It is an unfortunate truth that death is often an expensive endeavor. This is especially true in the United States, where the rising costs of healthcare trickle over into hereafter expenses. In 2019, the average cost of a funeral (even with cremation) is between $7,000 and $11,000. Much of this cost depends on where you live and what services you need. The simple fact is that many cannot afford to pay anything close to this sum of money, even if they have some savings (which up to 70% of Americans currently lack).
The burden is often made worse by the truth that, many times, the funeral isn’t the only expense you may be facing at this time. In many cases, an unexpected loss can leave you and your family with excessive medical bills and unpaid debt that exacerbates the issue.
Even in cases where you anticipate the loss of a loved one, there can be many end-of-life expenses that aren’t necessarily easily anticipated or dissolved after death. This leaves many in a difficult position - struggling with grief over the loss of a loved one while simultaneously burdened with the weight of paying for an expensive funeral out of your means.
If you find yourself struggling to pay for funeral expenses and feel overwhelmed and stressed, you aren’t alone in this. There have been many others who have been in the same position. More importantly, there are many avenues of assistance available. Some of those might surprise you! We understand the stressful situation you find yourself in all too well.
It’s why we’ve created this comprehensive guide to holding a funeral without much money. We’ll cover how to find financial assistance, possible fundraising avenues, nontraditional funeral services, and even some alternatives you may not have previously considered. With a little help – and the knowledge in this guide – you’ll find yourself in a much better position to handle the emotional burden.
While it might seem like an odd question, it’s also one that many family members find themselves facing. It might affect you specifically if you have a parent (or parents) who have recently passed. Can you be forced to pay for someone’s funeral? The short answer to this question is no. However, things can be a little more complicated depending on the situation.
No, family members cannot be forced to pay for anyone’s funeral. Most of the time, the costs for a funeral comes from the deceased individual’s estate. An estate refers to the assets a person left behind that have any monetary value. These assets can include everything from cars, cash, real estate, savings, or anything else with value.
The value of the estate is the first thing to be considered as the primary funding for a funeral. Families generally sell assets or use funds from the estate to pay for funeral services. This is prioritized and, according to state laws, done before any family members receive anything from the estate.
However, it may be that a person does have any assets or that the estate does not have enough to cover the costs. In that case, the funeral costs may fall to the executor of the estate. An executor – also referred to as the administrator – is the legal representative of a deceased person’s estate. They are responsible for carrying out the terms of the deceased’s will. This includes distributing assets, maintaining them, and often planning the funeral process.
Executors are chosen by the deceased and often are people close to them (like a spouse or child). If there is no will, or no one is named executor, the probate court will choose an administrator, also typically a close living family member.
Even then, the executor isn’t legally bound to pay for the funeral expenses from their own pocket. They take money from the estate first and, if it is not enough, they may look for other avenues (which we will discuss in further detail later).
Legally, the only person who is obligated to pay for a funeral is the person who signs the contract with the funeral home. Before you sign anything, make sure you have a plan in place to cover the costs without putting yourself into financial insecurity. And before you panic, remember that no one can force an executor or administrator to put forth any of their own money to finance any aspect of the funeral process.
After someone dies, you may be immediately overwhelmed with the long process that lies ahead. It’s very likely that you – like most of us – don’t have several thousand dollars you can afford to spend without facing a bigger financial hardship later. It’s also as likely that you have never faced this kind of loss and grief coupled with the immense responsibility, either.
Before you stress about the potential cost of the funeral, it is important to first look into what assets are immediately available to you. You may find that the problem can solve itself.
A new option that’s become popular in the last few years, pre-paid funerals can greatly decrease the financial burden on a family after a person’s death.
Pre-paid funeral plans are a type of insurance provided by a funeral home to cover any funeral expenses. They are paid in full before death and planned well in advance.
It also allows that person to choose the type of funeral (or even lack of funeral) they want, allowing them autonomy even after death. They consist of anything from a full-service funeral (including burial, transportation, and service fees) to a smaller cremation ceremony.
If this is the case in your situation, there is likely documentation on record of the pre-paid policy. If your loved one has provided this coverage, you won’t have much responsibility apart from some minor tasks that may need to be handled on-site or after the funeral.
