Do You Have to Have a Funeral?
While people often assume a funeral will take place after a loved one has passed away, there are many situations in which a funeral won’t (or can’t) be held. The decision to have (or not to have) a funeral is often an intensely personal decision, but there are scenarios in which families are forced to forego services due to the circumstances. Having (or not having) a funeral is a big decision, so it’s a good idea to spend some time reflecting on your options and what each one would mean.
Four big reasons why people don’t hold funerals:
- It’s not wanted (either by the family or by the deceased)
- It’s too difficult
- It’s a safety hazard
Reason 1: Cost
The average cost of a funeral in the United States is $9,000, much more than the average American has on hand at any given moment. To complicate things, most funeral homes expect payment in advance and do not offer payment plans. This leaves many families stuck in a time-sensitive situation that often requires them to somehow raise a lot of money in a very short period of time.
Due to the expensive nature of funerals, some families are faced with the difficult decision of skipping the funeral altogether, especially if they just can’t come up with the funds. If the reason you’re considering not holding a funeral is because you’re in charge of planning one and just can’t find the money, there are resources available to you. Funerals do not have to cost $9,000 and there are ways to save money, despite what you might think after visiting a few funeral homes. Here are some ways you can save big on funeral planning:
First, consider the method of disposition. The method of disposition will determine what the largest amount of your funeral budget will be spent on and can make the difference between being able to afford a funeral and having to skip it. In addition, you can choose any of these methods of disposition and choose not to have a viewing or funeral services held by your chosen funeral home. Choosing to hold an immediate burial or direct cremation (both of these skip viewings and funeral services) and then hosting your own celebration of life or doing your own memorial service (without the use of the funeral home) is absolutely an option and one that will save you thousands of dollars.
The exact costs and pricing will vary depending on your location and chosen funeral home or cremation company.
Traditional burial: $8,000+
A traditional burial is the most expensive method of disposition and requires the most amount of additional services (such as preparation of the body, transportation of the body, embalming, burial vault, burial plot, casket, etc.). A traditional burial with a viewing can cost around $11,600, whereas if you were to skip the viewing and were to have an immediate burial, you could drop the price down to $8,800, which is still quite expensive. If you’re set on having a burial, you’ll need to be prepared to spend much more money than you would with other methods of disposition.
Cremations are the most popular method of disposition in the United States and are much cheaper than burials. Additionally, they don’t require the use of funeral home body preparation services unless a viewing is taking place before the cremation is performed. If you plan on having a cremation with traditional memorial services, you should expect to spend around $4,800+. If you skip the viewing and traditional memorial services, a direct cremation without services is much cheaper, and will cost around $2,300.
Body donation: $0
Body donation organizations will usually cover the costs of final disposition, meaning that donating a body to science is a great way to spend no money on the disposition services. Many companies will also return the ashes to the family, for free, at the end of the process. Not only is donating a body to science a (usually) free method of disposition, it’s also invaluable to the medical and scientific community.
Saving on costs
It’s also entirely possible that you want to hold a full fledged traditional funeral but don’t have the funds to do so. This does not mean you need to skip the services entirely. You can raise money and find financial support with funeral expenses through a few different methods.
Starting up a funeral fundraiser is an easy, quick, and effective way to start raising emergency funeral funds, fast. Countless families have had the entirety of their funeral paid for by the financial support of their friends, family, and community, with most of these families overwhelmed and surprised by the amount of support that was shown to them. Funeral fundraisers are quick to set up and easily shareable, you’re able to see donations show up in your connected account in just two short business days. To learn more about starting up a funeral fundraiser and to see an example, head here.
If you’re in need of emergency funeral funds or funds to cover unexpected costs related to a death, starting a funeral fundraiser is a quick and simple way to start getting some financial support. Once you set up your funeral fundraiser, you’ll be able to collect donations from your friends and family who are likely already looking for ways they can best support you.
County, city, and state programs
Many counties and cities have financial assistance programs for covering unexpected funeral costs, especially for families who are living below the poverty line. Every state has its own levels of assistance, with some only offering assistance at the county, city, or state level while others offer assistance at each level. The amount of money available and the requirements also vary depending on your state, so you’ll want to do some research to find out where and what you qualify for. You can get started by checking out this article on financial assistance for funerals.
If the deceased was a veteran and was hospitalized by the VA when they passed, they’re eligible for up to $796 in funeral expenses. The VA will also cover the cost of transportation and burial costs in many cases. If the veteran was not hospitalized by the VA when they passed, they will cover up to $300 of the funeral expenses. These benefits are for non-service related deaths.
For service-related deaths that occurred after September 21, 2001, the VA will cover up to $2,000 in funeral costs.
Here’s how to apply for VA benefits:
- Apply online.
- Find & work with a representative in person.
- Turn in your application at a local regional benefit office.
- Mail a completed application to your VA pension management center.
Social security benefits
If you’re the surviving spouse and were living together with the decedent at the time of death, you’re eligible for the one-time death benefit of $255 provided by Social Security. You’ll need to provide additional information if you were living apart at the time of death or if you’re the child of the deceased and there wasn’t a spouse to pay out to. To apply for this lump sum, you’ll need to get in touch with Social Security by phone at 1-800-772-1213; you can visit Social Security’s website to learn more about the death benefit.
