End-of-life planning not a priority for most

Media release | 13 August 2020

A new report shows more than 70 per cent of survey participants were not inclined to plan ahead for funeral services for themselves or their families.

Cemeteries & Crematoria NSW (CCNSW) has published an independent research report and an information tool-kit to improve awareness and offer practical advice to encourage more people to plan funerals ahead of time to ease the burden on them and their families.

The report - ‘Way to go: People’s views on burials, cremations, funerals and ways to commemorate life’ –  aims to improve awareness of end-of-life planning and issues and has been launched as part of the annual Dying to Know Day campaign.

“The independent research found that only about 29% of those surveyed were inclined to proactively plan for funerals for either themselves or family members,” CCNSW Chairman Stepan Kerkyasharian said.

“Many were apprehensive or in denial about death and not comfortable talking about dying, have not thought about their funeral, and have never had to plan one for a relative.

"Unfortunately, if people only make end-of-life arrangements when someone has died or is ill and close to death it can put enormous emotional and financial strain on family members already under pressure at what is a very stressful time.”

The research included an online survey with over 1,140 NSW residents and interviews and workshops with stakeholders across state and local government, cemetery, crematoria and funeral providers, faith representatives and consumer advocates.

“The research identified six categories of people when it comes to preparing for end-of-life with the 'religion is important' and 'pragmatic and prepared' groups most comfortable talking about and planning for death but representing only about 29% of people in the survey,” Mr Kerkyasharian said.

“The rest of the groups identified included the ‘apprehensive or in denial’ group who represented the largest group; the 'uninitiated' who are least prepared and not thinking about end-of-life issues; the ‘not a priority' group who have trouble acknowledging mortality; and the ‘easy going progressives' who are happy to talk about death but do little planning and have little preference to what happens to their body once they die.

“Funerals are important to farewell people but unfortunately many people are generally not thinking about it until the time is imminent. More than 50,000 people die in NSW each year so we need to normalise conversations about after-death arrangements.

“We want people to have the knowledge and the confidence to plan and be well prepared.”

The Way to Go research report and planning information tool-kit is available at www.dpie.nsw.gov.au/ccnsw/afterdeathchoices

Six different groups identified by the research

  • Pragmatic and Prepared: About 14% tend to be comfortable talking about death and dying, have experienced planning a funeral, have discussed their wishes with family or friends, and do not want any religious elements to their funeral.
  • Religion is Important: About 15% tend to have a strong preference for a religious and traditional funeral, are comfortable talking about death, intend to plan for their death, view funeral ceremonies as important to remember loved ones, their family has a high influence on planning for after-death, and over half have been involved in planning a funeral.
  • Not a Priority Right Now: About 13% tend to find it difficult to acknowledge mortality, have a high importance on family and worry about the financial burden of planning a funeral on family, have strong support for cemetery land use, have a strong environmental focus and are supportive of alternative methods of burial or cremation, and most have not been involved planning a funeral before.
  • Uninitiated: About 16% tend to find it difficult acknowledging or talking about death, have not thought about what their funeral would look like, their family has a strong influence on planning for after-death, and most have never been involved with planning a funeral.
  • Apprehensive or in Denial: Many people (about 28%) tend to be uncomfortable talking about death or dying, have not thought about burial or cremation, find it difficult thinking about their mortality, and most have never helped plan a funeral.
  • Easy Going Progressives: About 15% tend to be very comfortable talking about death and dying, have little preference to what happens to their body once they die, have low levels of planning for after-death, and have a strong environmental focus.

[Note: percentages have been rounded up to the next percentile]