What Happens If You Can’t Afford a Funeral?

Funerals are expensive – and the costs are rising yearly.

What happens if you can’t afford a funeral or cremation? Who is responsible for paying for the funeral, anyways?

Where can you turn for help? How do you lay your loved one to rest with no money?

Continue to read and find out the answers to these questions and more.

Our website is supported by our users. We sometimes earn a commission when you click through the affiliate links on our website. See our privacy policy & disclosures for more information.

What Happens If You Can’t Pay for a Funeral?

The good news is you are not required have a funeral.

You can have a direct burial or direct cremation (the most affordable burial/cremation options, see below) and no funeral is necessary. Then, you and the family can have a private memorial gathering at a later date, at virtually no cost.

If you are thinking of the funeral as the actual burial or cremation, there are ways to get it done without money coming out of your pocket.

Who pays for a funeral if the deceased has no money?

If there is no money in the estate, and the next-of-kin refuses to pay for it, there won’t be a funeral. You still have to have the body buried or cremated, though.

What happens to a body if no one can pay for a funeral?

A funeral home is not under any obligation to take custody of a body. If the funeral home knows the family is unwilling or unable to pay, they do not have to accept the body.

If the funeral home already has custody of the body, and the family refuses to pay:

  • The acting funeral home will not allow the funeral to happen. The deceased’s body will stay in the cooler. The family will be charged a storage fee for every day the body is there.
  • The acting funeral home will make arrangements with the family to have a less expensive funeral home take over.
  • The acting funeral home has the right to refuse services and can transfer the body to the state.
  • Funeral homes cannot hold a body hostage for payment. The family will have to pay for direct burial or direct cremation. The other option is to sign the body over to the state. The body has to be taken care of in some fashion. It cannot sit in a cooler forever.

Can we get a free cremation or burial?

If you can’t come up with the money to pay for cremation or burial costs, you can sign an indigent form with your county coroner’s office.

This form states that you can’t afford to bury your family member. Once you sign the release, the county and state will pitch into to either bury or cremate the body. You won’t have a say in where or how this is done, but it will get done for you.

As a funeral director, most counties I have dealt with will only cremate a body, not bury it. Cremation is much cheaper than burial.

How to pay for a funeral when you have no funds

You don’t have to go into the funeral home with stacks of money. Here are some ways to arrange a funeral with little or no out-of-pocket charges.

1. Life Insurance

If the deceased had a life insurance policy, paying for a funeral is much easier. Most funeral homes will accept life insurance as a form of payment.

The beneficiary signs an Assignment of Benefits form, giving the funeral home their payment for services rendered.

Example: The insurance policy is worth $50,000, and the funeral service totals $12,000. The funeral home will send the statement of funeral goods and services to the insurance company. The insurance company will send a check directly to the funeral home for the total cost of $12,000. The remaining amount of $38,000 is then paid to the beneficiary.

If there is more than one beneficiary, the insurance company divides it equally, sending it directly to the beneficiaries.

Example: After the funeral expenses are paid, the remaining $38,000 divided between four beneficiaries (for instance, four children) would result in $9,500 paid to each child.

The funeral home NEVER sees the beneficiaries’ money. You don’t have to worry about the funeral home keeping any extra money; they will only receive the amount that is billed.

You will know exactly what that amount is because you will have signed the forms agreeing to the services and costs, and allowing the funeral home to collect the specified funds.

2. Ask for Donations In Lieu of Flowers

It has become a common practice to ask for donations instead of people paying for flowers. A typical funeral flower arrangement can easily cost $100, and there are times when that money is more wisely spent by helping out with the funeral costs.

Make your request short and to the point. On the funeral invitations, social media posts, or memorial website, simply say, “In lieu of flowers, you can make a donation to help the family cover the funeral expenses.” Then provide a link to where they can donate.

Ever Loved allows you to create a beautiful (and free) memorial website with an integrated “donate” feature to help with crowdfunding. This is more subtle than most campaigns (meaning, you don’t look desperate), yet it is still highly effective.

Much more than just a donation campaign, you also get a memorial site where you can post photos, memorial service information, obituary, and more, plus others can comment and share memories. Get started here.

3. Body Donation

Donating your body to science for research is one way of getting a cremation for no cost. There are various ways to donate your body to science.

  • Medical Laboratories
  • Medical Schools
  • Hospitals with Donation Programs

Many families are under the misunderstanding that they will never receive the cremated remains of their loved ones if they donate the body. That is not true. The next-of-kin will receive the cremated remains back at no charge to them.

You can have a memorial service once you receive the cremated remains back, or you may decide to have a memorial service without the cremated remains. Either way is appropriate.

Read more: How to Donate Your Body to Science

4. Direct Burial or Cremation

According to the NFDA (National Funeral Directors Association), the normal cost of a funeral service with burial is $7,360.00. The average price for a cremation with a funeral service is $6,260.00 

Direct burial or direct cremation will cut off thousands of dollars. A direct burial can cost as little as $3000.00, where a direct cremation can cost as little as $895.00.

5. Government Organizations that Help with Funeral Costs

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

FEMA is for disaster assistance. FEMA Funeral Assistance is offered to help with the cost of expenses associated with the death of an immediate family member when attributed to an event that is declared to be a major disaster or emergency.

Funeral Assistance expenses typically include:

  • Cremation
  • Funeral services
  • Casket or urn
  • Transportation for two people to identify the deceased
  • Transfer of remains
  • Interment
  • Clergy or officiant
  • Arrangement of the funeral ceremony
  • Use of funeral home equipment or staff
  • Burial plot or cremation nich
  • Marker or headstone
  • Costs associated with death certificates
  • Additional expenses ordered by any local or state government laws or ordinances

Social Security

The Social Security Administration (SSA) pays a small sum to eligible survivors of beneficiaries to help with the expense of a funeral.

