Less than a third of people have discussed what they want to happen at the end of life. Just four per cent have written advance care plans for when they are dying. Yet more than two thirds of people questioned say they are comfortable talking about death.
The NatCen survey of more than 1,300 people showed seven in ten want to die at home. This is at a time when six in ten people die in hospital.
The research, commissioned by Dying Matters Coalition, examines public attitudes to issues around death, dying and bereavement.
While people have strong views about the end of life, they are still unlikely to have discussed their own death. This was mainly because people felt death was a long way off or that they were too young to discuss it. Nearly one in ten of people aged 65 to 74 years old believed they were too young to discuss dying.
Three in ten people had never seen a dead body. Just one per cent of the sample said they would go to a minister, pastor or vicar for information about planning the end of life. Most people's preferred choice for seeking information was a friend or family member, or their GP.
This was despite the fact that nearly seven in ten of the respondents described themselves as Christian. Nearly two in ten said they were atheist or had no religion.
Professor Mayur Lakhani, chair of Dying Matters, said: "As a practising GP, I know that many people feel frightened to talk about death for fear of upsetting the person they love. However, it is essential that people do not leave it until it is too late. Planning for needs and wishes helps you to be in control, and it helps those we leave behind."
One carer said: "It's not easy to talk about end of life issues, but it's important to do. Now that we've put our affairs in order and are talking about what we want, we can 'put that in a box' as it were, and get on with living one day at a time, cherishing each day together, as I know it's going to end one day."
A bereaved widow said: "If you talk about dying, you can say everything you want or need to. There are no regrets."