Who Pays for the Funeral If There Is No Money or Will?


The death of a loved one, family member, and relative can bring a lot of stress to our lives as it is. However, adding in the consideration of the costs and money management issues that the process entails can add its own stress.

There are not many lessons in life to prepare people for this burden other than having the experience of navigating it oneself. 

Any funeral service that is selected, will come with the signing of a contract. In most cases, the person who signs the contract is responsible for payment. This being said, there are several sources that this money can come from; death benefits, charity, debt accruement, frugality, & the estate.  

The question of who pays isn’t as straightforward as who actually plans the funeral or who is closest to the deceased. There are lots of ways to both honor the dead and afford a respectful funeral for them.

I have worked tirelessly to unearth all the avenues for you to explore and this is what you’ll find in this article.

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Who has to plan the funeral? Do they pay?

So who is going be this “funeral planner”, the person with the burden of selecting what services are best for this specific situation and how the selections are going to be paid for.

In cases where there is a will, an executor of the estate may have been pre-arranged and the wishes of the deceased may already be explicit.

There may already be a pre-paid plan in place and it is merely a case of one person going through the motions and signing on the dotted line. But that’s not what we are going to talk about here. Here, rather, we are looking at the less than ideal case that no will is present. 

In this case, usually, a family member steps forward to fill the role of the funeral planner.  I suggest that someone that is not too close to the deceased, but also not too distant take on this burden.

If the funeral planner is very close to the deceased, they may be placing too much on their shoulders, with the stress of grieving and the stresses of financial planning that will come along with it. If they are too distant, they might not be able to relate to the deceased and understand the desires of the family. 

It is usually best to choose someone that is a least somewhat financially savvy and not prone to emotional outbursts. It is certainly an emotional time for everyone involved.

Even though the funeral planner is usually a family member, it does not need to be. A friend of the deceased, a friend of the remaining family, or even an acquiescence are all options.

But choose someone that is willing to do this, and can be trusted to keep the wishes of both the deceased and the family at the forefront of their decisions.

They should also be fairly good at negotiating as they may need to attempt to cut the prices of services or even negotiating with the family to reduce their desired needs to something that is “more affordable.  

Now that we have established who will pay, let us take a look at some of the different options to finding the money to do so.

Death Benefits

The first logical place to look for death benefits is in any life insurance policy that was left behind by the deceased.

There are certainly the policies that we are aware of, but oftentimes there may be policies that we, the person handling the process, are unaware of.  There might be policies that were taken out on a whim with a one-time payment and forgotten about; dig through their office or files.

There might be policies taken out by some third party on behalf of the deceased; ask the family members, contact the employer. We might even be able to access old bank information and find “undisclosed” life insurance premium payments.

Some family members hide these payments as a surprise for loved ones, and ironically forget they will not be around to “let the cat out of the bag” and tell the loved ones about them.

Another place to check is with professional organizations the deceased may have been a member of.

Some employment unions have death benefits and even specific benefits to pay for funeral costs. There are other organizations beyond employment unions to consider also.

You will have too consider the deceased and look through their records, but to name a few worth considering. Consider any organizations for civil duty organizations, any large entrepreneurial organizations, pretty much any large organizations that member/sign up fees.  

The final benefit that is sometimes overlooked is their Social Security benefit. If the deceased had ever worked, legally, they most likely would have paid into the social security fund.

Depending on the length, and therefore the amount paid into the fund, of their employment history, they might be eligible for the lump-sum death benefit of $255 (at the time of this writing). For more information on the procedures of this application visit the Social Security website.

An often undiscovered benefit, and probably the least known, can be found in your government, both state and local. These benefits, differ greatly between states, and even more between locales with many providing no benefit at all, but it is certainly worth a look. As the old adage goes, “if you don’t ask, you won’t get.”

In many states, the funeral assistance benefits are locally at the county level, so it is best to start there. You can talk to your coroner, funeral director (assuming you have hired one), or county administrator. They will most likely be able to at least direct you toward the right place. 

A final benefit to consider is any faith-based benefits the deceased may have. But perhaps, this is more in the realm of charity.

Family, Friends & Funeral Charity

Asking for money, in most cases, is not an easy thing to do. Most people would rather go without than to ask for charity. But this is certainly an option, especially for someone that is truly in need of help.

During these tough times, many people are unaware that there might actually be a financial difficulty as most of your focus is directed at assisting with emotional grieving.

Family & Friends

The immediate family, in most cases, will be the first destination when asking for funds to help with the costs. But the extended family can also be considered.

It might be an awkward conversation, but most family will understand, or at least tolerate it. There is also the option of borrowing the money (more on this below) from the extended family members.

There are also close friends to consider. They are often seen as more integral and connected than extended family and may be willing to give a hand. Although they don’t have the ties of blood, they do have the ties of love.

Religious communities

Above we mentioned faith-based benefits, and here I will return to it. It is unlikely that a member of a congregation will have a contractual death benefit owed them from that congregation.

