How to manage family relationships at a funeral


Family relationships and issues should be taken into consideration when planning the funeral arrangements.

The death of a family member normally unites those bound by love and fond memories of the departed, often coming together for the first time for many years.

Unfortunately, a funeral can also reveal deep divisions and hostilities that can come to the surface because of the heightened emotions.

What are the issues that arise that can divide families when they should be most united? How can the funeral arrangements be organised to prevent disaster?


Children often believe that a parent had a favourite child. And it wasn’t them.

This can set siblings against each other, particularly when remembering their relationship with the deceased parent.

As adults, some family members will be more successful than others. Family members who use a funeral to demonstrate their affluence and talk about their achievements will heighten jealousies and resentments.

Perceived favouritism and injustices often results in bitter arguments when a family organises the funeral of the parent, or other family member.

Put personal jealousies behind you at the funeral ... life is too short to hold grudges.


Sometimes a family member takes sole responsibility for - or plays the major part in - the funeral arrangements.

This can antagonise other family members who think they should be involved. Whoever signs the agreement with the funeral director and makes the initial, or full, payment, makes the decisions about the funeral.

This should follow full consultation and agreement of the close family, not done in advance.

The benefit of a pre-paid funeral plan is that it allows the person who takes out the plan to make the decisions.

Funeral arrangements

Funerals are not cheap. Add to this the cost of the reception or wake, and the bill increases substantially. If one family member decides to organise an expensive funeral and large scale reception at a costly venue, other members are likely to be resentful.

A family member who hasn’t been involved in the decisions might be annoyed when asked to pay a share of the cost.

The willingness, or otherwise, to organise an expensive funeral or reception is also often linked with how much one cared about the deceased, which is an unfair and hurtful piece of emotional pressure.

Family members should communicate about the type and cost of the funeral and reception, before making any decision. Talk to the funeral director to get accurate estimates for the type of funeral family members are considering.

And when it comes to other funeral decisions - burial or cremation; traditional or 'green'; religious or secular; choice of music and readings; flowers or donations - think about the wishes and lifestyle of the departed loved one rather than your own views.


Most families contain members with very different lifestyles. And at funerals these can result in acrimonious arguments and tense atmospheres.

Types of conflict can include progressive against conservative; religious against atheist; gay against straight; alternative against traditional; town against country; rich against poor; liberal against intolerant; flamboyant against dull; young against old; vegetarians against carnivores...

The heightened emotions felt at funerals can result in these lifestyle antagonisms boiling over. If you anticipate probable issues they will be easier to avoid.

Who has cared most?

As a family member gets older and more infirm, it is likely that certain close relatives will care for that person more than others.

This is due to distance from the ailing parent/partner/relative; differing responsibilities of individual family members; physical and mental ability to care; and different levels of a 'sense of duty', or ways of expressing love and fondness.

Family members who have cared more than others can feel their contribution is overlooked at a funeral, or feel they should be given greater responsibility for the funeral decisions.

Conversely they might feel that other family members should take over this particularly stressful event since they have given more time and energy caring for the deceased family member whilst he or she was alive.

Families should consider who has been most active in caring and recognise their contribution.


The hurt, jealously, anger and distrust that often surround break-ups can come to the surface at funerals.

Family members may often take sides or have sympathies that come out during the funeral or reception. Sometimes people think that a funeral gives them the opportunity to reveal hurtful secrets.

If you are aware that affairs, divorces, separations might lead to arguments, it is best to think carefully about who you invite to the funeral.

Avarice and greed

The will is normally read after the funeral. But in the back of people's minds could easily be concerns about who will benefit from the will of the deceased. Or if the family member has died **intestate [Link to content]** what the rules of intestacy mean for them.

And concern that someone else may benefit more than another, can bring the other family divisions, resentments, jealousies and antagonisms to the surface.

Recognise the damage avarice can do; try to put it out of your mind and hope others do too.

The solution

Funerals have the potential to tear families apart.

The solution is to make the decisions for your funeral yourself, while you are still able. By planning ahead for a 'good funeral' you have achieved two important goals - planned the funeral that fits your life, views and beliefs; and prevented your loved ones from having the stressful and often divisive task of organising your funeral.


Tags: family & relationships

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