• Before Beyond

How to plan a funeral

Updated: May 11, 2021



This is the second article in a three part series on how to deal with post-death matters in the context of death from a terminal illness. In this article, the following topics will be addressed:

Do check out the other two articles in the series to find out more about the tasks that needs to be done in the days to weeks after death.

As you read this article, you can use a calculator to punch in the approximate costs at each stage of planning to obtain a rough estimate of the cost of a funeral that suits your needs.


How to choose a funeral director (if applicable)



When you or your loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness, choosing a funeral director can take place even before death occurs. Pre-planning can help to avoid the stress of having to sieve through 36 different funeral directors in Singapore after death occurs.


I was fortunate to have a wonderful friend who helped me to narrow the list to two funeral directors after she called them to assess if they could organise the type of funeral I had in mind for my loved one. This significantly helped to reduce the stress I was facing as I was a full-time caregiver during that period.


This list of funeral directors can be found at this link. You can consider making a spreadsheet to shortlist potential funeral directors based on:

  • Type of services offered (most of their services are broadly similar; the difference is usually in the costs and customisations)

  • Costs of services (one of the most important details to ascertain)

  • Promptness of response when you call them

  • Professional and compassionate tone

  • Sensitive to your situation and requests

  • Location (this is not a major factor due to Singapore's size)

  • Recommendations by relatives and friends



How to organise the funeral wake


The terms "funeral", "wake" and "viewing" can be used rather interchangeably. There isn't a strict single definition for any of the terms. In general, all three terms describe ceremonies or procedures to allow surviving loved ones the opportunity to

  • Share grief

  • Support one another

  • Say goodbye to the deceased

  • Show respect to the deceased

A wake typically involves loved ones spending time with the body. A funeral is a ceremony (usually held after a wake, if any) that involves the deceased's cremation or burial. A viewing involves loved ones seeing the deceased one last time before cremation or burial. All of the proceedings can be accompanied by rituals depending on culture and religion.


The typical duration of a funeral wake is 0-7 days. If the duration of the funeral wake is more than 7 days after death, you will need to apply to the National Environment Agency (NEA) to obtain their permission for this. You will need to provide a copy of the death certificate and embalming certificate (if any) during the application. If the deceased's body is not embalmed, the funeral wake should be completed within the first 24 hours of death for sanitary reasons.


Due to COVID-19 regulations, a maximum of 30 people will be allowed to be present at a funeral wake at any one time, subject to the safe capacity of the venue.


Choosing a location for the funeral wake


Funeral wakes can be held at a Housing Development Board (HDB) void deck, a funeral parlour, or at home. Occasionally, the funeral procession may involve the public road outside the house or state land. Additional permits will be needed in order to utilise these spaces.


HDB Void Deck

You will need to visit your Town Council office to apply for a permit to hold the funeral wake at the HDB void deck. The applicant has to be above 21 years old, a relative of the deceased, and a HDB resident of the Town Council that you are applying to in order to be eligible to apply for a permit. Do bring along your NRIC and death certificate of the deceased in order to make the application.


In general, there are no charges to hold a funeral wake at the HDB void deck. However, if there are funeral rites, charges will typically be $50 per day. Additional charges to utilise electricity points and water points will apply (usually $10-20 per point).


Holding the funeral wake at the HDB void deck can allow the next-of-kin to easily travel between the home and the funeral location. If the wake lasts over a few days, it is preferably for someone to keep watch of the location overnight.


Funeral Parlour

The advantage of booking a funeral parlour is that you do not need to keep vigil over the location overnight. However, a funeral parlour is usually more expensive than holding a funeral at a void deck (the price difference ranges from a few hundreds to a few thousand dollars depending on the type of funeral and the duration).


Home Setting

The main advantages of holding a funeral wake in the home setting is similar to holding a funeral wake at the HDB void deck. If private apartment grounds are utilised, you will need to obtain permission from the estate management.


Public Roads

Contact Singapore Police Force (SPF) to apply for a permit to use the part of the road outside your landed property or any public road. (Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find information on the cost of a permit and the duration it takes to apply for a permit - if anyone has information on this, do contact me!)


State Land

Contact Singapore Land Authority (SLA) to apply for a Temporary Occupation Licence (TOL) to use state land near your property for the funeral wake. There will be a non-refundable processing fee of $48 and additional booking charges based on the amount of land space required.