If other funds are available, this is the most likely source. Life insurance is a type of insurance that, in exchange for monthly payments made to the insurance company, pays out a lump-sum, otherwise known as a death benefit, to the beneficiaries of the policy. If you are not the beneficiary, you may want to find out who is and reach out to them. Most likely, they should take responsibility for the funeral expenses.
Many full-time employers offer life insurance packages bundled with other insurance options. Life insurance policies are also purchased independently from independent insurance agencies.
The benefits paid out by the insurance company depend on the policy purchased and vary in price, coverage, and other features provided. For many, these death benefits pay for some or all the funeral expenses.
Burial insurance is a specific type of life insurance where a fixed amount of money is set aside to cover funeral expenses. It's also intended for other end-of-life expenses like medical bills or other outstanding debt.
Unfortunately, sometimes the insurance agency can take anywhere from 30 – 60 days to send payment to the beneficiaries. If that is the case, you may want to seek out a funeral home with options for a payment plan. Many will work with you once they understand the timeline and have evidence of the insurance policy payments.
As we mentioned previously, having a will can make planning a funeral much less stressful. A will is a legally binding document that allows an individual to make plans for their estate after their death. Many times, the person has set aside a specific sum of money for their funeral.
If you know or suspect this is the case, it’s important to look for this documentation after their death. It may be on record with a lawyer, if they have one, or kept with other important documents in their home or safety deposit box.
Remember, the executor of the will is responsible for paying for the deceased person’s funeral. If that person is not you, reaching out to the executor is your best course of action. After all, none of the person’s assets can be distributed elsewhere until after funeral expenses are paid.
Depending on the person’s position in life and the circumstances of their death, they may be eligible for certain benefits that can help assist in paying for funeral services and other expenses. You will need to check for eligibility yourself, as many times these are not automatically received.
For veteran families, military funerals can be an integral part of the funeral planning process. If the deceased was a member of the United States Armed Forces, they may be eligible for certain military benefits.
Military members can be buried in a national cemetery with no cost for the headstone or grave marker. Funeral services, transportation, embalming, and other services will still need to be covered. Still, this can be a great help if your loved one has a military background.
If the death was service-related, the Department of Veterans Affairs will pay up to $2,000 for funeral experiences. For non-service-related deaths, the VA will pay between $300 - $800.
If you choose a burial plot outside a national cemetery, the VA offers a $796 plot-interment allowance to the veteran’s family. Even with the maximum benefits paid, which is $3,600, you likely won’t be able to cover the entirety of funeral expenses.
Additionally, the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act (SCRA) may provide military spouse benefits in addition to those given by the VA.
There are some stipulations in play, so you will need to reach out to the VA to make sure your loved one qualifies. You can find more information, as well as how to apply, online at the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs Website.
Social Security pays a one-time lump-sum payment of $225 to the surviving spouse of the deceased individual if he or she was living together or receiving certain benefits if they were living apart. If the deceased has no surviving spouse, the benefits payout to an eligible child.
However, you may also be eligible for monthly survivor benefits if you meet certain criteria:
In most cases, the funeral home will report the death to Social Security directly if you give them the deceased person’s social security number. If you need to report the death or apply for benefits, you can call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to speak to a Social Security representative between 8:00 am – 5:30 pm. Monday through Friday. You can also apply in person by visiting your local Social Security office during those hours as well.
To be eligible, you must provide specific documentation including the deceased death certificate, social security card, photo ID, invoice from the mortuary, and other important items.
Was the deceased a member of a federally recognized indigenous tribe? If so, The Bureau of Indian Affairs may offer financial assistance toward funeral expenses.
The BIA Burial Assistance Program is a one- time payment of up to $2,500 towards burial/funeral expenses. Payments are made, on behalf of the deceased, directly to the mortuary.
Family members are not reimbursed for the expenses, meaning you will need to apply directly from their website within six months of the death.
Unfortunately, few federal programs exist to help with funeral expenses. However, there may be options available to you based on your geographic location. Every state has its own rules and guidelines for funeral assistance. Additionally, the county government handles most deaths and those officials may help with certain associated costs.
