Burial Funds & Programs That Help With Funeral Costs

    Hand placed on casket at a funeral

    Before we begin to navigate you through the process of paying for a funeral service, we would like to offer our sincerest condolences for your loss. 

    Losing a loved one is difficult, unfortunately, sometimes the expenses associated with it can make the situation even harder.

    Americans had $16 billion in funeral costs in 2017, and the bills can add up quick.

    When a loved one dies, you have anywhere from three days to two weeks to secure a casket, plot, headstone, funeral home, flowers, a hearse and clothes for the deceased.

    And the money to pay for it all.

    The average family spent $9,000 on a funeral in 2019.  The price can sneak into the five-figure range for some families when they make arrangements that might include music or a catered reception after the funeral.

    It’s a bad idea to overspend on funeral services you can’t afford, though it’s understandable that you’d want to give your loved one a proper good-bye. You’re never going to get it done for free, but burial funds and certain nonprofit organizations can help you give the deceased relative a respectful send-off, while avoiding debt in the process.

    Funeral Costs

    You’ll want to ask yourself what services you need and what services you can do without. While burial funds and nonprofits can be an invaluable resource, they won’t pay for everything.

    If you are opting for burial over cremation, you’ll need a casket, and here is where your choices can save or cost you money. For example, Metal caskets cost on average $2,400, compared to a wooden casket that can range from $200-$1,000.

    Here are some of the most expensive costs for a funeral, according to the NFDA:
    • Funeral home’s basic service fee: $2,100
    • Vault: $1,395
    • Embalming: $725
    • Facilities and staff to manage a funeral ceremony: $500
    • Facilities and staff to manage a viewing: $425

    This doesn’t include the costs of transporting remains, preparing the body, providing a plot and decorations such as wreaths or flowers. The burial plot alone can range from as a low as $200 to over $2,000.

    Few people explore their options in preparing for a funeral and it costs them thousands.

    According to a survey on consumer awareness and preferences conducted by the NFDA, over 80% of respondents reported visiting only one funeral home to inquire into costs and services offered.

    You can save money by price shopping for a local and affordable florist. Or consider buying a casket from a third-party through Amazon.

    Embalming costs an average of $725, but there is no law requiring it except in some circumstances. Some states, like Alabama and Alaska, require embalming when a body crosses state lines. But you have the right to make funeral arrangements without embalming and choose a direct cremation or immediate burial.

    It may be necessary if you’ve decided to have an open casket or must postpone the funeral, or transport the remains across the country or overseas.

    Also, some funeral homes will not allow public viewing without embalming, but this is not required by law in most states.

    The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule details your rights when planning a funeral.

    Some of your rights include:
    • Buy only goods and services you want.
    • Be offered pricing information by phone.
    • Be provided with an itemized statement of all goods and services.
    • Provide your own casket or urn.
    • Decline embalming prior to a funeral.

    Know your rights and your limits before visiting with funeral directors.

    Government Burial Assistance Programs

    You can find funeral assistance from local and federal governments, but what you’re eligible to receive depends on your location and situation. Government assistance programs tend to favor disaster victims, veterans and the elderly.

    State and Local Burial Assistance

    Every state has its own rules and budgets for funeral assistance.

    For example, Maine offers benefits through its General Assistance Program for cremation and burial ranging from $700-$1,000, While other states may only give help if you meet certain criteria.

    California only supplies aid if “the death falls under victim’s compensation.” Meaning the deceased was the victim of a violent crime, In which case the state can force the culprit to pay the family restitution.

    Other states, like Idaho and New York, offer no state-level assistance for funerals. Though help may be available at the city or county levels.

    Since funeral assistance varies so much across the nation, it’s best to call your local Department of Health or the county coroner to see what options you have available.

    Social Security

    Social Security will pay a one-time death settlement of $255 to the spouse or children of the deceased. This will cover very little of the funeral expenses. But it can still be useful for things like an obituary, which will cost around $200.

    Survivor benefits are another way to offset funeral costs.

