times have left many families struggling with day-to-day expenses, with
little savings to cope with an emergency. Unfortunately death is
still a taboo subject in our society, so often a family member can pass
and there has been no preparation for their funeral. This can mean
that no financial provision has been made and/or no funeral choices or
wishes have been put in place.
If you are faced with the
loss of a loved one and are without the means to pay for their funeral,
you need to make some decisions about how to proceed. Here we have
outlined what some of your options are, and what choices you have.
What is an ‘Indigent Burial’?
Indigent refers to someone who
is considered “poor”, “needy” or “poverty-stricken”. The state has
always had an obligation to take care of the disposition of those who become
the responsibility of the state as indigents, and this may be those unfortunates
that find themselves in state care (mental hospitals, care homes, penitentiaries
or homeless people). In many cases there is no family to step in
and take care of any funeral arrangements anyway.
Indigent burial programs
also extend to help those who were very needy in some states and counties.
This may be families on welfare and more recently, in some counties, has
extended to those who are considered low-income families. In some
areas of the US indigent burial programs are also offered to Native American
I must point out though that
the level and availability of indigent financial assistance for a funeral
varies across the country. Some states have state-level programs
and in some areas it is managed at a county level. Use this chart
on Social Assistance
Funeral Programs or Welfare Funeral Benefits to find out what is available
in your state.
Who qualifies for public assistance
for a funeral?
Qualification for public assistance
for a funeral varies by state, and often by county. If you are on
welfare, or another state assistance program, you may qualify for some
financial assistance. In many instances you would need to be
classed as “living below the poverty line” as your state defines it.
What is “living below the poverty
Most countries define a poverty
threshold as a monetary amount that a person or household are living on
that equates to being below the poverty line. This not only varies
by country but can also vary by state in the USA. In the United States
(2015), the poverty threshold for a single person under 65 is at an annual
income of $11,770, and for a family group of four, including two children,
it is $24,250.
cemetery plot, grave marker
and a US flag. In some cases funeral service providers offer additional
benefits for Veterans such as free copies of death certificates and discounts
on funeral services.
What help is there to pay for
If you need help to pay for
a funeral, you should contact your county Department of Human Services,
Department of Public Health or Welfare Department to find out if you qualify
for any public aid for a funeral. Individuals who are on Social Security
from the federal government may also be entitled to claim a fixed death
benefit payment of $255. This assistance is only payable if there
is a surviving spouse or child under the age of 18.
Veterans are entitled to
certain federal benefits which are managed by the Veteran’s Administration
(VA). Veterans (and certain dependents) are entitled to a free
There are also charitable
organizations that maintain funds to help needy families with funeral costs.
These vary by area and you would need to make inquiries at a local level
from local community and church organizations.
How do I go about claiming state
assistance to help with funeral costs?
To claim financial assistance
for funeral expenses you will need to submit an application to your Department
of Human Services (Social Services/Welfare). You will need to submit
evidence that you qualify in terms of your welfare or low-income status,
and a claim generally needs to be made within a certain time-frame after
the death of your family member. Check our chart about state burial
assistance programs to find out more. In some cases the costs to
cover a basic service are paid direct to the funeral home and in some areas
only certain funeral homes handle indigent burial cases.
There are a few states where
burial assistance is payable direct to the family to reimburse the family
for costs incurred.
What if I do not qualify for
an indigent burial assistance program but cannot afford a funeral?
Sadly we are contacted daily
by families who find themselves in this unfortunate position. If
you cannot afford a funeral, but lack the funds to cover funeral costs,
you really need to look at how you can arrange a funeral at a minimal cost.
Here are some options for
how you can arrange a funeral and keep your costs down:
A direct cremation is often
the lowest cost disposition method. In some areas you can deal direct
with the crematory and arrange an immediate cremation of the deceased with
no services. The cremation is performed using a simple cremation
container (reinforced cardboard box) and once complete, the cremated remains
are returned directly to the family in a temporary urn. In most metro
areas a direct cremation can be arranged for between $500 and $1,000. DFS
Memorials is a nationwide service that helps families locate a local
low cost provider.
In all but 8 states it is perfectly
legal to conduct death care without employing a funeral director.
This can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. You can
purchase a casket direct from a casket retailer. Even Walmart and CostCo
now sell low-cost caskets online for around $1,000. You need to apply to
the county for the death certificate and a burial or cremation permit,
and transport the deceased to the cemetery or crematory. You can
conduct your own funeral services and make your own memorial tributes,
which can again save you money. If you are in a state that permits
burial on your own land, this can also save on cemetery costs.
A simple green burial can be
a cost-saving option. No expensive casket is required and the body
can be buried with minimum intervention, even wrapped in a cotton or bamboo
shroud. You need to check available green burial sites. Most do charge
fees for a natural burial site, however, some green burial sites do offer
free plots (or a donation option) to those who are struggling to meet funeral
Crowdfunding a funeral
This is a new way that families
are finding help to fund a funeral. Crowdfunding websites originated
to raise funding for enterprise projects but an opportunity to apply the
technology to generating funds for funeral costs soon emerged.
Read this article on Crowdfunding
a Funeral to learn more.
Whole Body Donation
It is possible to donate a whole
body to science upon death. You can pre-register to become a whole body
donor, or you can opt for this as an option when a family member passes.
However, not all donors are accepted at the time of death, so you cannot
rely upon body donation as a guaranteed end of life option. To learn
more about body donation read Donating
a Body to Science.
Veteran’s Funeral Benefits
All veterans (and some of their
dependents) are entitled to certain funeral benefits. An honorably-discharged
veteran is entitled to a free burial plot in a National VA Cemetery, a
burial flag, government grave marker, and a presidential memorial certificate.
Some funeral providers offer additional benefits such as free death certificates
and/or discounts on the funeral service charge.
Where can I go to get support
to help me?
If you have a loved one who
has passed and you find yourself without the resources to pay for the funeral,
you may wish to contact your county human services or social services department
in the first instance to check if you qualify for any assistance.
There are a range of organizations
and agencies that may also be able to offer advice and assistance to support
you through the funeral arrangement process. At US Funerals Online
we have a library of articles to assist you with how to make funeral arrangements
and save money on funeral costs. Check out our Library section.
The DFS Memorials network is a network of over 90 independent funeral service
providers who all offer low-cost cremation and/or burial services to their
The Funeral Consumers Alliance
has chapters throughout the US and some of these chapters offer consumer
information and funeral home price comparison surveys.
You will also find that there
are different agencies at a local level that may offer guidance and support
if you are dealing with the death of a family member and struggling with
finances. Hospice Social Workers, Chaplains and Church Ministers
all tend to have experience of how to support families during their time
of need, and usually know of local resources that may help.
Hopefully, this information
can assist you to become better informed about the options available to
you if you cannot pay for a funeral, or have very limited resources.
If the deceased had no life insurance and no funeral provision, it is important
to ensure you do not financially burden yourself with funeral expenses.
||Expert Author: Sara
Sara is the Editor in Chief
for US Funerals Online and has been researching and writing about the death
care industry in the US for the last 5 years.