How to plan a funeral or tangi

Planning for a funeral or tangi ahead of time can sound confronting, but it’s become a rising trend over the years. In fact, our recent Cost of Death Report found that over 30% of New Zealanders have already made arrangements for their own farewell, including how their body will be handled, where the ceremony will take place, and even which songs or hymns they want played. This usually means there are less surprises or unplanned roadblocks for loved ones to worry about. As the common saying goes – “if you want something done right, do it yourself”.

When you think about it, a funeral is the final milestone in your life which helps shape your memory while also giving loved ones a chance to say goodbye. Leaving the preparation and planning to be done after you’re gone may not be the best option, especially if you’d like an elaborate ceremony.

That’s why we’ve put together this extensive funeral planning guide, covering everything from setting the right theme, putting aside a safe budget, and even how to do your part for the environment.

Request a FREE information pack

Everything you need to know about funeral insurance

Why it’s important to plan ahead

If a funeral or tangi hasn’t been arranged ahead of time, friends and family will need to do it on short notice.

This can create extra financial and emotional stress for them while they’re already grieving. If the preparations are rushed, there could be last-minute problems that come up on the day of the funeral which nobody expected. For example, if you have family/whanau who live far away or don’t have their own transport, how will they attend? Even something as simple as deciding on the right location or organising transport for those attending can make a big difference.

The biggest benefit for Kiwis taking a DIY approach to funerals is to make their farewell more personal and meaningful. If you have any special causes or values that you would like to be remembered for, your funeral is a chance to proudly honour these while inspiring others to do so as well. This can even help your loved ones cope and reflect after you’re gone.

What to consider when planning a funeral

There are no hard rules or laws around what a funeral must include. You can make the ceremony as unique or creative as you like, but keep in mind there could be other factors you need to consider. For example, when it comes to things like how the body will be transported or handled, there may be local regulations that apply.

Here’s a quick funeral-planning checklist to consider ahead of time:

Decide between a cremation, burial, or other forms of disposition.

Make sure there are arrangements in place to pay for the funeral.

Set the personal details of the event such as the theme, viewing options, pallbearers, eulogists, music/prayers etc.

Decide on whether it will be an open event or by invite only.

Ensure that any distant friends or relatives will be contacted and notified.

Choose the resting place, whether it’s a particular gravesite, or even the location of where the ashes should be scattered.

Write the obituary and funeral notice or nominate a close friend/family member to write it out.

Leave written instructions for any other final wishes to be carried out.

Alternatively, you can look into a few other options to pay for the funeral, including any government grants that you may qualify for, or even your own personal savings.

Preparing for the cost

A funeral in New Zealand usually costs between $8,000 and $10,000. If you’re planning something more lavish and decorated, you can expect to pay even more. Using a director of a funeral home will also add to the final cost as you’ll need to pay their service fees on top of all the other expenses.

Ultimately, the final cost of a funeral comes down to various things like:

Whether you want to be buried or cremated

Cremations usually cost much less than burials as you don’t need to pay for a casket, cemetery fees, or a tombstone.

The exact location or territory

Our research found that the Otago, Southland and West Coast regions had the highest costs for burials, while prices were slightly lower in Northern

The number of people attending

Larger venues will likely cost more to hire, and you’ll also need to factor in the cost of catering for more guests.

Any special services or celebrants

Organising an open-casket viewing can cost more as there will be embalming and transport fees incurred. You will also need to factor in the cost of hiring spiritual advisors, performers, or other participants.

The length of the ceremony

A customary tangi can take at least three days which means there will be extra venue or hospitality costs. Shorter services will likely cost less.

Funeral expenses breakdown

Here’s a quick breakdown of average funeral expenses people surveyed have incurred.

