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Funerals can be expensive. If your loved one didn’t pre-plan their funeral or make financial arrangements to help cover their final expenses, figuring out how to pay for funeral services can be difficult. While there aren’t a lot of options for funeral assistance, there are places to turn for assistance and there are ways to cut costs to fit your budget while still giving your loved one the send-off he or she deserves.
Social Security will provide a one-time death benefit of $255 to the spouse or children of the deceased. This doesn’t cover much considering that families can spend anywhere from $2,000 to $9,000 on funeral and burial expenses, but it will help cover the cost of an obituary, which typically costs around $200.
There are also survivor benefits. These benefits can be awarded to a widow or widower aged 60 or older (50 if disabled), unmarried children of the deceased who are under 18 years of age, dependent parents aged 62 or older and a divorced spouse if the marriage lasted 10 years or more. Eligible recipients will only receive the benefit if the deceased was eligible for social security retirement benefits. Typically, a person who has worked more than 10 years is eligible to receive retirement benefits, but sometimes benefits can still be awarded if the deceased worked less than 10 years. Your best bet is to contact the local social security office and ask. Understand that the less time a person has been in the workforce, the lower the amount of the benefit.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides assistance to those affected by Presidentially declared states of emergency, usually due to a natural disaster. In order to receive aid, you must be able to provide proof that other forms of aid are insufficient to meet your needs. FEMA’s burial assistance may cover the cost of a casket or urn, mortuary services, up to five death certificates, burial plot or cremation niche and a marker or headstone in a public cemetery or private burial site.
If your family member was a veteran or active member of the military, the United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) could potentially provide burial assistance. The amount will vary depending on if the death was service-related or not. If it was service-related, the VA will pay up to $2,000 in burial assistance. If it was non-service related, they will pay up to $780 in burial assistance.
In addition, the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act may provide military spouses with benefits, and spouses could be entitled to a death gratuity if the death was service-related. A service-related death doesn’t mean that the deceased died in combat, it can also be as a result of a disability acquired from service in the military. For example, a veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam who passes from cancer would qualify as a service-related death.
The VA also offers more benefits if the service member is buried in a national cemetery. They’ll pay for the opening and closing of the grave, which costs an average of $1,240. They’ll provide a gravestone and burial flag. If a private funeral is chosen, the VA offers up to $780 for plot-internment.
There are always stipulations that have to be met, though. If you are reimbursed by another source for the cost of the funeral, you will not be eligible for VA benefits. Any member of the military who was dishonorably discharged is not eligible for VA benefits either.
As with anything else when dealing with the state, it is always best to conduct your own research. State burial assistance is declining due to budget deficiencies. What is offered varies greatly by state, so it is recommended to consult your local health department or coroner’s office to find out what your state offers and ask if they have any information on eligibility requirements. Every state is different, and some states offer zero assistance at the state level, although local and county options may be available.
That said, most states and counties do have some kind of indigent burial program for the indigent, homeless, and mentally ill who die while in the care of state institutions who also have no next of kin. Any program in place at the county or state level is going to focus largely on low-income families, the working poor, and senior citizens who live on a limited income and lack assets.
There are also a limited number of states which offer financial assistance for those who cannot afford to pay for cremation, burial, and funeral costs. Grants could be awarded or the government could help with low-cost loans for those who need to borrow money. There may be programs offered at the county or local levels to help qualified low income or indigent residents. There are also programs that help children of the deceased if they cannot afford to pay for a service, as well as programs that assist families who have lost a child.
Medicare and Medicaid may also provide a provision for burial or cremation costs for those who qualify.
Aside from government and military assistance, there are several other options for helping cover funeral and burial costs. Life insurance, funeral insurance, burial insurance, final expense insurance, funeral loans, fundraising, body donation, and charities are all options for helping cover costs.
Life insurance is the most common and usually the cheapest and most cost-effective way of paying your final expenses and funeral costs if you don’t think you will receive death benefits (or if they will not be enough) or you don’t want to use the money or assets in your estate to pay final costs. Many people will find that life insurance is surprisingly affordable especially when you compare different policies from different national underwriters using a website such as Policygenius. You can also try using the widget at the end of this article to quickly see no-obligation life insurance quotes tailored for you.
Funeral, burial and final expense insurance are very effective ways to cover costs. They all require preplanning, though, so these options are not useful for, say, a young person who dies by accident. The cost of these policies varies by company and by person, with the price often going up as a person ages. Rates are often dependent on age, sex, and health, with policies for women being cheaper than policies for men typically.
Funeral loans are hard to find and are often expensive because there is no real incentive to pay them back. The creditor cannot ‘re-possess’ the purchase once it’s all said and done. Therefore, most financing companies usually require some kind of down payment towards the cost of the funeral and will finance the rest. However, this is generally only beneficial to those who can already afford funeral costs due to the nature of the debt. It is possible to find a funeral loan, but do your research before signing on the dotted line. Know what the requirements are, how much you need upfront, what the interest rate is, and how long you’ll have to repay the loan.
Charitable organizations may be an option for you if you meet their qualifications. A good place to start is by dialing 2-1-1 on your phone. An operator will answer and should be able to direct you to local charities that can assist. Contacting a church is also an option as some churches have a separate fund to help families who can’t afford the cost of a funeral.
Body donation is a good no-cost option and is something that is gaining in popularity. Donating your body to science can be facilitated through a non-profit organization that will cover the costs associated with transporting the body to their facility, provide a death certificate and cover the cost of cremation. The cremated remains are typically returned in 4-6 weeks.
In today’s world of crowdfunding, fundraising for a funeral is an option that may garner more funds than you realize. You could have a car wash, sell shirts or bracelets, or even set up an account on a crowdfunding site like GoFundMe or Caring.org. There are numerous websites out there that facilitate crowdfunding, so be sure to do your research on how they work. Some will give you a set time to raise funds, some will allow you to withdraw funds daily while others will not, and every site will charge some kind of fee for utilizing their services, so you will want to compare pricing. You can also set up a memorial fund at a bank where people can make deposits. Utilizing social media to publicize your needs will help you reach more people as well.
One final note to take away is that you should understand your rights. Know your budget and don’t let a funeral home or anyone else up-sell you. Understand that you have rights, and if it’s not in your budget then you don’t have to commit. Your loved one is going to get the send-off they deserve simply by having the people they care about show up and celebrate their life. The flowers, the music, and the casket are all secondary to why you are really there. Don’t overspend or commit to something you cannot afford, and if you cannot afford much, be sure to look through these options when the time comes to ensure a smooth process.
The information provided does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal, accounting or tax advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.