What Happens If You Refuse To Pay For A Funeral?


When a loved one dies it can be hard on all that are involved.

If they have wishes that are known, most people want to have a funeral for them, but may not have the money for it.

So this begs the question, could you refuse to pay for the funeral if you really didn’t have the money? 

If you refuse to pay for a funeral it won’t happen.  There is no law stating that you must have a funeral, even if the deceased asks for it in their will. If they didn’t leave money behind and the family refuses to pay, the next of kin still have some options to carry out a funeral without paying.

This may sound a bit harsh but there are reasons when this makes sense emotionally and financially. The main reason for this is usually financially and very rarely do people do it out of spite, though it does happen sometimes.

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Below I will explain why one would refuse to pay for a funeral and the repercussions of not paying for parts or the whole funeral. 

We’ll also be looking at some other avenues you can explore if you still want to carry out the funeral.

Who is legally responsible to pay for a funeral?

As the next of kin you aren’t automatically responsible for the burial of a family member. To become legally responsible you would have to sign a contract with a funeral home agreeing on services. You also have no official responsibility to carry out a funeral at all if you don’t want to.

However, once a contract is signed the legal obligation will often be hotly pursued by funeral homes, many of which are large commercial entities.

It’s also worth noting that in States (and other countries) a spouse maybe responsible for the debt taken on by their partner even if they didn’t personally sign a contract.

For more details about who is responsible for paying for a funeral, please read my full article here.

Further reading

Why would someone refuse to pay for a funeral? 

There are a few different situations when people will refuse to pay for a funeral. These reasons are nothing to be ashamed of and everyone has their own reasons and motives.

The most common reason that someone would refuse to pay for a funeral is due to a lack of funds. This normally happens because they underestimate the true cost of a funeral. Other reasons include the lack of a close next of kin or simply a lack of customer satisfaction with the service.

Most of these issues overlap each other in some way and no one should feel bad in most cases if they refuse to pay for a funeral.

But if you can hold a memorial no matter how small it is always a good way to help all grieve and remember the person. Please read my article here for more details.

No close friends or relatives

This one is the saddest of them all and is actually pretty common especially in big cities. But sometimes when someone dies we may not care enough about that person to have a funeral.

This happens when someone was not close to the deceased such as a friend or distant relative. The person that was contacted to claim the body or arrange the service may not even have spoken to them in a long time.

They were only contacted because they found their name on their phone or somewhere else. Many people die without family or friends to take care of their bodies. 

Anger/Spite/Apathetic

We all have a relative or person that we just can’t seem to get along with. The issues around why this may happen are different for all and you may always be angry at that person of just apathetic towards them.

So, when it comes around to having a funeral/ burial you may just not want to do it and refuse to pay for these expenses. 

In some extreme cases, people don’t hold a funeral for the deceased out of spite because a funeral is what the deceased would have wanted. 

Not enough money

Funerals are expensive even a cremation can cost you hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on different factors.

Not everyone has this money readily accessible or able to acquire it quickly so they may sign over the body to the coroners office right away even though they might want to have a funeral.  

If you and your family are hard-working but don’t earn a high household income, then you will find my article here useful.

Ran out of money

Some funeral homes especially smaller and family-run ones do not do credit checks and take people on their word that they will pay them back.

This is happening less and less as these funeral homes are getting stiffed on the bill. People will say they are going to pay them back and never do, even if the services were impeccable.

Due to the smaller funeral homes going out of business only larger more commercial ones are surviving and they will only do cash upfront, or insist you have to sign a contract. 

Poor service

Whether the service was poor or not some people feel that it was not what they expected and refuse to pay the rest of the payments owed and in some cases the full amount.

If they did not sign a contract or the amount is under a certain threshold the funeral home may just send the bill to creditors and not pursue legal action.

If not this can go to court and get messy because it is hard to quantify a funeral service as there is not a lot of photos. Also, the people that refuse to pay were grieving, and having a bad day, so no matter what trying to convince them that it was a “good” funeral could be difficult.

Usually, the ones that refuse to pay lose the case and either have to pay restoration or have wages garnished and/or items seized. 

What happens when I “sign over the body”?

If you can’t afford the funeral or for some reason don’t want to take ownership of the body for cremation or burial, you can sign a release form.

