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Burial Funds & Programs That Help With Funeral Costs

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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, and the expenses associated with a funeral and burial can be an added burden at the worst possible time. However, help with the cost of a funeral is available from the government, charities, memorial organizations, insurance and more.

Americans spend an estimated $20 billion a year on funerals. The median cost for traditional burial was $7,848 in 2022 (half were more expensive and half were less), according to the National Funeral Directors Association. The median cost of cremation was $6,970. Depending on the details, a funeral can cost $12,000 or more.

The loved ones of the deceased must, often with little or no warning, make decisions within days about expensive details like casket type, the service and how elaborate it will be, whether to cremate or bury the deceased, buying a burial plot and headstone.

Determining where the money will come from is another decision that adds stress. Emotion, religion and family pressure can play into how decisions are made and how much money will be spent.

The best way to save money when paying for a funeral, while still respecting your deceased relative, is to be informed.

Funeral Costs

Seven out of 10 respondents to a recent survey said they’d “rather be buried in a cardboard box” than have their family spend too much on their funeral, but few Americans thoroughly research their options when it comes to saving money on funeral expenses.

Although 41% of respondents to the survey, conducted by OnePoll for Titan Caskets, considered themselves “very knowledgeable” about funeral costs, their average guess at cost was $5,810, more than $2,000 less than the 2022 median cost.

According to a survey on consumer awareness and preferences conducted by the NFDA, more than 80% of people planning a funeral ask only one funeral home about services and costs.

Costs for a traditional funeral and burial include a funeral home service fee, casket, embalming and other body preparation, the service, flowers, music, printed programs, burial costs, transportation of the deceased to and from the funeral home, transportation of family members, a headstone, funeral plot and more. A cremation includes many of those items, as well as an urn, cremation fee and other costs.

Considering what services you really need when planning a loved one’s funeral (or your own), and what you can do without, can save thousands.

For instance, the median price of a metal casket was $2,500 in 2022. The median for a wooden casket is $3,000. While a simple pine casket may just be a few hundred, you may pay as much as $10,000 for a mahogany model. If you buy a casket from a funeral home, it will cost about 30% more than if you buy it separately. A burial plot can be $200 in a town cemetery if you’re a resident, but well over $3,000 in many large city cemeteries or private cemeteries.

Even decisions about an obituary can cost or save money. Most funeral homes include a free online obituary on their website, but if you want it printed in a newspaper it will cost anywhere from $200 to $800, or even more, per newspaper. Most newspapers charge per printed inch, so the more information included, the more it will cost.

While funeral homes charge a service fee, that’s for labor and some materials. It doesn’t include the use of space for a viewing, embalming, the hearse or other items.

Some of the average costs for a funeral, according to NFDA:

  • Funeral home’s basic service fee (for both traditional burial and cremation): $2,300
  • Casket: $1,500-$10,000
  • Cremation casket: $1,310
  • Burial vault: $1,572
  • Burial plot: $3,581
  • Headstone: $2,000
  • Embalming: $775
  • Third-party cremation fee: $368
  • Facilities and staff to manage a funeral ceremony: $515
  • Facilities and staff to manage a viewing: $450
  • Cremation urn: $295

This list doesn’t include the cost of a hearse, transportation for family members to the cemetery, transporting the deceased to the funeral home, flowers, a printed program for a funeral or memorial service, and more.

The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule details consumer rights regarding funeral costs. The FTC also has a funeral pricing checklist, which anyone paying for a funeral should take advantage of.

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 the cost of all goods and services before committing.
  • Provide your own casket or urn.
  • Decline embalming.

Know your rights and your budget before visiting with funeral directors. Don’t feel that showing your love for the deceased is equal to how much you spend on their casket, or other items. They would likely not want you to go into debt because of their funeral.

Saving Money on Funeral Costs

Reviewing the FTC information before making funeral decisions will save you money. For instance, in many cases, embalming in not necessary. Embalming helps preserve the body for viewing or transporting, but a direct cremation or immediate burial can save $775 or more.

Local family-run funeral homes often offer cost savings, and some roll smaller expenses into the overall cost. Take time to shop around, even though decisions must be made quickly. Comparison shopping will save you money and be less stressful in the long run. If possible, have someone who isn’t as emotionally involved help with funeral planning. Making funeral decisions before they are necessary, no matter how healthy and young you are, can also ease the pressure on loved ones when the time to act comes.

Average Funeral Costs by State

The NFDA regularly calculates the cost of a funeral with burial, as well as the cost of cremation.