However, if your deceased relative was a valued member, the congregation might not hesitate to return the years of receiving with a final monetary giving to ease the burden.

In some cases, if certainly would be more beneficial than purchasing an expensive bouquet of flowers to “pay one’s respect.” If you are the funeral planner, talk to any congregation they might have been apart of. 

In the modern-day, the connectivity of the individual to the world is at an all-time high. Gone are the days when the only way to help others was to give to a non-profit organization and trust that most of what was given gets to the people in need.

Crowdfunding has revolutionized business, but it has also had huge benefits for charity. Crowdfunding has allowed givers to put money directly in the hands of people in need. GoFundMe.com is one example of this.

Although it is a for-profit organization it is quite transparent about where the money goes. Also, it is a bit trendy and requires that you “sell” your need for money a bit, however, heartfelt honest description of the situation could be enough.

Debt Accruement

Those that are unable to press themself to ask for charity, might be more inclined to ask for a loan. Asking for money, with a promise for repayment is certainly a less uncomfortable conversation than simply asking for it. There are several options here.

Again, we can turn to family and friends. I touched on this a bit above and often it goes the other way as well. When asking for a loan, we can sometimes be granted charity by the “extended family.” Furthermore, there is unlikely to be interest to be paid on such a loan.  

Another option is to talk to the funeral home itself. They may have a payment plan option setup for such instances. Although it may or may not be ideal. It’s worth checking. 

A final place to look is the bank. Banks sometimes will grant specific funeral loans for helping with this financial burden. There are also simple personal loans. The banks can help with this, but be prepared to pay interest. The bank is a business after all and they will need to get paid for their service. 

Frugality

This is not really a way to “pay” for the funeral costs, rather a reading list on educating oneself to a mindset of how to reduce the costs so you do not need to pay so much. 

In previous articles, I have laid out details plans for how to save on the costs of funerals. Here I will summarize a few of them with the goal of promoting frugality, but if time is of no issue, a reading of all of the articles might be in order. 

First, this to decide is if a burial funeral is a necessity. Cremation is almost always the cheaper option. Most of the following articles will not be required reading either if cremation is the selected option. 

In Being Thrifty: Does the Coffin Get Cremated with the Body I suggest that renting a coffin is much more frugal than buying one outright if we are planning on cremating the deceased. I also touch on the direct cremation option to save the most money possible. A direct cremation is where there is no chance to view the remains and thus can save on the costs of this ceremony.

If burial is your selected option, consider these reading some, or all, of these articles. 

In Can You Be Buried Without A Casket? Green & Cheaper Burials I lay out the difficulties of having a burial funeral without the cost of a casket. Caskets tend to be one of the major expenses of funerals and avoiding them can be cost-effective. I also give warnings and offer suggestions on how to avoid overspending on a green or casketless funeral. 

In Can I Actually Bury A Loved-one On My Property In The USA I talk about burying loved ones on property already owned. This is a difficult process with much to consider but allows us to forgo the cost of buying a plot in a cemetery. 

In What Questions To Ask At A Funeral Home To Get A Better Deal I equip you with the tools needed to get the most for your money when dealing with a funeral home. A funeral planner might be well equipped by reading this article.

In What Does A Headstone Cost I give a comprehensive description of how to buy a headstone. There are a lot of options and all of them cost money. If you need a headstone, you should certainly consider reading this article. 

One final article worth reading is the following.

If you are the person planning the funeral, you are most likely the person responsible for the final payment of services. Other family members might need help understanding what the options are. In How To Deal With Disagreements Over Funeral Arrangements I help with balancing out issues between what family wants and what can be afforded with tips the funeral planner can use during these sensitive negotiations. 

The Estate

Without a will in hand, the estate can be a tricky thing to navigate when in search of refunding for funeral costs.  All the next of kin might be looking to that estate for inheritance and be reluctant to use if for the funeral ceremony. The funds may be tied up in assets that are difficult to liquidate and thus make borrowing the only immediate option. 

If the funeral planner is planning on receiving reimbursements from the estate when the estate is eventually dealt with, then really should discuss this with the family and all the next of kin who have a claim on this estate.

Another Option

If all the above advice has not been enough, or if you simply are inclined to, you can consider donating the body to science. Here we aren’t only talking about being an organ donor rather we are referring to giving the entire body to science. 

Although this is termed with the word “donating” is does usually come with a cost. You will be expected to pay for the final cremation costs but in most cases, you will be returned the remains for the sentiment. 

In most cases, this cost will be about $700 and should be compared to the costs of a direct cremation with the services in your locale. If being frugal is your main concern, actually donating the body to science may or may not cost you more. 

The Final Option

In America, there is also the option for people that actually die with absolutely nothing. No assets whatsoever.  These people are known as “destitute” in life and might merit a “destitute funeral” where the government will pay for it.

When dying in the care of a public health worker, like in a hospital, the organization will attempt to contact the family to arrange for the funeral.

