Eligibility for COVID-19 funeral reimbursement

  • In order to qualify for reimbursement from FEMA, the person must have passed away within the US or US territories as a result of COVID-19.

  • The death certificate has to state that the death was likely a result of or may have been caused by the novel coronavirus or its symptoms.

  • The person who paid for the funeral must be a US citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien. There is no citizenship requirement for the person who passed away.

  • Funeral expenses need to be documented in writing as having been paid by the applicant, for the person who died, after January 20, 2020.

Losing a loved one can be very hard, both emotionally and financially. As the coronavirus pandemic goes on, more families than ever are finding themselves shouldering the burden of loss. In recognition of the extraordinary hardship these families are facing, the federal government has allocated some of the funds in its COVID-19 relief bills to help them.

If a family member has passed away from COVID-19 or their death was a result of COVID-19 symptoms, you may be eligible to receive up to $9,000 in funeral assistance through FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA has set up a toll-free phone line to help you through the process of applying for these funds, which can be a huge source of help in this difficult time.

Eligibility requirements

To receive funeral assistance from FEMA, the person who paid for the funeral must be a US citizen or qualified US resident, and your loved one must have died in the US from COVID-related causes. There is no citizenship requirement for the person who passed away.

In order to show that your loved one’s passing was a result of COVID-19, FEMA will require a death certificate that attributes it to the virus. Phrases like “may have been caused by” or “was likely a result of” COVID-19 or symptoms of COVID-19 are acceptable. 

If you believe that your loved one may have died from COVID but the death certificate does not spell this out, you will need to have the death certificate amended before you can claim FEMA assistance. Contact the coroner or other medical professional who signed the certificate—their contact info should be on the document itself—and present any evidence that you have to them supporting your assertion that the death may have been a result of COVID-19.

In order to be eligible for reimbursement, you must have incurred expenses for the funeral and burial or cremation after January 20, 2020. You must have documentation of these expenses, like receipts or funeral home contracts, showing your name as the one who paid or was responsible for paying, as well as your loved one’s name.

The person who calls must be the person who incurred the funeral expenses; a funeral home cannot do this for you. In general, one person can be reimbursed for a particular funeral. Because in many cases more than one family member shares the costs of a funeral, however, FEMA will work with the applicant who calls to find a solution, such as having them submit as co-applicants.

Finally, prepaid or pre-planned funeral expenses are not eligible to be reimbursed by FEMA. Therefore if your loved one took out burial or funeral insurance, had a prepaid funeral contract with a funeral home, or set up a trust for funeral expenses, these costs cannot be repaid.

Applying for assistance

Currently you must call FEMA at (844) 684-6333 to start the application process. There is no option to apply online. Representatives are there Monday through Friday, 9am-9pm ET, and will fill out your application with you on the line.

They strongly suggest that you come prepared with the following before you call:

  • Social Security numbers and dates of birth for both you and your loved one

  • Your mailing address and phone number, plus bank routing information if you want direct deposit

  • Location or address where your loved one passed away

  • Information about any assistance already received for funeral costs

You will also be asked to provide a copy of the death certificate, documentation of the funeral expenses, and if you received funeral assistance from any other source, proof of that as well.

Once the application is completed over the phone, the representative will give you an application number. Using this number, you will have to send these documents to them, either by creating an account on disasterassistance.gov and uploading them, faxing them in, or mailing them.

Receiving funds

FEMA’s COVID-19 assistance will reimburse expenses for funeral services and burial or cremation, including transportation, casket or urn, burial plots, headstones, death certificates, and all expenses related to the funeral. 

The reimbursement is limited to a maximum of $9,000 per funeral. (If an individual has paid for funerals for multiple COVID-related deaths, they can apply in one application, for a maximum of $35,500 per applicant per state.)

If you have received funeral-specific benefits from any other source, whether a government program or voluntary agency, the funds cannot be used to duplicate these benefits, and so your FEMA assistance will be reduced by the amount received from other sources for the same expenses. Life insurance, however, is not considered a funeral benefit and does not reduce your assistance.

Once your application is approved, you will receive the funds either by check in the mail or via direct deposit. If your application is rejected, FEMA provides a process for appealing the decision.

As of this writing, this process is still very new; early reports suggest that callers may find they need to dial several times before getting through, as the lines are overloaded. Persistence is worth it, however. The government has set aside these funds for your benefit during this tragic and troubling time, and hopefully they can go some small way to helping you and your family get through it.

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.