Covid-19 Funeral Relief
Families who have lost someone due to COVID-19 will want to find out more about the COVID-19 Relief Bill that was issued in December. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be offering families who have lost someone due to COVID-19 up to $7,000 in reimbursement for funeral costs related to the death. Due to the relative newness of the bill, not much is known about the concrete details and eligibility requirements at this time, but you can keep up to date here.
Organizations like Final Farewell and Children’s Burial Assistance help families cover the unexpected funeral costs after losing an infant or child. These programs do have applications and some of these programs are only able to help those in specific states, so you’ll want to check with all of the organizations if you’ve recently lost a child. You can find a full list of non-profits and other organizations that help with funeral expenses, here.
Local programs or organizations
If you’re part of a larger congregation or a religious community, you may be able to find financial support and funeral assistance. Many churches offer to help families in holding a funeral in their church and can help spread the word that you’re in need of assistance in paying for services. It’s also a good idea to look into assistance provided by any local clubs or organizations you’re a part of. Even if your local club, organization, or church can’t help you with financial assistance, they can utilize their access to the community to help spread the word that you’re in need of help.
Holding services yourself
Holding the services yourself and foregoing some of the services offered by the funeral home is a very easy way to save money on a funeral. By holding the services yourself, (especially if you're able to rent a venue for free), you can save on the costs the funeral home would've charged to hold services and staff the service. If you're not sure how to hold a cheaper funeral, read this guide.
Reason 2: There was a request to not have a funeral
In some cases, the deceased has explicitly requested or preferred that no services or funerals be held. This can be due to a multitude of reasons, and unless you’re aware of the specifics, it’s generally a good idea to honor your loved one’s decisions. In the case where your loved one decided they wanted to forego funeral services entirely, you’ll still need to pay for the method of disposition. In these cases, choosing to go with a direct cremation will cost you the least amount of money, especially if you find a company that specializes in direct cremations.
Reason 3: It’s too difficult
Everyone experiences grief and loss differently and there’s no right way to grieve. It may be possible that your family simply cannot handle the emotional upset that comes along with holding a funeral. There are also plenty of people that simply can't handle funerals. If you find you're someone who has said "I don't do funerals" when attending someone else's, attending and planning one for a loved one may simply be an unrealistic task. Funerals are time consuming to plan and extremely expensive, two aspects that aren’t favorable to those who are in mourning. If you know your family just simply can’t handle planning and holding a funeral, you can always hold services at a later date (or not at all). You can also consider holding private services where only the family or a select few attend, to reduce costs, planning requirements, and potential stress.
Reason 5: Safety
Holding a funeral in the midst of a pandemic is generally one of the riskiest things you can do when it comes to COVID-19. Funerals have been “super spreader” events and come with a high risk of exposure. Many families are required to either forego the funeral services entirely, reduce the amount of those attending, or structure the event in a way that follows any restrictions put in place by their county, city, state, and funeral home.
Alternatives to a funeral
Holding a funeral after someone dies in the United States is somewhat traditional. Many people expect to attend services of some kind after someone passes away. If you aren’t interested in having a funeral or have been requested not to hold funeral services, there are alternatives available for you to consider.
Celebration of life. A celebration of life is a type of service that celebrates the life of the deceased. The tone of the event is usually one of joy and celebration rather than one of mourning and loss. Celebrations of life can be held anywhere by anyone and don’t require the use of a funeral home to plan or facilitate. Many families choose to hold celebrations of life in a favorite park, recreation center, religious space, or favorite place of the deceased.
Online memorial service. Online memorial services are extremely popular (and oftentimes necessary) during COVID-19. Online memorial services allow families to come together and remember a loved one who passed away through a stream. Family members and friends who can’t attend the services in person are able to be with their community online in mourning the passing of a loved one. You can hold both a funeral service and an online service at the same time, but sometimes families choose only to have an online memorial service or celebration of life in place of traditional funeral services. Some funeral homes offer livestreaming services as an option, but it’s not required (or necessary) for you to use the services of the funeral home. You can set up your own livestream and create your own online memorial service separately.
Create a memorial website. Memorial websites act as spaces for your friends, family, and community to come together and support each other after losing a loved one. Ever Loved memorial websites have spaces for people to leave condolences and stories, read the obituary, contribute to the life timeline of your loved one, learn about your loved one’s favorites, and be in community with others after losing someone. Not holding a funeral or any services can have the unintended effect of causing others to feel isolated or alone in their grief. Creating a memorial website is a good way to honor the life of a loved one while creating space for those close to you to come together and support each other during their time of need.
In any case, holding a funeral is absolutely not a requirement after losing someone. There are many alternatives to holding a funeral, many reasons why one wouldn’t want to hold a funeral, and those close to you will likely understand and support your decision either way. If you do decide not to hold a funeral, be wary of isolating yourself or of feeling alone in your grief. It can be helpful to connect with those who have also lost someone and to find a sense of support through grief support groups or through your community on a memorial website.