Arranging a Funeral:  What Your Can Do Yourselves –  A New Zealand Guide

By Philip Tomlinson

Published by the author

Price $10.

(Please email  the author if you would like to buy the book.  His email is


Reviewed by Katherine Smith


No one likes to dwell on the subject of death, but as the old saying goes, the only certainties in life are birth, death and taxes.

The author, of this book, Philip Tomlinson has helped family and friends arrange low cost, personalised funerals, and shares the knowledge that he has gained through this process with his readers.  He simply and succinctly explains the legal requirements that need to be met after a death has occurred, and breaks the task of caring for the deceased and planning for a funeral service and cremation or burial into seven discrete tasks that can be assigned to different members of a family or circle of friends.

One of the major expenses of a funeral is the current fashion of embalming the bodies of the dead. While this may be necessary in some cases, such as if relatives are traveling from overseas to attend the funeral, this is not always necessary, and Philip Tomlinson suggests simple ways to keep a body sufficiently cool that it remains in good enough condition prior to its eventual burial or cremation.  There are also environmental benefits from not embalming a body if it is not truly necessary, as formaldehyde-based embalming fluids are highly toxic.

The book includes plans for a simple wooden coffin, instructions for low-cost, but legal ways in which the body of someone who has died can be transported and lists the forms that need to be completed to fulfill other legal requirements.

While not everyone would want to plan a funeral – many people will be in such a state of shock and grief following a death that it is easier to engage the services of a funeral director – do-it-yourself approach to funerals is an idea that has been embraced by many families.  The cost saving can be considerable;  it is possible to organise a funeral for $1,000-2,000 (for a funeral and cremation) compared to around $10,000 for a basic funeral organised by one of the businesses that provides this sort of service.  It is not unusual for grieving family to have no idea of the size of the bill for a funeral until it has been presented for payment – by which time it is too late to avoid what may be a cause of considerable financial hardship for many families.  After a bereavement people understandably do not read fine print or may confuse details and as Philip Tomlinson writes: “Overdue payments can incur severe penalties. An innocuously state ‘1.5% a month’ [interest] represent a true rate of 19.6%.”

This is a sensitively written book that many people will find useful.