You would sign this form most likely with your county coroner’s office. It basically states that you can’t afford or are relinquishing of the deceased to local authorities.

Remember after you sign this your decision is final, the county and/or state will come up with the funds to either bury or cremate the body.

They will do this as quickly as possible because they want to save money either on storage and manpower.

Cremations will usually be done within 24hrs of you signing the body over. You may have the option to claim the ashes for free or pay a small fee.

See my article on the legality of claiming ashes here.

Another great option is to get the ashes made into a permanent piece of jewelry, you should check out the beautiful handcrafted pieces Mark Hamilton makes with cremains by visiting his site here.

If the body is going into a communal grave “paupers grave” this does not always happen right away. You might even be able to go to the burial site during the process, but this is not always the case.

After it is done you will know where the gave site is though and can visit. This is also where they commonly bury them,  in a common grave alongside other ones.

What happens if refuse to pay a funeral home before services are rendered? 

In some instances, people will have committed to having a funeral for the deceased. They may have given a down payment or not, they know now for whatever reason that they can’t afford or don’t want to hold the funeral.

The funeral home does not have many options here and if you refuse to pay for the service they cannot do anything but let it go or take you to court. 

If they take you to court and you have signed documents and do not have a valid reason why you refuse to pay for the funeral, you will most likely lose the case and have to pay all costs, including the court fees that have been accumulated.

Most of the time you can settle out of court and the funeral home will take what they can get to cover the costs that they have incurred. 

If the body has been cremated a funeral home cannot withhold the cremated remains for collateral against the money that you owe. They have to release them to you. 

If you cannot pay or refuse to pay, you should still be given these remains. It is against the law if they do not and you have the right to contact local authorities.

The funeral home can use other methods to get compensation for services, including a court or usually a debt collector.

Even if you have not paid a funeral home but want to switch to another funeral home, they cannot refuse to transport the body.

They legally must release the body and or move it themselves to the location of your choosing, you will be charged for all of this and if you refuse to pay as stated about could result in issues later.  

How can I pay for the funeral but I don’t have the money? 

This is the most common cause when people refuse to pay for a funeral, the cost. The average cost of a funeral with a casket and burial is between $7,000 to $10,000 and for cremation, it can still be up to $4,000.

This is a lot of money for most people. Here are a few ways to pay for a funeral with little to no money. 

  1. Direct Cremation/Burial- This happens directly after the death and no services or extras are provided. 
  1. Go Green- Green burials can be much cheaper than traditional ones and are also better for the environment.  To get an idea of how green burials work you can read here.
  1. DIY Do it yourself- By doing things such as making your own casket or having a reception at your home you can save a lot of money and make it more affordable.  You can read more here.
  1. Charities/Organizations-  There are a lot of places that are willing to help people out in their time of need. You will need to research the ones for your area but here are some to think about (see my article).
  1. Burying a veteran – if your loved-one was in the military or another service branch then they probably are entitled to a funeral paid for by Uncle Sam. For more information please refer to my full article here.
  1. Ask for help- The friends and family of the loved one may be able to help, also if they are from afar setting up a crowdsourcing site can help to allocate the funds needed. 

Tips for reducing the cost of a funeral

You can significantly reduce the cost of a funeral by doing your research and not accepting the first offered package deal. Cremation is far cheaper than burial and renting a casket for the former is the best option. Buying a casket online for a burial will also dramatically reduce its cost.

There are several ways to reduce the cost of a funeral so that it becomes much more manageable. Below I’ve listed some areas to concentrate on and some links to other articles I’ve written to help you out.

Rent a casket for cremation

For the actual ceremony rent a casket and then have the body cremated in a simpler casket later, or no casket at all. See my article here for more details.

Buy a casket online

Funeral homes are notorious for showing you the most expensive options, especially for caskets. Providing your own is entirely legal and you no longer have to pay a handling fee from the funeral home.

Buying one online is a real option, but you’ll find other suggestions in my article here.

Don’t use a casket at all

Forgetting the casket for both cremation and burial is a real option and very popular around the world. Read more here.

Go for a green burial

Although seen as very modern, a green and eco-friendly burial can actually work out to be cheaper than the more traditional funeral. I’ve written extensively about this in this article here.

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