When someone has passed away, even if it is expected, those left dealing with the end of life and funeral arrangements can face some challenges. Often, in addition to the emotional reaction to the death, there are also financial burdens to face.
However, if the person had left behind a will or directions for what to do and how to pay for these things, it can make life a lot easier.
With a valid Will, transferring money directly from a bank account or insurance policy owned by the deceased directly to a funeral home is possible. Most funeral services have systems in place to facilitate this process. So the bereaved can conduct the funeral before having to distribute the estate.
Often people think that funeral costs have to wait until after probate has been settled.
In the worst-case probate can take months or even longer if something is suspicious or contested, but this usually does not happen.
So, even if you have the funds to pay for the funeral before probate or the funeral home is taking care of it there are some things that you should know.
Below is a full guide to paying for the funeral before probate.
So, before we get started let’s just run through a few key concepts
What exactly is probate?
Probate is a big fancy word for a legal procedure when the assets (monetary or physical) are legally passed on to another person or persons.
If the deceased had a very large estate this probate process could be a more complex procedure compared to a small estate. For most of us, it is a just simple formality.
The process really comes down to a judge giving permission to those in the will to take possession legally and if no Will is present, deciding who gets what possessions and assets.
This whole process may sound long, complex, and expensive. This not always the case and it comes down to is probate even needed?
This will depend on the type and size of assets the deceased has left behind if the living family members agree on things, and lastly the biggest cause for probate, State laws.
WhIle I will give you general advice and guidance, state laws vary greatly and you will need to do your own due diligence and if you have any doubts contact a legal professional.
What is an executor?
An executor is a person that is usually a family member that is chosen or court-appointed to be responsible for managing the deceased person’s will and/or estate.
This means they will pay off the debts left behind and ensure that the remaining money and belongings are distributed as the deceased wished.
They are there to carry out the wishes of the deceased.
What is executor advance?
If things were filled properly and no suspected foul play has occurred between the executor and the deceased, sometimes there is an executor cash advance.
This is given to the executor to cover expenses during the often lengthy legal process which is known as probate.
Can I get the executor advance?
If you are executor then you may be eligible for an executor advance. If you know the process, you will need to review and confirm your role as executor to the estate with the probate case.
This is not always the easiest thing to weed through and understand. Unless you have a very good understanding of probate law I would consult a professional, they will take the time to clearly explain the process and answer all your questions.
They, of course, will charge a fee but this could mean the difference between you getting the advance or not. This will also take off the burden of money while you are grieving.
What can I spend the advance on?
It is not limited to the things below but these are the general four things you may spend the money on.
The courts and will have other restrictions so again it is good to check with a professional.
- Funeral costs
- Property improvements and repairs
- Paying off things like legal, hospital, property bills or any debt
- Legal fees and insurance
If there is no will is there still the probate process?
While most think of probate ONLY when a person HAS left behind a will, this is not the case.
The truth is that if a person dies and leaves behind a will, then probate WILL be required. If the person does not leave behind a will the probate process can still happen.
It will have to happen if the states have a “law of inheritance” which is different from state to state, though generally similar.
An example of when you will have to have probate is when the deceased person has named another deceased person as the beneficiary.
Obviously, they cannot take possession of whatever is being given to them and it must go to court (even if the living relatives agree) to decide who gets what.
So, if you are reading this and have an older relative who hasn’t spoken about writing their will, you may wish to read this article and have a very important conversation with them.
Are you able to skip probate?
If all agree on the will and there are no issues, some people may want to skip probate. Some states do not have a requirement that a will or property must go through probate.
If the deceased did own assets and did not arrange them or the will properly, then there is no way for the beneficiaries to legally claim ownership without going through probate.
Florida, for example, will allow probate to be skipped in special situations. For example, if the deceased’s property stays in their name and the living beneficiaries pay taxes on it and don’t sell it.
Check your state’s laws for these types of things or contact a professional.
Do I need legal advice, or can I do it myself?
I am not a lawyer and you should check your state’s laws, but most states do recognize that the probate process can be expensive and lengthy.
For this reason, “smaller” (usually under $100,000) is eligible for a simpler process and that means you do not need to use a probate lawyer.
This, in theory, makes it more accessible to families that are not as well off and cannot access a probate lawyer which can be expensive.
Why would I want to avoid the process of probate?
Everyone would like to pass on something to their loved ones and especially if they have children or a spouse. We all work most of our lives and save to make things easier for all that is near and dear to us.
What no one wants to do is give a lot or all of it to the government or the probate courts in fees and taxes. If we do avoid the taxes and fees, we still don’t want those receiving the assets to wait a lengthy amount of time which can mean months or even years in extreme cases.
Avoiding the process is also desirable to give people the ability to avoid the estate tax which can take a substantial amount of the money that you would have otherwise received.
This tends to be the biggest tax applied. Another reason is for those that value their privacy by skipping probate records that would otherwise be open to the public are not.
How do I avoid the process of probate?
You may not be able to avoid probate entirely without careful planning.
Large amounts of planning and attention to detail and the laws of the state are essential. Even though these will skip probate court these still may take some time, but it will be significantly less time than most probate courts, even when the process is simplified.
These companies, usually banks, often work with funeral homes and the funeral home will take the payment from these places directly, so the funeral/burial process is not hindered.
Here are a few ways to avoid probate with planning.
