How to Get Help if You Can’t Afford Funeral Costs

Death and taxes are the only two things in life that are certain. Both can be very expensive, but one is inescapable: funeral costs.

Key points

  • The average funeral can cost thousands of dollars
  • Many services and programs may be able to help cover funeral expenses
  • Many states have “memorial societies” that can help defray costs
  • You may be able to claim a small benefit from Social Security and/or the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Know the average costs and exactly what you need before consulting a funeral home – many may try to upsell items and features you don’t need while you’re emotionally vulnerable
  • If all other options fail, donating a body to science can be an excellent way to help medical research, and you will be given cremated remains (if you request them)

Government programs and charities that help with funeral costs

The average cost of a funeral and burial is $7,848, according to the latest data from the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). If you get a vault (which many cemeteries require), that number rises to $9,420. The average cost of a funeral and cremation is a little lower: $6,970.

Funerals can be a massive burden for a lot of low-income families. But some programs and charities can help.

First off, it’s important to know that if you have no family or your family can’t afford a funeral, no one needs to worry about what will happen. A form can be signed at the county coroner’s office to authorize the release of a body to the state or county for burial or cremation. After that, a relative can usually pay a fee to recover the ashes. Another option is to donate the body to science. This covers all costs associated with transportation, paperwork, cremation, and the return of cremated remains (should you wish to receive them).

Nonprofit groups

These programs are primarily directed toward families who’ve lost a child.

Children’s Burial Assistance

Donates burial vaults, plots, caskets, and urns and offers financial support. They are based in Georgia.


Final Farewell

Helps with burial expenses for children:

The TEARS Foundation

The TEARS Foundation also offers emotional support. Assistance is based on the age of the deceased child. The type of assistance provided will also vary depending on your state.

For example, Jesse’s Grant (a fund for parents who lost a child aged 20 weeks to 1 year) is only available to residents of

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • North Dakota (Western Region)
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

Learn more:

Apply here:

Funeral Consumers’ Alliance

The Funeral Consumers Alliance doesn’t pay for funerals outright but instead partners with local churches and funeral homes across the U.S. to help low-income families afford services.

Learn more:

Religious organizations

Catholic Charities

Your local Catholic Charities group may be able to provide financial help to cover burial or cremation costs.

Catholic Charities groups team up with local citizens, social workers, mortuary directors and cemetery directors to provide indigent families with funeral and burial or cremation services.

“Our burial assistance program has deeply touched the hearts of numerous dedicated donors wholeheartedly committed to the cause,” Catholic Charities Development Director told the Catholic News Herald, “empowering us to continue providing the essential services to bury cherished loved ones with dignity and respect.”

Learn more:

The Hebrew Free Burial Association

When a Jewish person dies in the New York City area and has no family or friends to arrange for the funeral, or if the family cannot afford a funeral, the Hebrew Free Burial Association ensures that the deceased is treated in accordance with Jewish traditions. The deceased is buried in Mount Richmond Cemetery in Staten Island, where a rabbi recites memorial prayers over the grave.

This includes:

  • Removal of the deceased from his or her current location
  • A Tahara performed by a chevra kadisha
  • Coordination with the necessary government agencies

Pro tip: Because Jewish burial rites traditionally begin immediately after death, the group operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and pre-need arrangements can be made before an individual dies, as soon as it becomes clear that there is not much time left. The group will also make arrangements for other situations when a person may not qualify for government benefits but can’t afford a funeral from a commercial funeral home.

In addition, they will help with the complex paperwork process. If the deceased is eligible for death benefits from the Human Resources Administration, Social Security Administration, or Veterans’ Administration, they will help you navigate the claims process.

Learn more:

Family of God Ministry

If you live in Arizona, Family of God Ministry is a 501(c) nonprofit organization that helps needy and homeless children and disadvantaged families living in the state. They offer funeral and burial assistance to needy families.

Learn more:

Pro tip: If you see a recommendation to contact the Funeral Service Foundation, please note that they do not offer financial assistance to help pay for burials, cremations or memorials. Instead, they fund national grants to help defray funeral-related costs. The Funeral Service Foundation recommends that you reach out to local funeral directors to ask about ways to minimize costs.

Government programs

Families in the United States can qualify for multiple levels of financial assistance in their state and county with their given level of need and location. But this information isn’t easy to locate. It can be obscured on government websites, and the benefits are typically available to those with little to no means.

Social Security benefit

This pays a one-time benefit of $255 to the surviving spouse if you lived together. If you were living apart, proof would be required that you and the deceased were receiving separate benefits. Only the widow, widower, or child of a Social Security beneficiary can collect the $255 death benefit, also known as a lump-sum death payment. Priority goes to a surviving spouse, particularly if the widow or widower lived with the deceased at the time of death.

