The average cost of a funeral in the United States is $11,000. It’s an unfortunate truth that many Americans can’t afford that figure. Some people crowdfund in an effort to collect donations for funeral expenses.
For more funeral planning tips and a complete list of tasks that need to be taken care of after a death, review our post-loss checklist.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Charities and Nonprofits that Help with Funeral Costs
- Tips for Finding State and Local Charities
- Government Programs for Funeral Assistance
- Defray Funeral Costs with State, National, and Local Aid
Luckily, there are other resources in place that can assist you if you’re in need of financial assistance for a funeral. We’ll break down some of the best avenues you can explore if you must pay for a funeral with no money.
Tip: Along with the help of charities and nonprofit assistance, many families opt to raise funds using crowdfunding platforms like Ever Loved or GoFundMe. And if you're planning a virtual funeral using a service like GatheringUs, you can use the funds raised to cover those costs.
Charities and Nonprofits that Help with Funeral Costs
Several charities and nonprofit organizations have stepped up to fill in the gaps for funeral funding. You can reach out to them directly if you need assistance paying for a funeral. Here are a few.
Most states offer funeral assistance. If you live in an area without these resources, there are some national organizations that can help.
Children’s Burial Assistance
A lot of adults build funeral funds into their own end-of-life planning. You may fail to anticipate funeral expenses for young children because you don’t want to think your kids can die.
The Children’s Burial Assistance organization helps families who go through the unimaginable pain of losing a child. They provide donated burial plots and vaults and cover burial or cremation fees.
Final Farewell is another organization that helps parents pay to bury their children. They provide financial assistance and emotional guidance to families in mourning.
The TEARS Foundation
The TEARS Foundation directly pays funeral homes up to $500 for funeral costs. They are dedicated specifically to helping pay for funerals for babies up to one year of age. They also cover funeral costs for fetuses after 20 weeks’ gestation.
Funeral Consumers Alliance
The Funeral Consumers Alliance doesn’t pay for funerals outright but it does help people find low-cost burial options.
It partners with churches and funeral homes all over the country to offset funeral costs for low-income families.
Tips for Finding State and Local Charities
Before looking for national charities that help with funeral expenses, you can look for resources more local to you. We can’t list every available resource in every state, but we can help you track some of them down.
Tip: If you need some additional help navigating the entire complicated process of loss, including planning or attending a service, check out our post-loss checklist.
Look for local memorial societies
Thirty-eight different states have memorial societies. A memorial society is an organization you can join that offers low-cost funeral options. There is usually a nominal fee to join and you get access to a greatly reduced funeral.
The aforementioned Funeral Consumers Alliance can help direct you to a reputable memorial society. You can also check to see if the memorial society you’re interested in is a nonprofit entity.
Nonprofit memorial societies tend to have lower fees and are not motivated by profit the way much of the mainstream funeral industry is.
Reach out to churches and religious organizations
Many churches are able to offer reduced burial fees for church members. They are also plugged in with other local organizations that can defray or even fully cover funeral costs.
In many states, 211 acts as a helpline for information about essential community services. You’ll be connected with an operator who can provide information about local organizations that can help with funeral costs.
Government Programs for Funeral Assistance
Private nonprofit organizations aren’t the only resources to help pay for funerals. There are also both statewide and national government programs that can help bring down or cover funeral costs.
The federal government is able to offer some funeral assistance in certain cases. This help is mostly reserved for veterans, the elderly, or people who were victims of a disaster.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance
FEMA is able to provide burial assistance when someone dies during the course of a national disaster (as declared by the President). This could be someone who died as a direct result of a disaster or as an indirect result.
For example, someone who drowned during a hurricane would be considered a direct victim of the national disaster. Someone who died because a power outage during the hurricane prevented them from being able to use their oxygen machine would be an indirect victim. FEMA funds are generally only available as a last resort, but they do cover a casket or urn for burial, a burial plot, and a marker or headstone.