Choosing a Funeral Package


Funeral packages will generally provide the following services:

  • Embalming: this is the process of preserving the deceased's body to stall decomposition and to enhance the appearance of the deceased to appear more natural (read more some of the methods used during embalmment). Not everyone practices embalming; if no embalming is done and the deceased's body is not cremated or buried in the first 24 hours, it should be placed in an airtight, sealed coffin without a viewing window for a period not exceeding 7 days after the death.

  • Casket

  • Setting up of location for funeral rites e.g chairs, tables, toilets

  • Transportation of the deceased

  • Religious rites

  • Photo enlargement services

  • Refreshments

Seedly has published an article comparing the costs of several funeral packages offered by different funeral companies. Choose a funeral package that suits your needs and is within your budget. Costs for funeral packages differ for different religious rites and can range from $1000-$10,000. Depending on religion, it may be customary to make a monetary contribution for the rituals conducted. These fees may not be included within the funeral package itself.


Paying for Funeral Costs


The funeral expenses can be covered by

  • In cash (contributed by the next-of-kin, family, and friends)

  • A pre-paid funeral plan or insurance policy

  • Money from the deceased's estate or un-nominated CPF savings, if you are a beneficiary (maximum amount for funeral reimbursement claims from un-nominated CPF savings is $6000)


Cultural Variations


Funeral wake practices vary for different racial and religious groups in Singapore. For example, in Muslim practice, the deceased's body needs to be buried as soon as possible and it is haram (forbidden) for the body to be embalmed (this is so that the body can naturally decomposes into the Earth).


There may also be differences in how the older and younger generations prefer to hold their funerals.


Most religions and cultures accept monetary donations as a form of condolences but an individual's preferences may differ so do check with grieving person beforehand. Do also check if flowers are accepted by a person before sending them. For example, Muslims and Jews do not usually accept wreaths at a funeral wake.


You can learn more about how funeral rituals differ for different racial and religious groups at howtoadult and angchinmoh. A good personal account on how Muslim funerals are conducted can be found on this page.



How to make an obituary


The purpose of an obituary is to inform the public about the recent death of a person. It is not compulsory to make an obituary.


If you choose to make an obituary, do note that there can be up to two weeks lag time for its publication from the date of booking. As such, the obituary may not be a suitable means for informing people on the date and details of the funeral wake.


To book an obituary via Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), fill up their online form at this website. You will need to have on hand the following items:

  • Original death certificate

  • Photo of the deceased

  • Name of the deceased and alias

  • Date of death

  • ID card of person placing the notice

Other optional details includes

  • Names of surviving family members

  • Details of the funeral wake

  • Burial or cremation details


As of 11 March 2021, a small obituary (13cm x 7.9cm) costs $2278.46 (+ $107 for digital obituary service) and a quarter page obituary costs up to $9464.36.



Deciding between cremation or burial


After the funeral wake, the deceased will either be cremated or buried. This decision would have to be made when exchanging the Certificate of Cause of Death (CCOD) for the death certificate in the first 24 hours following death.


If the burial option is selected


Choa Chu Kang (CCK) cemetery is the only remaining site in Singapore that allows burials. The booking of the burial can be arranged by the funeral director or done via phone, online or in person at the booking office. The documents required for booking a burial are:

  • Original death certificate

  • Original permit to bury (included in the death certificate)

  • NRIC or passport of next-of-kin and applicant (or letter of authorisation if the applicant is not the next-of-kin)

The fee of the burial are as such:

  • Ahmadiyyah Jama'at Bahai, Jewish, Muslim and Parsi cemeteries

  • Child under 10 years old: $140

  • Adult $315

  • All other cemeteries at CCK e.g. Christian, Chinese, Hindu, and Lawn cemeteries

  • Child under 10 years old: $420

  • Adult $940

You can also consider getting a tombstone. Tombstones can range from simple headstone engravings (approximately $4000) to elaborate monuments (up to $30,000).


Due to space constraints, all burials at CCK Cemetery are limited to a 15-year bury-in period. At the end of 15 years, the graves will be exhumed (dug out from the ground).


For religions that permit cremation, the exhumed remains will be cremated and stored in columbaria niches (see below for more details on cremation). Where burial is mandated by religion, the exhumed remains will be re-interred in smaller individual plots.