The funeral cost includes basic services fee, removal/transfer of remains to the funeral home, embalming and other body preparation, a metal casket, use of facilities and staff for viewing and funeral ceremony, use of a hearse, use of a service car/van, and a basic memorial printed package (e.g., memorial cards, register book, etc.). The cost does not include cemetery, monument or marker costs or miscellaneous cash-advance charges, such as for flowers or an obituary.

Cremation costs are for a cremation with a viewing and service. They include the same items (minus hearse and metal casket) of a funeral with burial, as well as cremation fee, cremation casket and urn. Cremation cost does not include the price of interment in a cemetery, or monument or marker costs.

New Hampshire$7,881$7,069
New Jersey$8,093$7,463
New Mexico$6,888$5,694
New York$8,093$7,463
North Carolina$7,800$7,070
North Dakota$8,500$7,560
Rhode Island$7,881$7,069
South Carolina$7,800$7,070
South Dakota$8,500$7,560
West Virginia$7,800$7,070

Government Burial Assistance Programs

Disaster victims, veterans and the elderly are eligible for some local and federal government funeral cost help, with eligibility depending on location and situation. There is also assistance for low-income residents, depending on what state they live in.

State and Local Burial Assistance

Every state has its own rules and budgets for funeral assistance. They’re not just being kind-hearted – an improper burial can be a health hazard and governments want to make sure that even the lowest-income residents can properly bury or cremate a loved one.

For example, Maine offers benefits to help pay for cremation and burial through its General Assistance program, which is administered through local municipalities and based on need. The maximum is $785 for cremation and $1,125 for burial. California supplies aid if the death falls under the state’s victim compensation law, which can require the perpetrator of a violent crime, if convicted, to pay restitution for funeral costs to the family. Other states, like Idaho and New York, offer no state assistance for funerals, though help may be available at the city or county level. Some towns and cities also offer discounts on burial plots in municipal cemeteries for residents. Check your state Department of Health or county office to see what options are available.

Social Security

Social Security pays a one-time $255 death benefit to the spouse or children of a worker with enough employment credits to be eligible for Social Security benefits upon retirement. While the amount covers only a tiny fraction of funeral costs, it can still help chip away at the total. This shouldn’t be confused with the monthly Social Security survivor benefit a spouse or child may be eligible for.

People eligible for the one-time lump sum death benefit are:

A surviving spouse, if living in the same household as the deceased, is eligible. A spouse living apart, or children if there is no spouse, are eligible if, during the month the person died, they met one of these criteria:

  • Were already receiving benefits on the worker’s record.
  • Became eligible for benefits upon the worker’s death.

People who work earn credits under a formula based on age and number of years working. If your spouse or remaining parent has died, check with your local Social Security Administration office to find out if you are eligible for the lump sum.

Social Security survivor benefits are another way to offset funeral costs.

People eligible for survivor benefits include:

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

As with the lump sum, the deceased had to be 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 eligible for survivor benefits. If the worker died before working 10 years, some survivor benefits are still available. The younger the deceased is, the less time in the workforce they would need to allow a family to be eligible for benefits.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

FEMA funeral assistance helps pay for uninsured and unexpected funeral costs to victims of a declared disaster. Unlike most other forms of FEMA assistance, the disaster does not have to be declared as such by the president but can be declared by a state, tribal or territory government. The amounts are determined by the government that declared the disaster. Families of victims may have died as a direct result of a disaster (for instance, drowning in a flood), or indirect (suffering a heart attack trying to evacuate from the flood). The money can also be used to pay for re-interment of a casket displaced by a disaster.

To receive aid, those seeking the benefit must provide proof that their costs weren’t covered by insurance, or some other form of aid and that they are the closest dependent or relative to the deceased, as well as provide documentation including a death certificate, proof the death was related to the disaster, and more.

FEMA burial assistance may cover:

  • Transfer of remains
  • Casket or urn
  • Burial plot or cremation niche
  • Marker or headstone
  • Interment
  • Funeral services
  • Clergy or officiant services
  • Costs of producing and certifying up to five death certificates
  • Transportation for up to two people to identify the deceased, if required by a government agency.

FEMA funeral assistance only pays for necessary expenses. It can’t be used to pay for an obituary, flowers, catering, printed material (programs, Mass cards, etc.) and other non-necessary expenses.

Military Burial Benefits for Veterans

Families of military members whose death is service-related, as well as veterans, can get a portion of funeral and burial costs reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

The VA pays up to $2,000 toward burial expenses for service-related deaths ($1,500 if the injury or illness that caused the death occurred before Sept. 11, 2001, for instance, a cancer death caused by exposure to Agent Orange).  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.

