The A-Z of funeral terminology

The A-Z of funeral terminology

Some industries have unique terminology where you feel like you need a degree to decipher what everything means, and the funeral industry is one such industry. It’s hard enough to know how to navigate the grieving process and arrange a funeral for a loved one without the added burden of not knowing what some funeral industry wording means.
So, we’ve broken it down for you, so there’s one step in the funeral process you don’t have to worry about.



When appointed administrators control a company and exercise the powers that directors ordinarily have over a company in business terms. With a funeral, this means it’s the person who has been appointed to manage the deceased persons’ estate. The technical name for the person who takes on administering an estate is the legal personal representative’ because they personally ‘represent’ the deceased in the estate’s administration.

In Queensland, the following people can apply to the court for letters of administration on intestacy, in descending order of priority:

  • Spouse (husband or wife, civil or de facto partner, including same-sex partner);
  • Children (including biological or adopted children);
  • Grandchildren or great-grandchildren;
  • Parent/s;
  • Brother/s and sister/s;
  • Grandparent/s;
  • Uncles and aunts;
  • First cousin/s; and/or
  • Anyone else the court may appoint.

Administering the Estate

Once an Executor or Estate Administrator has been appointed, they will have to carry the duties necessary to value and distribute the deceased assets and distribute them to the beneficiaries. This is called Administering the Estate.


An Autopsy is an examination of the deceased by a coroner or doctor to determine death’s exact cause when death is unknown or unexpected. Most people don’t get autopsies when they die. Medical examiners can order autopsies in cases of suspicious deaths, or family members can order one if they wish to know how someone passed if it’s not clear. Although laws vary, nearly all states call for an autopsy when someone dies in a suspicious, unusual, or unnatural way. Many states have one done when a person dies without a doctor present.


A beneficiary is a person you name to inherit your assets when you pass away. Legally it refers to someone eligible to receive distributions from a trust, will, or life insurance policy.


This word you’ll hear at funeral ceremonies and means someone who has suffered the loss of a loved one. It’s also the term used for leave, called bereavement leave, when people take leave for this occasion.


The bequest is the act of leaving something to another person through a will. On the other hand, inheritance describes the process and rights a person has to property or assets after a spouse or relative’s death.


A bier is a stand on which a corpse, coffin, or casket containing a corpse is placed to lie in State or carried to the grave. In Christian burial, the bier is often placed in the centre of the nave with candles surrounding it and remains in place during the funeral.

Burial plots and permits

The burial plot is the reserved area in cemetery that has been secured in advance by a person or family member for burial when they pass away. The burial permit is the legal document the funeral director obtains to authorise legal the burial, cremation of scattering of ashes.

Casket and coffins

In traditional burials, the body is placed in a wooden casket and lowered in the ground for burial or cremation. There are many types of unique caskets, and family members can now choose from ones with various paints, pictures, decorations, and natural wicker varieties. The difference between a coffin and a casket is purely design. A coffin is tapered at the shoulder with a removable lid. A casket is rectangular in shape and has a hinged lid, but both can be designed with unique features upon request.

Chapel and commemorative service

The chapel is the place in a funeral home where the service takes place, and the commemorative service is the term given to the ceremony in memory of the deceased.


A coroner is the Government official responsible for conducting the autopsy and investigating how and why someone died unexpectedly.


This is another term for a funeral procession: the procession of vehicles from the funeral service to the cemetery or crematorium. It’s often lead by a hearse. In Queensland, when you see an escort in progress, the road rules state that a driver shouldn’t cut in or interrupt a funeral procession.


Cremation is a method of the final disposition of a dead body through burning. Cremation may serve as a funeral or post-funeral rite and as an alternative to the burial or interment of an intact dead body.

Death Certificate

The legal document required and issued by the Government to legally pronounce the death of a person.

Direct burial or direct cremation

This is when a simple burial or cremation takes place without any viewing or visitors and no ceremony.


The practice of conserving a body for viewing purposes. The process involves introducing a disinfectant solution to the internal environment of the body when someone passes away. It delays changes to the body that occur after death, giving the deceased a more restful appearance and, in some situations, removing some visible effects of the cause of death.


It is the speech celebrating the person’s life who has passed away. This can often include a speech of fond memories, poems read, music, and allows people in attendance the chance to remember the person’s life and what they may have been known for.


This the person who is responsible or carrying out the wishes of the deceased as the instructions in their will.

Fiduciary duties

A fiduciary is a person who holds a legal or ethical relationship of trust with one or more other parties. Typically, a fiduciary prudently takes care of money or other assets for another person.

Funeral notice or obituary

An announcement in the newspaper or other specified publications detailing the funeral arrangements. A death notice or funeral notice is usually written by the funeral home, often with the help of the surviving relatives, and is then submitted to the newspaper or other publications of the family’s choosing. The family writes an obituary.

Headstone, tombstone and gravestone

All these are generally the same. Originally, a tombstone was the stone placed on top of a stone coffin. A gravestone was a stone slab covering a grave. Headstones were generally markers denoting a grave. Today, all of these terms indicate a marker placed at the head of a grave.


The vehicle used to transport the deceased in a coffin or casket to the gravesite or crematorium. They are purpose-built for funeral homes in most cases.


This is the term sued when someone dies without a will in place. If you do die without a will, your estate does not automatically pass to the State (Crown), as is often assumed. Chapter 4 of the Succession Act 2006 (NSW) sets out the order in which your eligible relatives will inherit your estate if you die without a will. It is only if you die without eligible relatives that your estate will pass to the State.

It is always better to make a will — that way, you can make your own decisions about who will inherit your estate, rather than having the intestacy rules apply.


A clinical room in a hospital or a funeral home where bodies are stored and looed after until the funeral takes place.


The person or people who will help carry a coffin or casket during the funeral. It is often the men in a family who will carry out this duty.


Probate is a court order made by the Supreme Court that confirms that the deceased’s Will is valid and gives the executor permission to distribute the estate as described in the deceased person’s Will.


The Urn is a container that holds the ashes of the deceased after cremation. Choosing an urn is primarily a matter of personal preference and of choosing an option that best reflects your loved one’s personality, lifestyle and interests.


An event that enables the bereaved to see the deceased’s body in private either before or after a funeral service. Usually, this happens in a room separate from the funeral service.


Less formal than the funeral ceremony and often held after the funeral or burial service. Often it is when families will put on some light food and refreshments and guests will mingle post-funeral. It can be at a funeral home or at a relatives home or a reception place.

At Cairns Funeral Directors, we are happy to navigate you through the bewildering process of funerals. If there is any confusing terminology or you’re not sure if one of the funeral processes work, we will take our time to explain it to you and your family. For more information or clarity, give one of our friendly team a call today.