If the cremation option is selected


There are three crematoria in Singapore and the cremation fees are as follows:

  • Mandai Crematorium

  • Child under 10 years old: $50

  • Adult: $100

  • Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery: $321

  • Tse Tho Aun Temple: $428


The booking of a cremation slot can be arranged by the funeral director or done via phone, online or in person at the booking office. The documents required for booking a cremation slot are:

  • Original death certificate

  • Original permit to cremate (included in the death certificate)

  • NRIC or passport of next-of-kin and applicant (or letter of authorisation if the applicant is not the next-of-kin)

After cremation, the ashes can either be collected on the day itself (if the cremation is done early enough in the morning) or the following day.


Due to COVID-19 regulations, a maximum of 30 people will be allowed to be present for the viewing prior to the cremation or burial, subject to the safe capacity of the venue. NEA will issue 30 entry passes for each cremation or burial at government-managed facilities (this can be collected via the funeral directors if applicable).



What happens to the ashes after cremation


In general, ashes are either stored or scattered at sea. More novel ways of storing the ashes have been developed over the years.


Storage of ashes


Ashes can be kept at home (usually in an urn) or stored in a columbaria niche. A niche is a single compartment within a columbarium that holds the ashes.


Example of niches (Photo by Pierre Yves Beaudouin)

Sorry, I can't provide a Singapore example due to copyright issues


There are many columbaria options to choose from. Just for an estimate of prices, government-managed columbaria charge $500 for a standard niche, and $900 for a family niche. If you would like to select a specific location for the niche, there will be an additional $250 selection fee.


You can consider getting a custom design columbarium plaque at an additional fee (the niche version of a tombstone). For example, a marble plaque with inscription would cost approximately $1000. Alternatively, you can consider a marble urn which would cost approximately $350 onwards.


Scattering of ashes at sea (Sea burial)


Maritime Port Authority (MPA) has designated a sea burial site located about 1.5 nautical miles (2.8km) south of Pulau Semakau (visible from the coast of Pasir Ris beach).


After cremation, the deceased's family will wrap the ashes in a cloth and transport the ashes from the crematorium to the sea burial site. Alternatively, the funeral service can also assist with the transport of ashes. Some funeral services provide substitutes for the cloth such as a scattering tube (approximately $200) or bio-degradable urn (approximately $175).


You (or the funeral director) will need to book a private boat at Changi Ferry Terminal. The boat will be able to take 10-12 people on board (including the boat and funeral service staff). The cost of sea burial is approximately $200 upwards.


Due to COVID-19 regulations, booking of boats will be limited to three boats (30 people).


Upon reaching the designated site for sea burial, the ashes will be released into the sea (either dropped or thrown rather than scattered). You can consider bringing loose flowers (usually sold in small packets for $1-2 per packet at wet markets) to scatter into the sea as well.


Scattering of ashes at The Garden of Peace at the Choa Chu Kang Cemetery


From 17 May 2021, Choa Chu Kang Cemetery Complex will be opening The Garden of Peace - an ash scattering garden - on their premises. The garden will be open from 9am to 5pm daily and each group will have two hours to complete their ash scattering and simple rites.


Only fine human ashes can be scattered in the garden. Hence, crematorium will provide services to process the cremated remains into powder fine ashes. After scattering the ashes, you can water the area to ensure it sinks into the soil is not blown away by the wind.


The cost to scatter ashes in the garden will be $320.


Due to COVID-19 regulations, groups will be restricted to five (this number excludes funeral directors and religious workers).


Novel methods of storing ashes


Other less common methods of storing ashes includes

  • Tree burial: remains are combined with the seed of a tree and placed in a biodegradable pot which can be planted in your garden if you have one (do take note that if move house, you will either need to re-pot the remains or inform the new owners)

  • Turning remains into diamonds or storing it into a locket as a jewellery


Conclusion


Planning a funeral can be a stressful affair if you have no idea how to go about doing it. It will be a huge help to our loved ones if we clearly pen down our preferences on how we want our assets distributed in the event of death.


An extra tip for organising and attending funerals during the period of COVID-19 restriction: bring lots of tissue paper and extra masks because it gets difficult to breathe after your mask is stained with tears.


Do check out the other two articles in the series to find out more about the tasks that needs to be done in the days to weeks after death.

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