Social Security Administration benefits
The Social Security Administration offers a one-time death settlement in the amount of $255 to the spouse or children of someone who has died. While this isn’t enough to cover a funeral, it can help offset some other costs.
If the deceased was of retirement age, his or her spouse or children may be eligible to collect survivors’ benefits. Those benefits could additionally help with funeral costs.
Veterans Affairs (VA) help
The VA offers a variety of funeral assistance levels, depending on several factors. Let’s say a veteran dies in a way that is not related to military service. The VA will still provide $780 for burial costs. If the death was service-related, the VA provides up to $2,000 in funeral assistance.
Their spouses may receive an additional payout if their partner was killed during service-related duties. This also includes a veteran dying of injuries or illnesses sustained during service, even if they are no longer active.
There are other benefits available for veterans, too. Veterans buried in a national cemetery will have the opening and closing of the grave covered by the VA. The VA will also provide a gravestone and a burial flag for the veteran’s next of kin.
State and local programs
Federal funeral assistance programs are limited in scope but there are some statewide programs that can also help.
Just keep in mind that they often can’t overlap, and federal assistance will usually supplant statewide aid. Here are some resources for state and local funeral assistance.
Medicaid burial benefits
Medicaid does not pay out directly for funeral services, cremation, or burials. However, they do offer recipients the chance to set aside some of the money from their Medicaid payments to save up for funeral expenses down the line.
If your loved one collected Medicaid, it’s worth contacting them to see if there are any funds in place. This all varies from state to state, so be sure to contact the Medicaid helpline for your state directly for more complete information.
County or local help
If the family of the deceased cannot afford a burial, there may be some low-cost or free programs in place. Contact the coroner’s office and explain your financial situation. The state or local government may cover the cost of a cremation or a no-frills burial.
The downsides to this are that you may not receive your loved one’s ashes, or your loved one may end up in an unmarked pauper’s grave. This option should be saved for the truly indigent.
Burial assistance programs
Many states offer programs for burial assistance. They have multiple levels of assistance they can provide, typically dependent on a family’s financial status.
To find out if you’re eligible, do an internet search for burial assistance programs in your state. The state of Indiana provides the most comprehensive burial assistance.
Tribal burial assistance programs
States with larger populations of indigenous people may offer burial assistance to tribal members who need it.
For example, the State of Alaska has a General Relief Assistance fund. Money from this fund, as well as various social service organizations, can go toward burial assistance for someone who holds a tribal membership.
Crime victim burial assistance programs
Many states have crime victim compensation programs in place for costs associated with what they endured as a victim. Living victims could get free therapy or be reimbursed for lost wages or medical costs.
If a victim is killed during a crime, burial costs may be funded by the crime victim compensation program. The police should be able to connect grieving families with their local crime victim compensation programs.
Defray Funeral Costs with State, National, and Local Aid
You may be wary about crowdfunding to cover funeral costs. You might worry about putting undue pressure on your friends to contribute or even feel embarrassed that you can’t afford a funeral on your own. If you’re in that boat, learn more about what charities and nonprofit organizations can offer.
You can also see if you’re eligible for state, local, or federal aid. Even if you can’t get the funeral completely covered, you can often get discounts or receive small portions of money to offset costs. Hopefully, help like this can send your loved one off the way he or she deserves.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, you have more than just the funeral to think about. Handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.
- “Burial and Survivor Benefits for Veterans.” Usa.gov, United States Government, 4 November 2019, www.usa.gov/veteran-burial-benefits.
- “Disaster Funeral Assistance.” Fema.gov, U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Federal Emergency Management Agency, 9 August 2016, www.fema.gov/disaster-funeral-assistance.
- “Benefits Planner: Survivors| If You Are the Survivor.” Ssa.gov, Social Security Administration, 13 November 2019, www.ssa.gov/planners/survivors/ifyou.html.
- “State Crime Victims Compensation.” Benefits.gov, United States Government, 20 December 2019, www.benefits.gov/benefit/4416.