If a person dies outside a public health facility, the police will usually contact the family. If no family is found or willing to accrue the responsibility of this funeral, the case is handed over to a social worker or the Public Health Unit. 

The funeral costs for a destitute are paid for by the Area Health Service and they are given the most basic service available, The next of kin, if contactable, will be invited to attend the service arrangements. If no kin is found, a direct cremation service may be elected.

In most cases, a cremation service will be elected unless the relatives refuse this option. 

If the deceased is cremated the ashes will be offered to the next of kin. If burial is requested instead the deceased will be buried in a common grave and identified with a numbered headstone of the simplest option available.

If you are the funeral planner, and there is actually nothing in the estate, and no one is willing to pay a destitute funeral might be a final option, just do not expect anything beyond the basics.

The Plan

Ideally, everyone should plan for their own death or the death of loved ones prior to the actual event. The above stresses placed on the funeral planner can be avoided or at least mitigated. So here are a few things to consider if you are deciding to preplan for this inevitable time.

Get a Will

This article is not a guide to how to write, design, or obtain a will, so here will only touch a bit on this topic. This is a topic worthy of its own article. 

In the simplest definition, a will is a legal document to express the wishes of how property is to be distributed at death, who will be the executor(s) to manage the estate until its final distribution. 

It does not always explicitly include funeral plans but certainly can. If your will has detailed desires for funeral services, it might also be a good idea to plan and outline how they will be paid for.

Prepay

Another consideration is the methods of prepaying for funeral services. One simple, all be it gloomy, route is to go to a funeral home and select and prepay for all your planned needs in advance.

Funeral homes tend to be long term family businesses that have been around for generations, but there are always new businesses opening up. Make sure you deal with the one you can trust in the long term. 

If you don’t have the cash to pay upfronts, there are pre-need plans offered by many funeral homes. These plans allow the proactive to set “freeze” current prices for selected services.

This can protect your plan from being subject to inflation and the cost of materials price increases. Most cases will require a deposit of some sort and you can discuss this with each individual funeral home. 

Insure 

Burial insurance is an actual option at many insurance companies. These premiums reflect the restricted ability of use and thus can be cheaper than a standard lump-sum death benefit policy.

Contact your agent and see what options you might have. Your funeral planner might find that having a designated set of funds a blessing by taking away the need to negotiate with the estate distribution. 

If you do not have the ability or desire to insure specifically for funeral costs, it is still recommended that one gets a general life insurance policy.

In fact, even if you do elect to get burial insurance, a general life insurance policy might be worthy of consideration. General life insurance policies might grant your loved ones lump-sum or periodic payment installments that can help with the burdens that arise after you are gone, both in funeral costs and just life. 

Keep in mind though, that insurance, both general and burial require claims to be made. Claims take time to process and grant funds. Your loved ones might need funds immediately to pay for funeral services as they are completed. 

Although most funeral homes will be understanding in this time and willing to wait to some extent for payment they are a business at the end of the day and putting off payment for service while funds are made available might accrue interest or might not even be an option. 

Stash Some Cash

Actually liquid cash might be a great option. Although it might not be w great idea to have actual cash in a bag in your closest or even hidden under the floorboards with a map in the will. There are some other safer options. 

A home safe can keep some cash safe from both theft and the elements. A safety deposit box is also another valid option, but make sure that it is accessible by your funeral planner or family. 

Putting the cash in the hands of a trusted friend or family might also be an option. This holder can present the cash at the time of need.

Cash has the benefit of being instantly usable but has the risk of being used for other purposes. It might be a blessing or a disaster, so careful consideration needs to be exercised if your planning on using this option. 

Keep in mind that the cash option can also be elected as an adjunct to other payment plans.  

In Sum

Preplanning a funeral will ease the burden one leaves behind then they pass away. By getting a will and mapping out the funeral that best fits an individual they can ensure what will happen. They can make sure that the funeral they desire is clear and that payment for this ceremony will not be abstract. 

But in many cases, this does not happen. Funerals are usually not planned. Wills are sometimes not written. Even consideration of wants are not even entertained. In these times, a wise person needs to step up and handle the funeral planning.

This funeral planner needs to be able to select the best options that satisfy both the grieving family and the budget. The funeral planner should be emotionally stable in this high-stress time, and have a way with money. They will certainly need to shop around for prices. 

Although the funeral planner is ultimately responsible for paying for payment of funeral services rendered, they have many places to look to for repayment or funding. In the case, where there is very little money left behind there are still options. The main sources of funds might come from death benefits, charity, debt accruement, frugality, and the estate.

The funeral planner might need to put their personal pride aside and do things that they feel are below them. They may be forced to ask for loans or even handouts. They might even be ultimately in the position to declare that the deceased died destitutely. 

Fret not about taking on the duty of funeral planner but know that it is not without its worries. You will be sitting around doing nothing and this might even be a blessing in disguise by offering a much-needed distraction from the gloom that some funerals can be. But if grieving is what you need, perhaps you should look to someone else to fill these shoes for you.

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