From a Funeral Director: What Can a Family Do If They Can't Afford the Cost of a Funeral
It can be difficult to find the money necessary to pay for the cost of a funeral. What can a family do if they simply can’t afford a funeral service?
When a family experiences the death of a loved one, and money for the cost of a funeral is not available from traditional sources (insurance proceeds, savings accounts, etc.), paying for a funeral can be a true financial challenge. Funerals, by their nature, can be an expensive and unexpected hit on the family budget. Adding this to the pain, confusion and sorrow of dealing with the death itself doesn’t make the process any easier.
When preparing to plan the services, one of the first questions the family should ask themselves is: “What CAN we afford to spend on the funeral?” Funeral services can range in cost from as little as $600 to $700 for an immediate cremation to as high as tens of thousands of dollars for complete viewing, ceremonies, casket, vault, burial costs and other ancillary expenses. Most funeral homes will have a wide range of options for services that fall between these two financial extremes, however, and most funeral directors will work closely with you to help provide the family with services and products that fall within your budget.
Choosing funeral services and products based on religious traditions, family expectations, the wishes of the deceased, or other motivating factors is a valid and common approach to arranging a funeral. However, if these factors are not balanced by a realistic approach to the financial elements involved, families and funeral directors may both suffer unnecessarily. Be honest with yourselves and your funeral director about what you can afford, and most funeral directors can find options that work for all the parties involved. Families don’t want to be stuck with bills they cannot pay, and funeral directors don’t want bad debt that leads to increased costs for everyone else.
When the situation arises that you would like more services or better products than you can currently afford, there are some options available to you. Traditional lending sources, such as local banks and credit unions may help; but they may also be reluctant to provide unsecured loans for large dollar amounts, and they frequently take more time than you have available to investigate and process the loan. Non-traditional lending is available from businesses like Prosper.com, an eFuneral partner, who can quickly process a loan application and may extend funeral loans for those who may not qualify for, or have time for, a regular bank loan. Financial assistance from family members has been a tremendous help for many families as well. Your local church may even be willing to help with the expenses. Sometimes, you just need to ask for help!
In the event there are NO funding sources available for funeral services, financial assistance can be very difficult to acquire. In general, government agencies provide relatively little assistance for funeral expenses (Social Security provides a lump-sum death benefit of only $255 when there is a surviving spouse or dependent children). Under certain circumstances, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs will pay or reimburse some funeral expenses such as transportation to and from the funeral home; however, at Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Rittman, Ohio), Veterans AND their spouses are entitled to a free grave or niche space, opening and closing of the grave or niche, a grave liner (if desired), and upright headstone or niche plate.
In the very unusual situations where there is an “unclaimed” body, the local coroner will contact representatives of the city of residence of the deceased to pay for the disposition of those human remains (no services, just disposition—normally cremation).
Indigent Catholics in the Cleveland Diocese may qualify for free funeral services, including burial costs, through an organization called the Callistian Guild. This organization is administered by the Catholic Cemetery Association and funded by contributions and membership dues from funeral homes, florists, monument dealers, funeral product providers and others who are committed to burying even the poorest with dignity. Generally, however, “indigent” is defined as the deceased and family having no means whatsoever to pay for the funeral expenses.
I guess the bottom line message is to try to be prepared. Death is a certainty; buying a funeral is a purchase that every one of us will eventually make. Planning for this by means of purchasing life insurance, establishing a personal savings account, pre-paying a funeral, or any other method that works for you can help alleviate some of the stress and confusion when a loved one dies.
This article is part of the eFuneral Resource Center and was written by Tom Rybicki, President and Funeral Director for Rybicki & Son Funeral Homes. Tom was raised in the funeral business, and for the last 25 years, he has been working as a funeral director at the funeral home his grandfather started 73 years ago. Thos