Outside Social Security mentioned above, any other government-funded associations are dependent upon circumstances or personal enrollment into a specific organization. However, if these do apply to your situation, they may be able to help. In most cases, the benefits are minor and may only include cremation services.
In the situation where a police officer or firefighter has fallen in the line of duty, there are typically benefits in place to handle the unexpected accompanying expenses. Losing someone in the line of service is a tragic, terrible thing. Fortunately, most organizations have contingency plans for this scenario.
It is small comfort to know that your loved one’s service will not go unrewarded, however terrible the loss is. Most, if not all, organizations will cover the cost of funerals. In this case, they may also be eligible for certain funeral customs or honors that the department bestows at a funeral.
Much of this can depend on the circumstances of death, whether they were an active member or a retired officer, and the state where they worked. For information about available programs and benefits, you should be able to reach out to the specific organization or department so they can provide you information about those benefits and how they apply to your situation.
When someone dies as a result of a criminal act, there are avenues of assistance available to the surviving family. The National Center for Victims of a Crime coordinates those benefits between states and assists families seeking compensation after the death of a loved one. They aid many types of victims, including providing medical and dental assistance as well as funeral expense assistance.
Most often, the type of assistance received comes down to the state level. For example, in specific situations, New York State may pay up to $6,000 for funeral expenses of homicide victims. There may also be organizations in your area that may serve a similar function. We suggest contacting your local prosecutor’s office or search “victim crime fund” online.
If you are seeking assistance from the Center, please visit their website, as they keep a complete list of benefits offered by state and located here.
If someone has died during a Presidentially declared disaster, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) may give burial assistance for that individual. This will only be the case if the person dies as a direct or indirect result of the disaster.
To receive assistance, you must provide some form of proof that other forms of aid were insufficient. If approved, FEMA may cover anything from the costs of the casket or cremation, the funeral services, burial plots, and a headstone or marker for the grave.
As with many other federal agencies, there may be a significant delay in receiving funds, so be sure that you apply quickly and have all the required documentation prepared.
There is no shame in asking for help when you are struggling to cover the cost of a funeral. Experiencing a loss like this is already difficult enough without the added financial burden it can place on you and your family.
We know that asking for help isn’t easy, especially if you feel beholden to the deceased or guilty that you are unable to do this on your own. It is not a personal failing or a selfish endeavor. Funeral costs are rising across the country and it can feel impossible to keep up with this expense.
If you find that you are unable to pay for the funeral out of funding from the estate or your finances, there are still options available to you if you know where to look for non-traditional means.
Turning to the friends and family of the deceased is likely your first step to secure funding to hold a proper funeral service for your loved one. You will likely find an outpouring of support and assistance if you simply ask for it. You can reach out to family members individually either through a telephone call (if they live any distance away) or just in person.
If you don’t wish to put anyone on the spot or make them feel obligated, you can compose an email to send out to a larger group. In this case, you can include extended family, friends of the deceased, and even your friends and family as well.
Fundraising on social media platforms has become increasingly easy over the years, and users raise money for all kinds of personal projects or causes. Platforms like Facebook or Twitter are excellent places to start crowdsourcing if you already have a sizable following.
You can make a post announcing the death and discussing your need for funding for the funeral. On Facebook specifically, you can make your post visible only to people who knew the deceased or to another specific group who may be able to assist you.
If you have a smaller number of mutual friends on these platforms, you might find some difficulty in reaching a large enough audience.
Crowdfunding, or the practice of funding a project, venture, or (in this case) a funeral by raising small amounts of money from donors, is an avenue of fundraising that has grown in popularity over the last decade, especially by those in need of medical or funeral expenses. Social platforms allow users to reach a large number of people. Even individuals donating small amounts can add up fast!
With the help of a crowdfunding site, you can set up a page that explains your situation, your financial need, and set a goal for your funding all within minutes. Even better, the site handles the donations and collects the payments in one place, making it easy for you to know exactly how much you’ve raised so far..