A surviving child may be eligible for the $255 but must contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. 

To collect the benefit, you will need:

  • Your Social Security number
  • The deceased worker’s Social Security number
  • A death certificate
  • Proof of the deceased’s earnings for the previous year (W-2 forms or self-employment tax return)

Monthly survivor benefits

Depending on your relationship with the deceased – and their lifetime earnings – you may be able to receive monthly payments from the Social Security Administration. To review eligibility requirements and documents, you’ll need to read the Social Security Administration’s information sheet on monthly survivor benefits.

Medicare and Medicaid

Neither offers funeral assistance, but you and your spouse can set aside up to $1,500 each to pay for burial expenses. And you can use a medical savings account (MSA) from a private insurance company. 

To set aside tax-free funds, set up a qualified funeral trust. Usually, this money will not count as a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) resource. Talk to a tax preparer or attorney to learn more.

Veteran benefits

All eligible Veterans, their spouses and dependents can be buried in a VA national cemetery at no cost to the family. This includes a gravesite, grave-liner, the opening and closing of the grave, a headstone or marker and perpetual care.

Other veteran financial benefits depend on several factors, including:

  • Were they hospitalized at a VA hospital?
  • When did they die?
  • Was it an in-service death?

Service-related deaths

For a service-related death after September 21, 2001, the VA will pay funeral expenses up to $2,000.

Non-service-related deaths

If the death happened after October 1, 2019, the VA would pay up to $796 toward funeral expenses. Proof will need to be provided that the Veteran was hospitalized at a VA facility at the time of death.

If the VA did not hospitalize the Veteran at the time of death, the VA would pay up to $300.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Depending on qualifications, FEMA assistance covers items such as caskets, urns, transportation, and service costs. 

The COVID-19 Relief Bill may also help for COVID-19-related deaths, depending on your state.

Financial Assistance & Social Services (FASS)

American Indians and Alaska natives can receive assistance through the Financial Assistance and Social Services program. 

The program offers burial assistance for needy applicants whose estates lack funds to cover burial.

To apply, you must ensure that you have the required documentation and complete an application.

Memorial societies

In the U.S., 38 states have memorial societies, but the purpose and how they can help varies by state.

Some have a one-time fee you pay to join.

For example, the Cleveland Memorial Society charges $25 to join and offers a simple burial package for $895.

The Funeral Consumers Alliance of Arizona charges a $30 membership fee and $15 annually. It offers direct burial services from $1,125.

Learn more at

Local county, city, and state programs

Each county, city, and state in the United States offers its level of funeral or burial assistance to qualified families. 

Some may qualify for assistance at all three levels, while others may only be eligible at one level.

These programs are not well known and are often overlooked.

According to the Pew Research Center, over 20 states offer cash for funeral or burial expenses. The funds range from a few hundred dollars in many states to as high as $2,500 in Alaska.

Eligibility for the money in most cities and states will be based on income. But other funeral aid may be available depending on the cause of death, including violent crime or COVID-19.

States that offer assistance

The states that offer assistance are Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia (Must be enrolled in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)), West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

States that offer help at the county level

Alabama, Alaska (Only for tribal families who meet eligibility requirements), Arizona, Arkansas, California (For victims of natural disasters or violent crimes), Colorado, Connecticut (Must be covered by Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and Aid to the Aged, Blind, or Disabled (AABD)), Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Washington.

No county/state assistance

  • Kansas
  • Montana

Other types of assistance

  • Local churches and religious groups: Many large congregations can ask them to help, mainly if the deceased was active at the church.
  • Crowdfunding: GoFundMe, CaringBridge, etc., offer platforms to raise money. It also makes it easier to get the word out about financial struggles.

Your funeral rights

Losing a loved one is always difficult. Regardless of financial status, you’ll be asked to make several decisions on the spot when you may not be thinking clearly or be focused on what you can afford. Some of these include:

  • Which funeral home should you use?
  • How much do you need to spend?
  • Should you do a traditional burial or cremation?
  • There are endless choices of an urn, casket, flowers, burial costs, upright standing memorial plot versus garden marker area, etc.

Because of this, the FTC has regulations in place to protect consumers.

The FTC’s Funeral Rule

Sales tactics can be high-pressure, taking advantage of vulnerable people who may not understand what they need. Therefore, the FTC introduced the Funeral Rule to prevent funeral homes from pressuring bereaved family members into buying goods and services they don’t need or charging inflated prices to unsuspecting customers who don’t know what they should be expected to pay.