Item Average cost for Burial1 Average cost for Cremation1
Headstone $1,719 N/A
Coffin/casket $2,532 N/A
Cemetery and grave fees $1,350 N/A
Burial plot $808 N/A
Removal of body $1,132 $1,043
Funeral car hire $302 $314
Clergy fees $142 $706
Flowers $280 $587
Catering $1,342 $1,038
Cremation fee N/A $1,630
Urn or other location for ashes N/A $88
TOTAL $9,607 $5,406

More about how much a funeral costs.

It’s important to plan within your budget as funerals can often leave your family and friends with a lot of financial stress. Taking out funeral insurance can be a great way to assist as it gives your loved ones up to $30,000 to honor your final wishes when the time comes. It also lets you plan the exact farewell you want without worrying about the financial setback.

Use our funeral cost calculator to find out how much you’ll need to put aside when planning a funeral

Deciding between a burial or cremation

Deciding whether to be buried or cremated isn’t just a matter of personal preference. The decision usually comes down to other things like costs, spiritual beliefs, environmental concerns, or even the needs of family and friends.

Here’s some essential information and facts about cremation in New Zealand.

You can expect to pay more for a burial as you will need to purchase a cemetery plot and casket – these can be expensive unless you go down the path of making your own coffin. Given the rising cost of land and burial services, it’s not hard to see why cremations are now the preferred choice for most Kiwis.

It’s important to discuss your decision with loved ones too. When it comes to burials, there’s the added benefit of family and friends having a permanent place to feel closer to you. This can be at an urupā or some other public or private place. The burial process can also give family members more closure. However, cremations can be a more convenient option as the remains can be stored and transported easily.

It’s worth looking into the relevant legal requirements as well. Generally, there are a few extra steps you’ll need to go through to organise a cremation, but don’t let a little paperwork get in the way of organising the ideal send-off.

Going ‘green’ with eco-friendly funerals

If you’re concerned about leaving an environmental footprint, there are more and more eco-friendly funeral options to choose from. You may have heard the term ‘eco funerals’ come up before – this is a catch-all for anything you can do at a funeral to reduce the environmental impact.

One of the big reasons behind the rise of cremations in New Zealand is because they are generally better for the ecosystem. Cremations won’t take up limited space on our scenic grasslands as there is no burial plot needed. It also means there will be fewer chemicals used to preserve the body or produce a coffin.

This doesn’t mean that burials can’t be eco-friendly though. You can still do your part for the environment by choosing a ‘natural burial’ site. These have general requirements like:

  • planting trees or shrubs over the plot
  • not having the coffin or remains chemically treated, and
  • using temporary wooden markers instead of permanent tombstones.

If some of these restrictions aren’t suitable for you or your family, you can always organise a regular burial and simply adopt any environmental measures you feel comfortable with. Even something as small as a carpool service or ‘greener’ food options can play a part in helping the planet.

If you’re looking to go green to the extreme, you can look into some slightly untraditional eco-funeral options. These can significantly reduce your carbon footprint while also leaving behind a lasting benefit to the environment.

Alkaline hydrolysis

Also known as a water cremation, this involves soaking the body inside a special chamber until it dissolves into liquid.

Biodegradable urns

These are made of fully recyclable materials and can even be filled with seeds, which will sprout into a tree when planted

Organic ash mixtures

Mixing the remains with organic compounds can balance the pH level and release friendly microbial bacteria back into the earth when scattered.

Request a FREE information pack

Everything you need to know about funeral insurance

Funeral songs or waiata

Interestingly, 27% of New Zealanders say they’ve already decided which songs or poems they want played at their funeral. This is part of the trend of funerals becoming much more personalised than before.

Having songs or waiata played at the service can help loved ones express their feelings if they are lost for words. The song choice can also play a part in setting the mood at the funeral – whether you want it to be sad, inspiring, patriotic, or even light-hearted. While most funeral songs are slow and somber, there’s nothing wrong with adding a personal touch by playing a much loved Rock or Hip-Hop single instead.