There are many popular crowdfunding websites available. However, there are a few that stand out when it comes to funeral planning. Each of these is easy to use and will quickly pay out whatever donations you receive. While they are completely free to use, they do take a small percentage of the money you raise.
Perhaps the most well-known fundraising website on the list, GoFundMe is not exclusively for medical issues but is used to raise money for a variety of causes – from individual needs to businesses.
This site integrates with Facebook, making it a good choice if you aren’t technically savvy or unsure how to set up a website on your own.
While this is a newer site, it was designed by funeral directors to help their customers pay for mortuary services. With this site, all funds go directly to the funeral home, taking some of the strain from you.
If you decide to use a digital platform for funeral donations, you need to make sure you take the time to make a coherent, reasonable request on the people you are asking for help. While it may help to appeal to the emotion of potential donors, you should not feel obligated to explain too many personal details or share anything you do not feel comfortable with the public knowing.
In many cases, you can ask popular social media users to “signal boost” (or share) your fundraiser to attract the attention of people who may otherwise never see it. Do not underestimate the kindness of strangers on the internet. Many are willing to help others in need, especially if they themselves have suffered a similar loss.
As funeral costs rise, several national charities and nonprofits have also stepped in to help struggling survivors with laying their loved ones to rest.
Here are some national charities that may be able to help:
In addition to these, there are also charities linked to specific types of loss, including certain illnesses, chronic conditions, certain types of accidents, and more. It never hurts to do an online search to see if you can find a match to your situation.
You should reach out locally as well. Typically, most mourners have better luck finding assistance with local groups first before reaching to national organizations. They also experience fewer delays in funding on a smaller scale. Many states have memorial societies. There are organizations that, for a small fee, give you access to many great low-cost funeral options.
Was the deceased active in their community? Many churches and religious organizations offer reduced burial fees for members, including assistance with the on-site services. This can carry over to you if you are a member of a church as well.
If the church has an associated cemetery or works with a local cemetery, they may be able to help cut costs for a burial plot. This is especially true for Catholics, Greek Orthodox, or Jewish people. Churches may also have ties to other organizations or charities that can help you.
If you are running out of options, you may be able to seek assistance from outside lenders. We suggest you use caution if you consider these, as they may potentially be more expensive in the long run than the original cost.
Before you seek any outside funding, speak directly to the funeral home plan to use for the services. You can also speak to multiple funeral homes to find a better price. Do not feel obligated to use one just based on proximity or recommendations.
Unfortunately, many mortuary homes do not offer payment plans. They expect payment at the time of services rendered. However, they may be able to help you if you explain your financial situation. If nothing else, they can put you in touch with organizations that can help you.
If they do offer a long-term plan, make sure you discuss the terms of payment and any interest that may accrue over time.
We greatly discourage anyone to put themselves in debt to pay for a funeral but also understand that you may be facing a situation where this is your only option. You can get a loan to pay for funeral expenses.
These are personal loans, however, and that means they are unsecured, often difficult to get, and can be risky. They are also expensive, as they come with high-interest rates that may land you into even great trouble. Personal loans have interest rates anywhere from 6% to 36%, depending on your credit and the lender’s fees.
Much like a personal loan, you can use credit cards to pay for the funeral. However, you also run into the same issues. Interest rates fluctuate depending on your credit and the type of card you have. Late payments can accrue financial penalties.
And overall, it can lead to lingering stress during a time when you should be focused on healing.
If you are struggling to afford a funeral, there is one major step you can take to avoid finding yourself in financial debt or hardship – cutting the costs themselves. This can be just as difficult to consider as facing death itself.
However, it is important to remember that your loved one would not want you to suffer needlessly under a greater burden. While traditional funerals might be an expectation in our culture, it does not mean you should feel obligated to hold one exactly to the letter.
Today, many Americans are exploring nontraditional memorial services and unorthodox funeral arrangements with greater frequency than ever. Here are some ways you can honor the memory of your loved one without spending an exorbitant amount of money.
By now, we’ve established the sheer expense of a funeral. But how expensive are they? And where does the money go? According to the National Funeral Directors Association, here is the breakdown from 2019 of some of the most expensive aspects:
One way to cut costs is to reduce the number of services you use from the funeral home. Instead of using the funeral home to have the ceremony, you can consider holding a memorial service in your own home or that of a family member or friend.
