In this article, we have put together a guide to green or natural burial options in California. Exploring what makes a funeral ‘green’, how much a green funeral will cost, and how to find a natural burial location in California. In addition, we look at green cremation, otherwise known as aquamation, what kind of burial containers are biodegradable, and DIY Home Funerals.
In April 2021 Congress passed legislation to authorize FEMA to provide financial assistance to those families who had incurred funeral expenses related to the passing of a family member from COVID-19. This relates ONLY to funeral expenses paid out after January 20th, 2020.
FEMA is now accepting applications to claim back funeral expenses incurred. As you can imagine, the helplines are inordinately busy. Therefore, we would suggest you visit the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) website to find out more about making an application. To help you get started, we have answered some of the basic questions you may have about if you qualify to make a claim, how much you can claim, how to submit a claim, and how your claim for funeral assistance will be paid.
Who qualifies for FEMA funeral assistance?
To qualify to make a claim, the following conditions must be met:
- The death certificate must indicate that COVID-19 was the cause of death. *Note: Policy updated July 1st, 2021 to allow applicants to submit a letter or statement from the medical examiner or the death certificate’s certifying official confirming the death was COVID-19 related.
- The death must have happened in the United States.
- The person making the application must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or a qualified alien.
NOTE: There is no requirement for the deceased to be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien.
How much financial assistance is provided through FEMA?
Congress approved billions of dollars through two COVID relief measures. Estimating potential claims for COVID deaths to date, some 5 billion would be needed to finance the program.
How does a family make a claim for FEMA funeral assistance?
FEMA has a dedicated Funeral Assistance Application helpline on (844) 684-6333. Lines are open Monday through Friday from 9:00 am until 9:00 pm (EDT). Unfortunately, we are told that the lines are extremely busy, but at present, this is the only way to begin your claim process. If the lines are busy, you need to keep trying.
FEMA recorded 1 million calls on the day the program launched. At present, the helpline is dealing with around 25,000 calls per day.
How long does it take to conduct the funeral assistance application?
When you connect with an operator it should take about 20 minutes to go through the initial claim process. If your application is accepted, you will receive a claim number.
You will then need to submit your supporting documentation (copies of the death certificate, funeral receipts, etc.) either by mail, fax, or upload to your account on DisasterAssistance.gov.
Several family members contributed towards the funeral costs. Can we claim reimbursement separately?
Although it is understood that often surviving family members share the burden of funeral costs, only one application should be made for reimbursement. FEMA will work with the applicant to determine the validity of documentation and receipts if several family members paid towards the funeral.
It is possible to make a claim with an applicant and co-applicant if two people shared the funeral expenses and signed the funeral contract.
How much can a family claim towards funeral costs for a COVID death?
The applicant can claim up to $9,000 towards funeral expenses incurred.
I had more than one death in the family from COVID-19. Can I make more than one claim for funeral assistance?
FEMA will reimburse for funeral costs for multiple deaths in the same family. But up to a maximum of $35,000. As with an individual claim, federal assistance will be adjusted to take into account any support received from other sources, such as insurance policies, donations, etc.
What funeral expenses are covered for a funeral assistance claim?
The applicant can claim fair reimbursement of funeral expenses incurred for the burial or cremation of the deceased up to the value of $9,000.
It may include (but is not limited to):
- Transportation for 2 people to identify the deceased
- Transfer of the deceased to a funeral home or crematory
- A casket or urn
- A burial plot or cremation niche
- A grave marker or memorial marker
- Officiant services at the funeral
- A service fee of the funeral home to arrange the funeral
- Use of funeral home equipment and staff
- The cost of cremation or interment
- The fees for issuing death certificates
- Fees associated with local county permits for cremation, transport, and burial
What information do I need to provide to support my FEMA funeral assistance claim?
You will need to provide the following information. So make sure you have gathered all this data together before calling to make your application.
- Social security number of the applicant and the deceased
- Date of birth of the applicant and deceased
- The mailing address of the applicant
- Telephone number of the applicant
- Location/address where the deceased died
- A copy of the death certificate
- Details of any funeral or burial insurance policies
- Details about any other assistance received towards funeral costs (such as donations)
- Any grants or CARES Act assistance towards funeral expenses
- Bank details for direct deposit (if selected as a payment option)
What if the death certificate does not clearly indicate COVID as the cause of death?
If you believe your loved one did indeed die as a result of the COVID-19 virus but the death certificate does not clearly indicate COVID as the cause of death, you can appeal to have the death record amended. You must follow the procedures within your state to do so. This usually involves contacting the person who certified the death. This may be an attending physician, coroner, or medical examiner. Their name and address will be on the death certificate.
What if I no longer have my funeral receipts?
If you do not have a copy of your original funeral contract and/or other receipts, you will need to contact the funeral home that handled the funeral and request that copies of the funeral contract and your payment are sent to you.
How will the claim be paid?
When you make your claim, you will be asked if you wish to be paid by check or direct deposit to your bank. If your application is successful the funds will be paid by the payment option you selected when making your claim.
Can the funeral home claim for the FEMA assistance on my behalf?
No. The funeral home cannot apply on your behalf, or be a co-applicant for FEMA funeral assistance. The applicant must be the individual who paid for the funeral expenses.
Is there a deadline date for making an application for funeral assistance?
At this time there is no deadline date for applications. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 will continue to support families with COVID deaths through 2021. As the pandemic continuity cannot be predicted, the funds should continue to be available on an ongoing basis.
The deceased had a pre-paid funeral plan. Can I claim reimbursement for funeral costs from FEMA?
No. If the deceased had a pre-planned funeral contract that was set up to pay for funeral expenses in anticipation of a future death, you cannot be reimbursed through the FEMA funeral assistance program.
Understanding the importance of future-planning and how to access affordable funeral services
Many families have had to take care of funeral arrangements unexpectedly during the last year with so many losses due to the pandemic. Making funeral arrangements for a loved one is always fraught. Especially so when no funeral provision or life insurance is available to help relieve the burden of making arrangements. Funeral expenses can mount up, and there are so many time-sensitive decisions to be made.
For those who have had this experience, you may realize the value of ensuring you protect your loved ones from this experience in the future. Pre-planning your funeral wishes can offer peace of mind. You can pre-plan and deposit funds into a POD (Payable on Death) bank account. This ensures your allotted funds remain secure in your own estate but can be accessed by your nominated beneficiary upon death.
To find out how much simple cremation services are in your area you can visit DFS Memorials. DFS Memorials is a nationwide network of independent funeral homes who all offer affordable funeral options to their community. The website discloses listings of local providers and their cremation prices.
Watch out for scammers posing as FEMA & calling survivors of COVID deaths!
Unfortunately, scammers are already targeting this opportunity to scam surviving families of COVID victims. Scammers will use obituaries to scour for potential targets. If you receive an unsolicited call from anyone posing as a FEMA representative, do not give any personal information about your lost loved one or yourself. Report the incident to FEMA or the National Center for Fraud. Note: The government will not ask for you to pay anything upfront to receive your reimbursement. So this should be an immediate ‘red flag’.
FEMA will only contact you ONCE you have initiated a claim.
Where can I find more information?
The FEMA website has comprehensive information and FAQs about the funeral assistance relief program.
Funeral homes who are members of the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) have access to a toolkit to help them advise their community families on the process for accessing FEMA funeral assistance.