The Funeral Rule gives consumers a choice to purchase what they want. You aren’t obligated to buy packages bundling services you don’t need. It gives you the right to:

  • Get prices by phone
  • Request an itemized list (General Price List) of goods and services and
  • View a casket price list. The price list must include selections that are not on display.
  • Obtain a written price list for outer burial containers (also known as grave liners.). Though there are no state laws requiring burial containers, many cemeteries may require them to prevent a grave from caving in
  • Receive a written cost overview before you pay
  • If a funeral home offers cremation, the facility must inform you that you are not required to purchase a casket and that alternative containers are available.
  • By law, a funeral provider must accept any casket or urn you provide, so you can shop around and use an outside supplier.
  • Decline embalming. No state law mandates embalming for every death. Some states may require embalming or refrigeration if a body is not buried or cremated within a specific time.
  • A funeral home cannot embalm a body without your consent.

Funeral cost statistics

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the median cost for a funeral with a viewing and burial was $7,848 in 2021. For a funeral with cremation, the price averaged $6971. You can bring this down considerably by forgoing the funeral and going straight to cremation with a simple urn and a memorial service. It should average less than $2,000.

  • Metal casket: $2,500
  • Wooden casket: $200 to $3,000
  • Cremation casket: $1,310
  • Funeral home basic service fee: $2,300
  • Vault: $1,572
  • Embalming: $725
  • Funeral service facilities and staff: $515
  • Visitation facilities and staff: $450
  • Burial plot in a public cemetery: $525 to $2,000
  • Interment in a public cemetery: $350 to $1,000
  • Public cemetery plot if cremated: $350 to $500
  • Burial plot in a private cemetery: $2,000 to $5,000
  • Interment in a private cemetery: $600 to $3,000
  • Private cemetery plot if cremated: $1,000 to $2,500
  • Upright headstone or marker: $2,000 to $5,000 (plus installation fee of $100-$350)
  • Burial permit: $20
  • Cemetery maintenance: Varies

The pricing above doesn’t include the costs of transporting remains, preparing the body and decorations such as wreaths or flowers.

A green burial is where the body is not cremated, prepared with chemicals, or buried in a concrete vault. It is placed in a biodegradable container and interred in a gravesite to decompose fully and return to nature. Cost can be significantly less than traditional burials. 

The bottom line

The death industry is big business, and countless Americans have no emergency savings. If you do your legwork on the front end, you will save yourself a ton of money and heartache for the loved ones you left behind.

Remember that your loved ones would not want you to go into debt or make decisions that risk your family’s financial security. Do not consider using payday loans or title loans to pay for funeral services.

There are many low-cost options out there nowadays. Gone are the days of expensive mausoleums, miles, and miles of funeral processions, a wake with a fancy casket, services at the onsite facility, flowers, food, etc. Do your due diligence.

Did you know that if you pre-plan your funeral arrangements, you can save a lot of money, and you get to choose how your funeral plans will memorialize you? The younger you start this process, the cheaper it will be when the time comes. Waiting last minute is the most expensive method.


Who is legally responsible for funeral costs?

If the deceased has an estate, the estate is legally responsible for the decedent unless someone signs something agreeing to take responsibility. The funeral expenses are paid out of the deceased estate before any assets are distributed to the heirs.
If you are a child of the deceased, legally, you have no obligation to hold a funeral, and no law states you have to pay for a ceremony.
The person who signs the contract with the funeral home is legally obliged to pay the bill. It would be wise for the executor or the estate to ensure that they will reimburse you for the funeral costs before signing.

What kind of insurance covers funeral costs?

Burial or funeral insurance is a type of whole-life insurance that covers the cost of your funeral, cremation expenses, and other end-of-life expenses. This insurance policy covers end-of-life expenses like medical bills, funeral expenses, and other debts left behind when you pass. 
Next of kin can also use the insurance at the beneficiary’s discretion to pay off debts, including medical bills, mortgage loans, or credit card bills. Given the high cost of funerals, having a burial insurance policy can help relieve any costs your loved ones face due to your passing.

Do I have to pay for my parent’s funeral?

Usually, the deceased’s estate covers the funeral costs. If the estate does not have funds to pay for funeral expenses, the responsibility next falls to a family member or anyone willing to sign the funeral home contract (but only if they’re willing.) Legally, a family member cannot be forced to pay for funeral costs. If no one can or will pay, family members can declare that there are no funds available for funeral expenses and the body will be turned over to the county.

What happens when someone dies and no one pays funeral costs?

If the estate or relatives lack the funds to pay for a funeral, the person handling the death can sign a release form at the coroner’s office. The paper declares that you cannot afford to bury or cremate the family member. Once signed, it releases the body to the coroner to handle the remains. If your family wishes to receive the ashes, the coroner’s office may charge a fee for their return. 

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