Home funerals, like traditional wakes, are a long-standing practice that predates modern funeral services. They give the family a chance to spend more time with their loved ones in a relaxed setting. In many states, you can forgo embalming if you choose not to have an open casket or a viewing ceremony, further cutting the amount you owe.
A direct cremation is the cheapest alternative to traditional funerals. With this option, the body is burned to ash. It removes the need for burial plots, caskets, and embalming. With direct cremation specifically, no services are held after death, either. You can always hold a ceremony for your loved one once you receive their ashes as you “bring them home.”
With most cremations, the remain – or cremains – are often kept in a place of honor in the home. You can select an urn made of metal, ceramics, or wood – like this Extra Large Alder Cremation Urn – as a final resting place for your loved one.
These urns are often engraved with a name, date of death, and often even a quote or small blurb about them. Even with the cost of the urn and custom engraving added in, this is a far more cost-effective option than a typical funeral.
Similar to direct cremation, direct burials occur without a funeral service. However, they are not without additional costs; the price of the casket and whether you choose to hold a graveside memorial will affect the price.
It will undoubtedly save money, though. This opens up the door to alternative ways that you can pay homage to your loved one that are more affordable and still highly personal. For example, it may be that you wish to save some funds for a memorial keepsake that will last longer than the funeral.
One thing you might want to consider is having a personalized piece of jewelry created for this purpose. Personalized jewelry has been popular for centuries with monogramming and engraving practices.
More recently, photo-engraved jewelry has become a way to immortalize our favorite moments in time into small, wearable pieces of art. With a keepsake like this Gold Plated Oval Fingerprint Necklace, you can have your loved one's fingerprint engraved onto the surface of the pendant.
Other memorial keepsakes come in many shapes and sizes, from pendants to keychains to even memorial coins.
Ecologically friendly burials are another increasingly popular method for laying the dead to rest. They also save families thousands of dollars in funeral costs by using biodegradable caskets (which are generally much cheaper than the wooden alternatives), holding outdoor memorials, and cutting out the embalming process. You can learn more about this type of funeral by visiting The Green Burial Council website.
Also known as funeral jewelry, memorial jewelry, and remembrance jewelry, cremation jewelry offers a uniquely personal way to memorialize a deceased loved one.
These small pendants, rings, or even bracelets can be filled with a small amount of cremated remains. Alternatively, some people prefer to fill them with a lock of hair, a small piece of cloth, or even dried flowers that hold some significance to their loved one.
Pendants are the most prolific type of keepsake people choose as memorial jewelry. These pendants – like this Everlasting Journey Urn Pendant – are effectively small urns that you can bring with you anywhere you’d like.
Stainless steel and made in a variety of shapes and sizes, they can be engraved with a message of your choice, giving you the ability to make them as subtle – or as overt – as you’d like. They are a perfect way to keep your memories safe and close, even when you can’t always find space for larger memorial items.
If you are interested in eliminating funeral costs while making a difference in the medical or science communities, you may consider body donation as a viable option. Many times, the donor organization will cover the costs of cremation and return the cremains to the family. This process can take several years depending on where the body has been donated, but it is a cost-effective alternative to traditional cremation.
Donation requirements are dependent on the state in question. Additionally, make sure the program is accredited by the American Association of Tissue Banks. However, some organizations will only take donations if the deceased has initiated the process, so you will need to research potential options in advance.
Planning a funeral will never be an easy task. It is always a stressful and heartbreaking endeavor, even for the most stoic among us. Even if things feel overwhelming right now, there are many ways to find relief from the financial burden a funeral can place on our lives at a time when we should focus on our grief and our families.
Everlasting Memories is committed to providing accurate, helpful information to help you through the mourning process and memorializing your loved one in a unique, enduring manner. For assistance in any other concerns you may have in this process, please visit our Education Center, where we have cultivated a list of helpful articles on a variety of topics related to funeral practices and the grieving process.
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November 13, 2020 by Frances Kay