Can’t Afford Funeral Costs? Here’s How to Get Help

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

These charities help with funeral costs

The average cost of a funeral and burial is $7,360, according to the latest data from the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). If you get a vault required by many cemeteries, that number rises to $8,755. The average cost of a funeral and cremation is a little lower: $6,260. Funerals can be a massive burden for a lot of low-income families. But there are programs and charities that can help.

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. They can be obscured on government websites, and the benefits are typically available to those with little to no means.

Social Security benefit

Pays a one-time benefit of $255 to surviving spouse if you lived together. If you were living apart, some 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. And if the widow or widower was living with the deceased at the time of death.

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

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 provide and 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. In most cases, this money will not count as a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) resource. Talk to a tax preparer or attorney to learn more.

Veterans benefit

Veteran benefits depend on several factors, including:

  • Did the VA hospitalize them?
  • 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 $2000.

Non-service-related deaths

If the death was 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)

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

The COVID-19 Relief Bill could provide help for COVID-19-related deaths.

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 don’t have enough funds to cover burial.

To apply, you’ll need to ensure that you have the required documentation and complete an application.

Memorial Societies

All 12 states have memorial societies, but the purpose and how they can help vary by state.

Some have a one-time fee you pay to join. The Cleveland Memorial Society charges $25 to join and offers a simple burial package for $895.

For example, it costs $25 to join the Cleveland Memorial Society for life. They offer simple 

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

Learn more at Funerals.org.

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.

States that offer assistance

  • 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
  • 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
  • Washington

No county/state assistance

  • Kansas
  • Montana

Nonprofit groups

They 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.

Application: http://childrensburial.org/about/apply/

Final Farewell

Helps with burial expenses for children: http://www.finalfarewell.org/request

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: https://thetearsfoundation.org/services/

Apply here: https://thetearsfoundation.org/application/

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 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: $2,400
  • Wooden casket: $200 to $1,000
  • Funeral home basic service fee: $2,100
  • Vault: $1,395
  • Embalming: $725
  • Funeral service facilities and staff: $500
  • Visitation facilities and staff: $425
  • Burial plot in a public cemetery: $200 to $2,000
  • Burial plot in a private cemetery: $2,000 to $5,000
  • Public cemetery plot if cremated: $350 to $500
  • Private cemetery plot if cremated: $1,000 to $2,500
  • Upright headstone or marker: $1000 to $3000 

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

Why are American funerals so expensive? Check out this video to learn more:

Green burial

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. 

Its benefits are obvious but consider what surviving family members want because there are no ashes as in a traditional cremation to store or save. The family may not all agree on this method. There’s no gravesite to visit. This method is relatively new and not yet lawful in all states, and finding a provider in your geographic area may be challenging.

It is a popular option today with Jewish and Muslim families. 

  • Simplicity
  • Lower cost
  • Conserving natural resources
  • Reducing the use of hazardous chemicals
  • Preserving natural areas

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 would 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.

FAQs

Who is legally responsible for funeral costs?

If the deceased has an 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.

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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