In the year 2020, this amount was set by law at $255 for SSI recipients. The funds go to the family and takes about six to eight weeks to process. It would be best if you didn’t count on Social Security as a resource for paying for a funeral. Think of it as a potential partial reimbursement.

State Department of Health

Each state has its own laws concerning the State Department of Health and funeral expenses. Follow the link and see where your state fits in with your plans, or simply contact them directly.

Veteran’s Affairs (for Military Service Members)

If the person who passed away was a veteran, you might qualify for veteran burial benefits. These benefits could help cover the cost of the burial and reimbursement for transportation fees if the veteran was buried in a national cemetery.

For non-service-related deaths, the VA will cover up to $796 of funeral expenses. To qualify, the veteran must have been in the care of the VA at the time of death.

For service-related deaths, the VA will cover up to $2,000 in funeral expenses. Keep in mind that these benefits are paid directly to the beneficiary, not the funeral home.

It can take months to receive a check from the VA. You will still have to pay the funeral home upfront. So if you qualify, you will still need to come up with funds to pay the funeral home another way as you wait.

6. Charitable Organizations that Help with Funeral Costs

Several charities and nonprofit organizations can help reduce the gaps in funeral funding. You can contact them directly if you need help paying for a funeral.

National Organizations

Children’s Burial Assistance – Helps families who go through the unthinkable pain of losing a child. They can provide donated burial plots, vaults, and cover burial or cremation fees. 

The TEARS Foundation – Will pay the funeral home directly – up to $500 for funeral costs. They specifically help pay for funerals for babies up to one year of age. They also cover funeral costs for unborn babies after 20 weeks’ gestation. 

Final Farewell – This is another organization that helps parents pay to bury their children. They provide financial assistance and emotional guidance to families in mourning. 

Funeral Consumers Alliance – Although this organization doesn’t pay for funerals, it does help people find low-cost burial options.

Local Organizations

Look for a local memorial society – Thirty-eight states have memorial societies. They will help you find a lower-cost burial options. These organizations usually charge a nominal fee to join. In return you get access to a greatly reduced funeral.

Churches or religious organizations – Many churches offer reduced burial fees for church members. They are also knowledgeable about other local organizations that can help with or even fully cover funeral costs.

Dial 211 – You’ll talk with an operator who can provide information about local organizations that can help with funeral costs. 

7. Start a Crowdfunding Campaign

GoFundMe is a surprisingly good way to fund funerals. It gives your friends and family members a way to help out. They can also post messages and encouragement.

Describe know how much you need, why you need it, and who it is for. You will be amazed at the kind-hearted people that will help you. I have worked with many families that have used crowdfunding to help out with funeral expenses. It works.

Perhaps even better, Ever Loved offers the same crowdfunding function as part of a no-cost memorial website for your loved one.

This lets you set up the campaign in the context of a lovely tribute site with your loved one’s photos and funeral details. You can share the obituary, others can post memories and condolences, and of course you have the “donate” button so people can help fund the funeral costs. Start here, it’s free.

8. DIY Funerals

If you own land, you might want to consider burying your loved one on your property. You have the legal right to use your own land for burial purposes.

To cut back on catering expenses, ask your close friends or family members to pitch in on making food. Hold your funeral reception in your church basement, your backyard, or a friend’s place.

There are many ways to cut back on expenses. Ask people for ideas, how they can pitch in, and to contribute a dish for a potluck.

9. Funeral Loans

Anyone can apply for a funeral loan. These are available from banks, credit unions, and online lenders. You can ask a few family members or friends to apply for a small loan, then combine the loans.

By financing funeral costs with a funeral loan, you can pay it back over time.

10. Ask the Funeral Home About Local Options

Your funeral director may know of local organizations that help with expenses. The director might have connections that you aren’t aware of. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

11. County Coroner’s Office

If no money is available for burial or cremation, the next of kin may apply for a county indigent disposition. Please get in touch with the Coroner’s Office for an indigent disposition application. Proof of indigence is required. The coroner’s office will not allow viewing or visitation.

12. Planning Ahead Can Help

Yes, we know – you are probably in a pinch right now. But for anyone for whom this might be a possibility, we want to mention pre-planning because it will certainly help you save money.

The best practice is to purchase a “pre-paid” funeral plan through a local funeral home. The plan will lock in today’s prices on all services and merchandise offered through them. It cannot lock in taxes, death certificates, or merchandise provided outside the funeral home.

Ways to Save on Funeral Expenses

Buy what you need to buy, and don’t buy what you don’t need. If you use a funeral home, the basic service fee is required, but just about everything else is optional. Here’s what you need to buy from a funeral home, and what you can get elsewhere at often lower costs, including the casket or cremation urn.

Plan ahead. The more decisions you make ahead of time, the more options you have. If you’re down to the wire then your options are limited and you may feel pressure to get or do things you don’t really need. Here are 5 ways to plan ahead for funeral expenses.

Bring a friend when planning. When you meet with the funeral director, take a friend. Remember, you’re grieving, and even the best and most well-intentioned funeral homes are designed to sell their products and services. While the funeral director typically really does want to help you, a close friend will better know your heart (and your budget) and will help you say no to unnecessary expenses and explore further options.

Take advantage of wise money-saving advice. We’ve put together a list of 50 budget-friendly funeral planning tips. Read it and see what you can use for your situation.

Read Next: How to Avoid Unnecessary Funeral Expenses & Save Money

How to Go Forward When You Can't Afford a Funeral

Leave a Comment