If you’re after something less confronting, some universally popular funeral song options include:

  • Amazing Grace
  • My Way – Frank Sinatra
  • We’ll Meet Again – Vera Lynn
  • Over The Rainbow – Judy Garland
  • Unforgettable – Nat King Cole
  • Time To Say Goodbye – Andrea Bocelli

Common choices for waiata at a tangi include:

  • Now Is The Hour
  • Aue Te Aroha
  • Koutou Katoa Ra
  • Tama Ngakau Marie
  • Tangihia
  • Various different Haka

The funeral notice

A funeral notice announces the death while also giving details about the planned funeral. This can be done alongside the obituary. The first thing you need to decide is whether the funeral will be private (by invitation) or open to everyone, as this will determine how the funeral notice is handled.  While you can play a part in crafting your own funeral notice or obituary, you’ll need to have someone you know distribute it after you pass away.  

If you’re planning an open service, the details of the funeral can be released publicly. Remember to make sure the date, time, and exact location of the service are included so others can attend.

A good funeral notice should also have:

It’s not uncommon for family members or relatives to share the same names, so the funeral notice should include personal information to avoid any confusion around who has passed away. The full name (including any nicknames), date of birth, and surviving family members/spouse are common on funeral notices.
Mentioning any notable contributions or achievements.
It’s OK to mention any specific requests from family and friends, like financial donations in lieu of flowers or just expressions of sympathy. As above, if you’re planning an ‘eco-friendly’ funeral, you can use the funeral notice to ask those attending to do their part.

Dressed to express - setting the attire

It might seem unnecessary to stipulate a dress code for a funeral, but if you’re going for a particular theme then it’s worth letting others know how to dress the part. This usually comes down to something personally meaningful. For example – when members of a special cause or service pass away (police, military, firefighters, etc.), colleagues can wear their official uniforms to show solidarity. This can help create a sense of unity and support for loved ones.

If you’re unsure of what should be worn, the traditional attire for a funeral is black formalwear. Bright colours or flashy prints are usually avoided as they can be seen as disrespectful. However, keep in mind that every funeral is different and will depend on your preferences. It’s not uncommon to see some funerals with a more casual dress code nowadays.

If a tangi will be held, there may be a particular dress code required at the Marae. This is usually dark-coloured formal clothing.

Start planning today

Planning a funeral can be stressful, especially if you’re making arrangements for your own farewell. The last thing anyone should worry about during this time is how the funeral will be paid for or the long-term financial impact it can leave behind. Unfortunately, more than 50% of New Zealanders who recently organised a funeral found that it caused financial trouble afterwards. Only a small amount thought that government assistance for funerals was enough to counter this. That’s why planning ahead can be so useful.

Taking out Seniors Funeral Insurance can make things much easier for your loved ones as it gives them up to $30,000 to carry out your final wishes without worrying about the financial impact. Get a quote today to cross one extra thing off your funeral planning checklist.

Considering funeral insurance?

How can New Zealand Seniors help?

Seniors Funeral Insurance pays a lump sum to your family (up to $30,000) upon your death for them to spend as they require.

Benefits of Seniors Funeral Insurance

Choose cover that suits you from $3,000 up to $30,000.

Get back 10% of premiums you’ve paid in the first 12 months of your policy.

Guaranteed cover for New Zealand Residents aged 18–75.

No medical exams or blood test required.

Triple your benefit amount if your death is the result of an accident (up to $90,000).

Claims usually paid within 1 business day.²

30 day money back guarantee.

Premiums reduce by 5% every five years you hold your policy.

See more benefits

Cover is for accidental death only in the first 12 months, cover for any cause thereafter.

1 Unpublished data collected by CoreData for the purposes of the New Zealand Seniors Cost of Death survey June 2019. Average figures are of the amounts survey participants advised they either paid or are aware were paid for both European and Maori funerals. Prices are a representation only.

2 From the time completed documentation is received.

How can we help?

To find out more about New Zealand Seniors,
speak to one of our friendly insurance specialists now