    People eligible for survivor benefits include:
    • A widow or widower age 60 or older (50 if disabled)
    • Unmarried children of the deceased under 18 years old
    • Dependent parents age 62 or older
    • Divorced spouse—if marriage lasted at least 10 years

    You can receive survivor benefits if the deceased was eligible for social security retirement benefits.

    For the most part, anyone who has worked 10 years would be eligible for retirement benefits, making their spouse or children also eligible for survivor benefits.

    If the deceased passed away before working 10 years you may still be eligible to receive survivor benefits. The younger you are when you die, the less you would have had to  work for your family to receive benefits.

    Social Security calculates the credits needed to receive these benefits on a lot of different factors. It’s best to contact your local SSA office  directly to see if you qualify.

    Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

    FEMA gives burial assistance to victims of Presidentially declared disaster areas. Victims eligible for benefits are those who have died from a direct or indirect result of a disaster.

    A direct result would be drowning in a flood. An indirect result would be the exacerbation of pre-existing circumstance: a man with high blood pressure having a heartache during an earthquake.

    In order to receive assistance, you must provide proof that other forms of aid have proven insufficient to meet your needs.

    Here’s a list of what FEMA’s burial assistance may cover:
    • Cost of casket or urn
    • Mortuary Services
    • Up to five death certificates
    • Burial plot or cremation niche
    • Marker or headstone in a public cemetery or private burial site

    Military Burial Benefits for Veterans

    The amount of funeral assistance offered by the United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) depends on whether the death was service related or non-service related.

    The VA pays up to $2,000 in burial assistance for a service-related death, and up to $780 for a non-service-related death. The Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act (SCRA) may provide military spouse benefits as well. Spouses could be entitled to a death gratuity if the death was a result of service.

    A service-related death is a death related to a disability acquired from service in the military. An example would be dying of cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange.

    The VA offers more benefits for veterans buried in a national cemetery. They’ll pay for the opening and closing of the grave, which cost an average of $1,240.

    They’ll also provide a gravestone, and burial flag. Gravestones can range anywhere from as low as $300 for a flat marker to over $10,000 for an upright headstone, though you can get a basic upright headstone for around $1,000.

    If you choose to have a private funeral, the VA also offers a $780 plot-internment allowance.

    However, there are stipulations to remember. If you were reimbursed by some other source for the cost of the funeral, like the veteran’s employer, you will not be eligible.

    Also, any veteran who was dishonorably discharged is ineligible to receive funeral benefits.

    Charities and Nonprofit Organization Assistance

    Charities and nonprofits are best contacted before any arrangements have been made. Organizations like the Funeral Consumers Alliance can give important financial advice and help you decide what you need and what you can get on without.

    Contacting these nonprofits can help you avoid falling into debt after a costly funeral service.

    Memorial Societies

    Memorial societies are located in all, but 12 states. What they do and how they can help you varies across the country.

    At the very least, they will provide information on your local funeral homes and give you some advice on what you can do to save on a service. Some may even offer discounted prices on funerals.

    Some have a one-time fee you pay to become a member. For example, it costs $25 to join the Cleveland Memorial Society for life. They offer simple burial for $895.

    Simple or direct burial is a cheaper alternative to a traditional funeral service, as it skips the service altogether. The body is laid to rest immediately after death.

    The Funeral Consumers Alliance of Arizona has a membership fee of $30 and an annual renewal fee of $15. You can find direct burial services through them for as low as $1,125.

    If you’re interested in joining a memorial society, visit Funerals.org.

    Funerals.org is the website of the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA), which is like a parent organization for all the local memorial societies scattered around the country. They can link you to your local FCA chapter.

    Charities and Nonprofit Organizations

    Dialing the number 2-1-1 is a good place to start. You should reach an operator, who might be able to give you the name of local organizations that offer assistance for funerals.

