What if I can’t afford the funeral?

5 min read

Options for funding a funeral

  • Ask your loved one’s family and friends to help chip in.

  • Their religious community may be generous, or consider setting up a GoFundMe.

  • The funeral home may be willing to offer a payment plan, or to change the arrangements to reduce costs.

  • Consider getting a funeral loan. These often have favorable terms, but high interest rates.

When someone close to you passes away, there are many financial responsibilities that suddenly must be handled on their behalf. Perhaps your loved one had an insurance policy or a prepaid plan set up to cover the costs of things like their funeral and burial. Otherwise, all of these immediate expenses will have to be paid out from their estate. 

If you find yourself in the position of having to pay for a funeral for your loved one, you might not have the time to come up with a financial plan beforehand. You may assume that the estate will cover the costs of the funeral, but, in the urgency to plan it, you didn’t have time to check the total value of the estate’s assets. So you sign the funeral home’s bill, expecting that it would be paid for, and only later find out that the estate has no assets. Now what do you do?

First of all, know that this is not something anyone can blame you for. Dealing with the death of a loved one is an incredibly difficult and emotionally overwhelming thing, and all the bureaucratic processes that follow can be exhausting and confusing. In such situations, things don’t always run smoothly, especially in financial areas. It’s totally understandable—and you will be able to work it out. 

Financing the event

If you signed paperwork with the funeral home, you are financially responsible for the funeral. The average funeral, including all related expenses, will cost between $6,000 and $10,000, with the average being around $7,000. This is a large financial burden to shoulder unexpectedly, but you do have options. 

First of all, you may be able to speak with the funeral director to see if you can alter the preparations for the service to lower the cost. Many funeral homes will work with you to get the cost down as much as they can, while still offering a simple but elegant service. 

Note that cremation is much less costly than a burial, and can lower the total price by several thousand dollars, as you will not have to factor in the purchasing of a casket or burial plot. If cremation is a possibility for you, your family, and your loved one, consider asking the funeral director about changing to this option.

A personal loan for the funeral

If you have a good credit score, you might consider taking out a personal loan to finance the funeral costs. Many traditional lenders will not usually loan money for a funeral, but there are institutions that offer or even specialize in funeral loans. Ask your funeral home if they have a funeral lender that they work with. These loans will often have favorable terms like no interest for several months or no-penalty early repayment, but like most personal loans, the interest rate can be high. 

Avoid taking out an advance on your credit card to pay for the funeral. This can leave you in even more debt and paying massive interest.

Help from the family

Just because you are the one who was given the responsibility of planning the funeral does not mean that you should be shouldering this financial burden alone. Consider asking your loved one’s family members or close friends for help, working with what they are able to offer. Go over the final expected costs with them, and be honest about the amount you can or cannot contribute. 

Make sure to stress the difficulty of the situation for you, and the reality of your financial standing. Chances are, if enough relatives pitch in with an amount they feel comfortable with, then you will be able to cover the cost of the funeral you signed on for. 

Just because you are the one who was given the responsibility of planning the funeral does not mean that you should be shouldering this financial burden alone.

Some families also choose to reach out beyond their immediate circle for help. Religious communities are often very generous to a family in need, especially in this situation. Others may decide to use an online crowdfunding platform to try to raise funds.

Will the funeral home sue?

If your loved one’s family and community are unable to help and you cannot take out a personal loan, then, unfortunately, you might find yourself in trouble with the funeral home. Many will ask for payment up front, but some are sympathetic to situations like yours and offer payment plans to those who can’t pay all at once. If the funeral home offers this, then be honest with them and come up with a plan that you feel comfortable with. 

Unfortunately, if this is not an option, you will be on the hook for the entire cost right now. You’ve signed a contract making you responsible for the payment, and if you do not pay what is owed by the agreed-upon date, then the funeral home can technically sue. This will be an expensive undertaking on everyone’s part, and if they win, they can potentially garnish your wages or put a lien on your home. 

It is imperative that you do everything in your power to not let it get to this point. Consider hiring an attorney or a mediator who may be able to talk the funeral home into allowing you some leeway to get them the money. Nobody should have to go into huge debt just to pay for a loved one’s funeral, and everyone involved, from your family to the funeral director, can be made to see this and find ways of helping out.

Having to unexpectedly take on the financial burden of your loved one’s funeral is certainly not an ideal situation to find yourself in, but it is not uncommon. Chances are that you will be able to work it out between yourself and your relatives, especially if you set up a reasonable payment plan. Financial troubles aside, make sure you take space for yourself to process your complex feelings and the loss that you have suffered.

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.