If an active-duty member dies, but it isn’t service-related, the spouse or children do not get the extra burial expense benefit. But all families get an immediate $100,000 tax-free payment if an active-duty member dies, whether it’s service-related or not, and that money can help with funeral expenses.

Veterans whose death isn’t service-related and were not dishonorably discharged get $796 toward funeral and burial expenses. The person paying for the burial and funeral is only eligible for the benefit if they are not reimbursed by another organization and they must also meet other requirements.

The VA also offers benefits for veterans buried in a VA national cemetery, including opening and closing the grave, a headstone and burial flag.

Charities and Nonprofit Organizations Assistance

Churches, memorial organizations, and other nonprofits often offer funeral benefits to members or even non-members. Charities that help with funeral costs, and other nonprofits, can help those left behind avoid falling into debt because of a costly funeral service and also offer solace and support. Be sure to make contact before you make any funeral arrangements.

Memorial Organizations

All but 12 states have memorial societies that can help defray funeral costs. What they do and how they can help with funeral expenses varies. They all, however, provide information on local funeral homes and advice on how to save money on specific services. Some offer discounted prices on funerals or have a one-time membership fee that will lead to discounts. For example, it costs $25 to join the Cleveland Memorial Society for life, which offers a simple burial for $895. Simple, or direct, burial is a less expensive alternative to a traditional funeral. It skips the viewing and service, with burial immediate.

Funeral Consumers Alliance has chapters in most states and offers resources that can help families find ways to pay for, and make decisions about, paying for funerals. For instance, the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Arizona has a membership fee of $30 and an annual renewal fee of $15, and it offers direct burial services as low as $1,125., the website of Funeral Consumers Alliance, lists memorial societies throughout the U.S. and has links to local FCA chapters.

Charities and Nonprofit Organizations

Calling 2-1-1 is a good place to start for funeral cost help from a charity in your area. An operator should be able to give you the name of local organizations that offer assistance for funerals.

In addition, check with:

Local Churches – Churches often have funds set aside to assist families with the cost of a funeral. Denominational organizations like the Jewish Federation and Catholic Charities also offer resources.

United Tissue Network facilitates whole-body donation for science. The nonprofit covers the cost of transporting the deceased to one of its facilities, producing two certified copies of the death certificate and cremation. The cremated remains are then returned to the family. MedCure and Science Care also offer this service but are not listed as nonprofit organizations.

Burial Assistance for Children

There are many charities that offer burial assistance for funeral costs of children and babies, which can be as expensive as an adult’s.

Some charities that provide burial assistance to families with children:

  • Final Farewell – Provides 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 Assistance – Provides families with donated burial plots.

Burial Insurance

Burial insurance is a type of whole life insurance policy that pays a smaller benefit than traditional life insurance and is intended to cover the cost of a funeral and burial. Policies pay anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000, but generally are for $10,000. Policyholders can pay for a simplified policy, which means they answer some health questions (though usually no medical exam is required). The insurance company may also research their driving record and other risk factors. Another option is a guaranteed policy, which doesn’t require any health or risk factor information, but the premiums are more expensive and the benefit is lower. Both types of policies are graded, which means if the policyholder dies within a few years of getting the policy, the beneficiary doesn’t get the full payout.

Monthly premiums are determined by gender and age. A woman who is 50 has an average monthly premium of $38; a man who’s 50 pays an average$47. The premium cost rises with age, with an 80-year-old woman paying $158, and an 80-year-old man paying an average $197. (Insurance companies base premium costs on risk statistics, so men pay more because they die younger and are more prone to fatal risks than women.).

Burial insurance is paid to a designated beneficiary, to be used for funeral costs. It can be used for all aspects of a burial, cremation, and funeral, as well as for extras like flowers, obituaries and funeral transportation. It can also be used to pay the deceased’s credit card debt, medical bills, or other debt.

Burial Insurance vs. Pre-Need Insurance

Burial insurance is not the same thing as pre-need insurance, in which the premium costs are paid directly to a funeral home. The funeral director must also be an insurance agent to offer pre-need insurance. Premium costs are based on what funeral expenses the person buying the policy would like to have covered. These policies are exclusive to the funeral home, or funeral home company, and can only be used at the business where they were bought.

Alternatives to a Traditional Funeral

An alternative to a traditional burial can often save thousands on funeral costs. Most alternatives require the disposal of a body quickly, without embalming, which means families should discuss plans well before it’s time to make a decision.

