as do some individual funeral directors. Depending on the scheme, you‘ll either have to pay a lump sum in advance or be able to pay instalments over a period of time. There will probably be a start-up fee, as well as annual administration fees.

If you are thinking of starting up a funeral trust or a prepayment plan with a funeral director, ask them:

  • is there a minimum amount you have to pay? 
  • what start-up and management fees will you have to pay? 
  • does the scheme account for increasing funeral costs due to inflation? What happens to the excess money if the amount is more than the amount of the funeral costs? 
  • under what circumstances (if any) can you withdraw money from the fund? What fees will you be charged if you do? 
  • is the money paid into a trust (this means your funds are secure if the organisation goes bust)
  • can the fund be transferred, e.g. if you change location?

Funeral insurance, funeral trusts and prepayment plans generally come with various fees and restrictions, so it’s worth seeking independent financial advice if you are thinking about doing this.

It is also worth considering a pre-payment plan if you think you might need long term residential care in the future. This is because if you need to apply for the means-tested Residential Care Subsidy, up to $10,000 of a funeral plan is exempt from the asset assessment. If you want your funeral payment funds to be exempt from the Residential Care Subsidy means test, check with the plan provider that it is recognised as such by Work and Income. 

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We can't afford to pay for the funeral. What can we do?

If you or your family do not have enough money to cover the funeral expenses, you may be eligible for financial assistance from one of the following agencies:

Assistance from Work and Income
Financial assistance from Work and Income (WINZ) is means tested (the assessment is made on the assets of the deceased, and the income and assets of the family if the funeral is being arranged by a family member) and is not intended to cover the full cost of a funeral.

To qualify for a funeral grant you must be the partner, child, parent or guardian of the person who has died or be responsible for arranging the funeral of a person who has no surviving spouse, partner or children.

The grant is to help with the cost of:

  • preparing the body for cremation or burial (for example, embalming) 
  • the casket 
  • newspaper notice 
  • the hearse 
  • purchase of a burial plot 
  • cremation

 
Costs that are not covered by a funeral grant include:

  • flowers 
  • donations to clergy or musicians 
  • chapel fees 
  • car hire 
  • death certificates

For more information about eligibility and how to apply, visit the Work and Income website.

If you need help applying for a Work and Income funeral grant, you can ask your local Citizens Advice Bureau for assistance. 

Assistance from ACC
For the funeral of someone who has died as a result of an accident, a work-related disease or infection, or medical treatment, ACC provides a funeral grant up to around $6000.

The family of a homicide victim can receive up to $10,000.

Assistance from Veterans' Affairs
New Zealand Veterans' Affairs  also provides a funeral grant, for the funeral costs of a veteran (eligibility criteria apply). More about this is on their website.

If a person dies and no-one is able (or willing) to pay for a funeral, the local council may waive or discount the cremation or burial fees. The funeral directory or the deceased’s family can apply to the council for this.

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I’m going to a tangi for a friend who died. What do I need to know about correct etiquette while I am there?

A Maori funeral is called a tangihanga or tangi, and is usually held at a marae, but it can also be held at a family home or hall. The tangi is only part of the traditional mourning process which begins when someone is near death.
 
You can start by reading our general information about visiting a marae, and Te Ara (Encyclopaedia of New Zealand) for general information about tangihanga (the Māori ceremony to mourn the dead).

However, it is important to be aware that each iwi (tribe) has its own tikanga (customs or protocols) for tangi. It is therefore best to consult the kaumātua (elder) of the deceased’s iwi for more specific information and advice.

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to direct you to the appropriate marae and find out who you need to speak to.

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Can a prisoner leave the prison to attend a funeral?

A prisoner can apply to go to a funeral, tangi, or commemoration of a family member or close friend. This needs to be approved by the prison’s Chief Executive or delegate, and they may impose conditions such as a time limit or a police escort.