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Who is Legally Responsible for Funeral Costs

Knowing who is responsible for funeral costs can be confusing, especially if you've never held a funeral before or are the next of kin, stressed that you'll be responsible for the financial burden of a funeral. Additionally, funerals cost around $9,000 on average in the United States, making the stakes quite high for those who don't have thousands of dollars sitting in savings ready to spend. Here's what to know when it comes to financial responsibility in terms of funerals.

Who is responsible for funeral costs?

Most often, the cost of a funeral is paid for by the deceased person's estate. If there are no funds available in the estate to pay for funeral expenses, the responsibility usually falls on a family member (if they decide they'd like to be responsible for it).

Can you be forced to pay for a funeral?

Legally, no family members or individuals can be forced to pay for a funeral. If the family is unable to afford the cost of a funeral and are instead relying on the estate of the deceased, someone would need to front the cost of the funeral, since most estates can take months (if not, years) to settle. The executor or administrator of the estate is responsible for taking care of the administration of the deceased's estate, which includes paying for the funeral from the estate, if possible. After the estate is settled, the executor or administrator of the estate would repay the individual (with the estate’s funds) who fronted the cost of the funeral expenses.

If there is no money in the estate, the responsibility falls to the family, or anyone who is willing to sign the funeral home contract. If no one is willing to pay for the funeral, the family can declare that there are no funds to cover funeral expenses and turn the body over to the care of the county. The county will then make arrangements and will handle the disposition of the body, which is typically through cremation. The ashes are then typically buried in a mass grave or in a columbarium, the family would not receive the ashes in this case.

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Is next of kin responsible for funeral costs?

The next of kin is not legally responsible for paying funeral costs. However, sometimes they may be willing to help pay the cost of a funeral if no one else will or can afford it.

What happens if you don't pay a funeral bill?

If you've signed a funeral home contract and are unable to come up with the funds to hold the funeral, the funeral home will most likely not render funeral services. Most funeral homes require that you have the funds to pay for a funeral upfront and do not offer payment plans in most cases.

Who pays for the funeral when there is no money?

The state will partner with a local cremation company or funeral home who will cover the cost of disposition. The body is usually cremated and buried in an indigent grave or in a columbarium, but in some states the body will be donated to science. No funeral will take place if there is no one to sign the funeral home contract and a funeral cannot be paid for.

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What happens if you can't pay for a funeral?

If you're in need of quick funeral funds to cover funeral expenses, you may want to reach out to your community for assistance. There are a few routes you can take to find financial assistance for funeral expenses, including:

  • Starting a memorial fundraiser. Memorial fundraisers are a great way to benefit from your accumulated social capital. Do some research into who would be willing to donate or who you know who might contribute, start a memorial fundraiser on Ever Loved and start sharing it with your community. Excellent places to share your fundraiser include Facebook, friends' groups, churches, and any community organizations you're a part of.
  • Looking into local county, city, and state financial resources. Many states have different levels of resources available at different levels to those who are unable to afford funeral expenses. Check your state to see what resources are available to you.
  • Applying for VA benefits if the deceased was a veteran. VA benefits can help you cover multiple funeral resources, including providing a burial allowance, provided a few requirements are met. Find out if you qualify.
  • Applying for the Social Security Death Benefit. Social Security provides a one time death benefit of $255 to the surviving spouse or other qualified individuals. You can apply over the phone by calling 1-800-772-1213. Find out more about Social Security's Death Benefit.
  • Hold the services on your own. Holding the services on your own is an easy way to save on funeral expenses. You can do this by purchasing only what's needed from a funeral home or cremation company (such as only purchasing a direct cremation and opting out of all other services). You can find direct cremations for as little as $695 in many states and hold a memorial service on your own. Find out how to plan a memorial service.
  • Purchase funeral products online. Funeral homes will often charge a premium for funeral products they offer and you can save thousands of dollars by purchasing these products online or directly from the retailer. The funeral home is required to use your purchased product, even if you didn't purchase it from them.

These are all options to look into if you're unable to afford the steep cost of a funeral.

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What happens when a family can't afford a funeral?

If you've exhausted all of your resources and are still unable to afford a funeral, the funeral will simply not occur. It's not required by law that an individual has a funeral, even if it's requested by this individual or stated in their will. If the funds aren't there, no funeral will take place.

What funeral expenses can be paid by an estate?

Generally, an estate can pay for any funeral expenses that are considered "reasonable", which usually include:

  • Any funeral home services
  • Cremation and/or burial costs
  • Burial clothing and preparation
  • Burial plots
  • Floral arrangements
  • An obituary, if published and paid for
  • Fees surrounding the reception (food, event fees, etc.)

The estate will reimburse the person who covered these expenses after probate ends. Unfortunately, probate can take months (and sometimes years) to settle, especially if the estate was a larger one. This means that the person who signs the funeral home contract will need to be able to afford paying funeral expenses before probate, which can be a lot.

If you’re in charge of paying for a funeral and are struggling to come up with the funds, it’s a good idea to start a memorial fundraiser. Memorial fundraisers on Ever Loved are easy to use, easy to set up, and entirely free. Once you’ve set up your page you can share it with your friends, family, and community and start getting help towards paying for the funeral.

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Last updated November 11, 2021
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