Simply doing away with a funeral home visitation and service can save thousands. An immediate burial without a service before it costs a median $2,825 if the family provides the casket, and $3,495 if the funeral home provides it. Many families now hold a memorial service on their own, often after burial or cremation, without paying for funeral home space and other related costs.

More than half of Americans – 59.3% – chose cremation over burial in 2022, a number expected to rise to close to 80% by 2040. Some states are already there – Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington all had 2022 cremation rates above 80%. Another 10 states and Washington, D.C., were above 70%.

Cremation with all the trappings of a traditional funeral (visitation, a service, etc.) costs about $1,000 to $1,500 less than a traditional burial. A direct cremation, which means there is no funeral home service or visitation, and the cremation is shortly after death, costs a median $2,455 with a family-provided container and $2,550 with a funeral home-provided container.

Another option is a “green burial,” though this term covers a lot of territory. In some cases, a green burial can be as expensive, or more expensive, than a traditional one.

In a green burial, there is no metal casket, but a biodegradable pine casket or sometimes of burial shroud, and the body is not embalmed. The impact on the environment is less, and costs often are thousands lower than with a traditional burial or cremation.

But green doesn’t always mean cheaper. For instance, some conservation cemeteries charge more for a plot than in a traditional cemetery, since more land is needed between plots in order to conform to conservation rules.

Some 11.5% of respondents in the NFDA 2022 consumer survey said they prefer green burial, and 60.4% are interested in exploring green options.

Green “burials” also include options that don’t involve burial. These methods are cheaper and more environment-friendly than burial, but also opposed by some religions on grounds that they are disrespectful to the remains.

Preparing for Funeral Expenses

While nearly 70% of people don’t want their family to overspend on their funeral and 59% of respondents want to be involved in planning their own funeral, only 11% have started to plan, according to the Titan Casket survey.

Industry experts from the FTC to NFDA, insurance companies, and more, all stress that pre-planning is a key to saving money on funeral costs.

Life Insurance

Life insurance can help with funeral costs and is also a way for the policyholder to ensure there’ll be money available to cover those expenses.

A whole life insurance policy lasts until a person dies. A term policy is for a set number of years. Both have payouts that can be used for anything, including for funeral and burial costs.

Burial insurance, sometimes called “final expense” insurance, is a whole-life policy with a smaller payout aimed at paying for a funeral. Burial insurance is usually graded, which means that if the policyholder dies within a few years of starting the policy, the beneficiary gets less than the full payout. Some life insurance is also graded, so policyholders should research before buying. There are many options for buying life insurance, and some organizations offer discounted plans, including service organizations, college alumni groups, AARP and more.

Savings Account

A traditional savings account kept in order to pay for funeral expenses is a great option. It’s important to let family members know it exists and what it’s for. It is also important to have a will that includes information about the account, so the money will be available more quickly after death and not get tangled up in a prolonged probate process.

Payable-on-Death Account (POD)

A payable-upon-death account can be opened at a credit union or bank and differs from a traditional savings account in that it has a designated beneficiary upon the death of the account holder. Money is available right away to pay funeral expenses, without going through probate, as long as the beneficiary can show a death certificate.

Prepaid Funeral Plans

Also known as pre-need plans, these are offered by funeral homes, and are a way to pay funeral costs in advance at a specific funeral home. These are beneficial if the person doesn’t plan to move or have other changes in circumstance. The plans are exclusive to the funeral home, or funeral company, so can’t be used elsewhere.

Research Funeral Options Carefully

The FTC found in a 2021 study that only about 40% of funeral homes include the cost of services on their websites, though many offered online options to start the funeral process and other online tools. The agency is trying to upgrade the Funeral Rule to require prices be listed online. The rule was established in the 1980s, before businesses were using the internet, so it has no provision for this. While lack of online pricing makes it harder to research funeral expense options, it’s still important to ask questions and understand costs, as well as what’s required and what isn’t, before agreeing to pay.

About The Author

Bents Dulcio

Bents Dulcio writes with a humble, field-level view on personal finance. He learned how to cut financial corners while acquiring a B.S. degree in Political Science at Florida State University. Bents has experience with student loans, affordable housing, budgeting to include an auto loan and other personal finance matters that greet all Millennials when they graduate. He has a prodigious appetite for reading, which he helps feed with writing from Scottish philosopher Adam Smith, the “Father of Capitalism.” Bents writing also has been published by JPMorgan Chase, TheSimpleDollar and


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