    In addition, check with these organizations.
    • Local Churches – Churches in your area usually have a separate fund set aside to help families that can’t afford the cost of a funeral.
    • United Tissue Network – This nonprofit facilitates whole body donation for science. In return they will cover the costs associated with transporting the deceased to one of their facilities, producing two certified copies of the death certificate and cremation. The cremated remains are then returned to the family within 4-6 weeks. MedCure and Science Care also offer this service, but are not listed as nonprofit organizations.

    Burial Assistance for Children

    There are many charities that give burial assistance to the families of children and babies. The cost of a child’s funeral surprises many as it can be just as much as an adult’s funeral.

    Here are some charities that provide burial assistance to families with children:
    • Final FarewellProvides financial assistance and guidance for families planning the funeral of a child.
    • The Tears Foundation – Pays the funeral home directly for babies between 20 weeks’ gestation up to one year old. They offer as much as $500 towards burial cost.
    • Children’s Burial AssistanceProvides families with donated burial plots.

    Burial Insurance

    Not many people are aware that you can purchase insurance to cover the cost of your funeral.

    The rates are based on sex, health and age. It’s a matter of judgment as to whether they are reasonable.

    For example, the premiums to cover women are 25%-30% cheaper than men. Rates go up every five years, starting at 65. Also, rates for “good health” candidates are 30%-35% lower than people who choose to be in the “no questions asked” category for health.

    In 2019, you could get a $40 a month policy for a 65-year-old woman in good health that would have a $10,000 death benefit. The same policy for a 65-year-old woman in the “no health questions asked” category would be $55. A 65-year-old man in good health would pay $55, while the no questions asked category goes for $75.

    The price goes up about 30%-40% every five years that you’re in the plan, up to the age of 80.

    Alternatives to a Traditional Funeral

    If you are still having trouble covering the costs of a funeral you may want to consider a less traditional service, like cremation or green burial.

    About half of Americans choose cremation over burial. Cremation costs range between $2,000-$3,000. Direct cremation can cost even less, ranging from around $500-$1,800.

    In direct cremation (like direct burial) you skip the service all together. The funeral home handles the cremation, then returns the remains to the family.

    Green Burials can eliminate a lot of the costs associated with traditional burials. According to the NFDA, 53% of Americans are considering a green burial.

    A green burial replaces a metal casket with either a biodegradable shroud or simple pinewood. The vault is forgone, and the embalming is skipped. These changes make burials more sustainable by limiting their impact on the environment and cheaper by going without a lot of what goes into a traditional funeral.

    Other Fundraising Methods

    Not everyone will qualify for burial funds. And some religions may prohibit cremation, or require a traditional service.

    Fundraising can be a good option when you need to earn money quickly.

    Here are some methods that you should consider:
    • Online crowdfunding: Websites like Gofundme.com, Giveforward.com, and Fundly.com provide a platform for you to appeal to a large audience from around the world.
    • Church donations: If you’re a member of a church, ask your congregation or social group if they’re willing to help. Their aid doesn’t have to be monetary. Ask if anybody is willing to volunteer as a pallbearer or usher. Perhaps one of them is a florist and may be able to donate some flowers?
    • Car wash: Get your friends or family together for a couple days to wash some cars. Let your customers know that you are fundraising for a funeral.
    • Bank Memorial Funds: Set up a memorial fund at your bank and let your friends, family and co-workers know about it. It might take a little longer to gather funds, but you may be reimbursed down the line.

    Remember that burial funds can only go so far. You’ll still have to make some prudent decisions. We all deserve a respectful farewell, but that does not mean interment in a mausoleum or a horse-drawn funeral procession. Most of us would be happy to learn that our loved ones were resourceful enough to put us to rest without falling into debt.

    Bents Dulcio

    Bents Dulcio graduated from Florida State University in 2016 with a degree in Political Science, and knows a thing or two about Millennial student loan debt. While in school, he developed a passion for classic literature, reading books by authors from Homer to Adam Smith and developed a penchant for dealing with tight financial circumstances. Bents used the student loan money to pursue a semester of language study in France that helped convince him to become a writer. Bents still hits the books – he read 70 in the past year – and still knows how to cut corners financially.

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