- Revocable living trust– The most common way people avoid probate is to use a revocable living trust. This type of trust is where assets are placed, but they can be used by the persons who created the trust during their lifetime. When they have died whoever the trust is passed onto gets the assets through the trust and you do not have to go through the whole probate process.
- Life insurance- The second way is through life insurance. These types of policies don’t go through probate. Whomever is listed as the beneficiary on the life insurance policy will directly receive the benefits from the company, again this may take some time.
- Retirement accounts- Not all but some retirement accounts do not require the process of probate. The money will go directly to the person’s name that is listed as the beneficiary.
- Joint Accounts- These work with people that you trust implicitly for bank accounts because they would be able to access the money at any time, even before your death. For real estate or property, it is very simple. When you jointly own it and one person dies, the second one automatically owns the property.
Can any of this process be done automatically?
While you may be able to pay for a probate lawyer to do most of the paperwork for the court you will need to sign some documents and discuss the details with all involved.
You will probably need to show up to the court at least once as well. To even set all of this up it will take a few hours at the minimum but doing this ahead of time can let you grieve during this delicate time and not be bothered with all the paperwork when the death occurs.
Who is responsible for paying for the funeral expenses?
The spouse, partner, and children are not legally responsible for funeral expenses. But, it is typical for the surviving spouse or closest relatives to plan and pay for the funeral expenses.
Technically, nobody is legally responsible for funeral expenses unless they have signed documents that state they agree to take on the expense. The estate of the deceased is the only one that can legally be responsible for the expenses.
If there are any instructions about the burial/funeral, the funeral home is paid from the deceased’s estate first and before any money or assets are given to beneficiaries.
If the estate doesn’t have enough money or asset left the family members can use their own money to pay the funeral home.
- What Happens If You Refuse To Pay For A Funeral?
- How Do You Pay For A Funeral Without Life Insurance?
- Is A Spouse Responsible For Medical Bills After Death In New York?
- Is A Spouse Responsible For Medical Bills After Death In California?
What happens if the deceased has no money?
If there are no funds left behind by the deceased the duties are left to the family and closest relatives.
If the family chooses not to pay for any part of the funeral, then there will no be one. Unless there are funds left behind and a will that states their wishes then a funeral and services don’t have to happen.
There are options to raise money for funeral if you do not have any but still want to have one. having a direct cremation and or direct burial are the two simplest and cheapest options.
You can do things like renting a casket or DIY a lot of parts of it yourself to save costs. Also depending on other factors such as age, work history, religion, and if they served there are organizations and charities that are willing to help people out in these situations.
Here you can learn more about how you can save on a funeral and charities that can help you out. Remember there is no requirement for a funeral and the idea of it is to remember and honor the person, you don’t need something fancy.
Can I spend the money in advance if I don’t have it?
Yes, you can, but under special circumstances. Again, you will be able to use the money from the estate, you just can’t do it right away. You will need to need to ask the funeral home if they can bill the estate.
To do this you will have to show them that the funds are in the estate and will be available after the probate is over. The funeral home will make a contract that says this as well.
The one caveat is that in the event that the estate cannot pay, someone will so you or someone will have to sign it as well to guarantee someone will cover the costs.
If you are not concerned about the probate court and have the funds available in case something happens then this should be no issue.
Funeral homes deal with this issue from time to time and are used to it. They are accustomed to and capable of giving the estate a detailed bill, won’t any problems getting them to do this for you, and it not out of the ordinary.
Useful books and guides
Here are some books that you can purchase from the Amazon store which will make this process easier to navigate.
Executor’s Guide, The: Settling a Loved One’s Estate or Trust
Link to Amazon
Estate & Trust Administration For Dummies
Link to Amazon
Estate Planning Organizer: Legal Self-Help Guide
Link to Amazon
Funeral Planning Basics
Link to Amazon
Thou Shalt Be Buried
Link to Amazon
Here are some tips for planning a funeral without a will.
Funeral planning is not always an easy thing and this is even when you try to plan ahead (planning ahead with parents).
When you have to do it in a short time for someone with no will, it can bring to light a lot of complex emotions. You are not only dealing with anger, grief, and sadness, but you also need to pay for everything on top of that.
If your loved one has not done any of the planning for their funeral/burial, and you have not planned one before this will be a new challenge for you and your grieving family.
Here are some tips and things to think about to make it easier and get you through this process.
- Death Certificate- Asking the corner of the hospital for this is not fun but they are used to it. You need to obtain the death certificate for a lot of reasons. Go and get copies of it right away as well so you can just give them to whoever needs it. The copies will be required for the funeral home, probate court, notifying banks, investment firms, life insurers, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Social Security Administration, and to file their final tax return among other things.
- Notify close family and friends- Doing this early will give them time to start grieving and to also help you in your time of need. Some of these people may also even know the deceased’s wishes or where they kept certain documents. Since they did not have a will, you probably are going to have to pay for the funeral and expenses. These friends and family would help out if asked.
- Make a budget- Since this is most likely an unexpected death and little to no money is left behind you need to decide on how much money you and those involved can afford. No one should have to go into debt for a funeral and burial. There are a lot of affordable options out there and never use a credit card to pay for a funeral. Learn more here
- Plan the Funeral- Whether you are doing this on your own or with others this could be difficult to agree on things as family members may have differing ideas on what the deceased would have wanted. Make you listen but have your thoughts heard as well and don’t feel pressured into making a decision if you are the one in charge.