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What Happens when a Family Can't Afford a Funeral?

Funerals are an expense that many families can’t afford. While many families are able to find the money through the generosity of their community or through other means, there are moments where they may be completely unable to pay for a funeral. If you think you’re in this position, it’s important to make sure you’ve exhausted all options before making the decision to turn the body over to the state.

What happens if you can’t pay the funeral bill?

The harsh reality is, there are some circumstances where a family or individual will be completely unable to pay for a funeral, even after exhausting other options. If you’re unable to pay for a funeral, you’ll need to sign the body over to the coroner who will handle the disposition of the body. If a family can’t pay for a funeral or afford the disposition costs, their family member will likely be buried in an indigent cemetery -- a cemetery for those who can’t afford to be buried elsewhere.

What happens when someone dies and has no family?

When someone who has no family dies and no one is able to cover funeral expenses or claim the body, the body is turned over to a funeral home. The funeral home will cremate or bury the body in a cemetery and will charge the costs of the disposition to the estate of the deceased. Each state has its own rules regarding the estates of those who have no kin and no funds, referred to as “intestate estates”.

How much does a funeral cost?

The average funeral costs about $9,000 in the United States. Many families and individuals are grieving, leaving them vulnerable to sales tactics or to choosing what’s right in front of them instead of shopping around. When planning a funeral, here’s some of the costs you should keep in mind:

The cost of a funeral will depend on your chosen method of disposition and your location. Burials are significantly more expensive than cremations (due to embalming, the casket price and the need for a burial plot, a burial vault), but almost all families should expect to spend at least a couple thousand dollars when planning a funeral.

Funeral cost breakdown

It can help to understand funeral costs and what to expect when dealing with a funeral home if you have an idea of what each part of a funeral usually costs. Here’s some ballpark figures on what to expect when planning a funeral:

Cremation Costs:

  • Nondeclinable basic services fee - $2,100
  • Removal/transfer of remains to funeral home - $325
  • Embalming - $725
  • Use of facilities/staff for ceremony - $500
  • Service car/van - $150
  • Basic memorial printed package - $160
  • Cremation Fee - $485 - $1,500
  • Cremation casket - $60 - $1,500
  • Urn - $50 - $550
    Average Total - $4,555 - $7,510

Burial Costs

  • Nondeclinable basic services fee - $2,100
  • Removal/transfer of remains to funeral home - $325
  • Embalming - $725
  • Other preparation of the body - $250
  • Use of facilities/staff for viewing - $425
  • Use of facilities/staff for funeral ceremony - $500
  • Hearse - $325
  • Service car/van - $150
  • Basic memorial printed package - $160
  • Metal casket - $2,400
  • Median Cost of a Funeral With Viewing and Burial - $7,360
  • Vault - $1,395
    Average total with vault - $8,755

Charities & organizations that help with funeral costs

When it comes to organizations that help with funeral costs, the unfortunate news is that there aren’t many options. Most of the financial assistance you’ll be able to find is through government programs, not through non-profit organizations. If you’re looking for organizations that will help you cover funeral costs, your best bet is to start local or to apply to government programs.

Religious organizations & local churches

This is especially useful if you’re part of a larger congregation or are an active member of the church, but many churches will try to help a member of their congregation in emergency cases. If you’re struggling to pay for a funeral, you may want to start getting in touch with local churches (or churches your friends or family members attend) to see if they’d be willing to help you cover funeral costs. Your results may vary and you may find yourself in a situation where they aren’t able to provide you with financial assistance, but are able to provide you with a venue to hold services, free of charge. Churches can also help spread the word if you’re trying to fundraise money for a funeral, so it’s probably worth asking if they’d be willing to make an announcement or share your story with the congregation. If you’ve set up a memorial website, ask the church leadership to share the URL to your fundraiser for extra engagement.

Start a memorial fundraiser

Final Farewell

Final Farewell is a charity that helps with funeral expenses for children. Their financial assistance is for families who have lost a child and is not extended to adults. If you’ve recently lost a child and are struggling to pay for burial expenses, you’ll want to apply on Final Farewell’s website for assistance.

Government programs

Many counties and cities offer financial assistance to residents who are struggling to cover funeral expenses, especially if they’re living below the poverty line. These benefits are often overlooked and can end up helping you cover critical expenses when it comes to the funeral. Keep in mind that every state varies and that some states offer assistance at all three levels (county, city and state) while others only offer assistance at some levels. You’ll need to do a bit of research to find out if your state offers financial assistance for funerals, but it’s generally pretty easy to apply for these benefits once you find them.

Funeral Crowdfunding

Since there aren’t many organizations that help with funeral expenses, many families turn to their community when raising money for a funeral. You can start an online fundraiser in less than 10 minutes where you’re able to quickly reach your friends, family, community, and others with your memorial website. Visitors can contribute easily to your fundraiser and help you cover unexpected funeral expenses. Donations made to memorial fundraisers on Ever Loved are processed within 2 business days, which means the funds are usually readily available for you to use with funeral homes. When a fundraiser is shared with your community at large, it’s often easy to raise the funds that you need.

Start a fundraiser

Social Security Benefit

Social Security pays out a one time benefit of $255 to the surviving spouse, if the spouse and the deceased were living together. If the spouse was living apart, then additional information is needed to claim the benefit.

If you’re the surviving child of the deceased (and there wasn’t a spouse to pay out to), you may be eligible to receive the death benefit.

You’ll want to get in touch by phone at 1-800-772-1213; you can visit Social Security’s website for more information on the death benefit.

Veterans Benefit

If the deceased was a veteran who was hospitalized by the VA at the time of death, they’re likely eligible for up to $796 in funeral expenses. The VA can also cover transportation and cemetery costs in many cases. If the veteran was not hospitalized by the VA at the time of death, the VA will cover up to $300 of the funeral expenses. These benefits are for non-service related deaths.

If the veteran died in service after September 21, 2001, the VA will cover up to $2,000 in funeral expenses.

Here’s how to apply for VA benefits:

If you’re looking for ways to cover funeral expenses or find yourself unable to afford funeral services, you should consider starting up a memorial fundraiser. Memorial fundraisers can help you cover unexpected funeral costs through the generosity of your community. Funeral fundraisers are easy to set up and easy to share with your friends and family.

Start a fundraiser

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Last updated January 21, 2021
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