How Low-Income Families Can Get Free Cremation


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When a loved one dies, families often find that traditional funerals can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Because of its lower cost, many families opt for cremation. 

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However, cremation can still cost around $2,000. For many families, cremation remains too great of a burden to bear. Thankfully, you can tap into ways to obtain a completely free cremation for low-income situations. 

How to Get Free Cremation for Low-Income Families

Many families struggle to pay for funerals. Often, death and the resulting funeral end up as an unexpected event. Even if a family mentally prepares for the death of a loved one, few ever save up for the expense of a funeral. If you find yourself needing an inexpensive option for your loved one, you can get a free cremation.

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1. Donate your loved one’s body to science

You might feel surprised to learn that when you donate a loved one’s body to science, you get a free cremation in return. One of the misconceptions with a whole-body donation is that the deceased’s remains never return to the family. 

When you donate your body to science, you can do so in one of several ways. Each method provides cremation as part of the package. You can donate your body to:

  • Medical schools
  • Medical laboratories
  • Hospitals with donation programs

A number of nonprofit organizations will help facilitate whole-body donation. When you choose to donate your body to science, organizations will generally cover:

  • The cost of cremation
  • The cost of transportation
  • A certified death certificate copy
  • The cost to return cremains to the family
  • Interment (in some cases)

When donating, it could take anywhere from four weeks to 15 months to receive the cremains of your loved one. Many programs try to give you a target range of when you can expect your loved one’s remains. However, you won’t get an exact timeline. If you plan a memorial and want your loved one’s remains present, you might end up waiting a while before you can schedule the memorial.

All programs require the donor’s consent and signature while alive. If you or your loved one want a whole-body donation, register and sign paperwork to make it legal after you die. Inform the next of kin of end-of-life wishes, as they will be contacted for permission when the time comes for donation to occur.

Even if a person registers, nobody can guarantee acceptance at the time of death due to strict regulations in place that govern whether a body gets accepted for scientific purposes. People who have the following diseases may not qualify to donate their body to science:

  • Hepatitis B or C
  • Other contagious or infectious diseases

2. Set up a fundraiser

If you or your loved one don’t prefer a whole-body donation, consider setting up a fundraiser instead. A fundraiser offers an excellent way to get a whole community of friends, family members, and acquaintances involved.

You can set up a fundraiser on many different websites but one website specifically collects funds for end-of-life expenses.

Elegy combines announcements, funeral planning, memory sharing, event scheduling, and a bereavement fund for funeral or cremation expenses.

If you’d rather fundraise on a more public platform, you can set up simple and straightforward fundraisers on Facebook and GoFundMe so people can give toward expenses without setting up accounts or downloading apps.

Quick Tips for Getting a Cheap Cremation if You Don’t Qualify for a Free Cremation

You might not get a free cremation. You might want to consider all the ways you can cut down on costs. By using the tips and tricks listed here, you can get a very inexpensive cremation for yourself or a loved one.

Decide on direct cremation

Of all the types of cremation and services made available for grieving families, direct cremation is the least expensive.

Direct cremation occurs when a body transfers directly to the crematorium at the time of death. No viewing or funeral occurs with this end-of-life arrangement. A designated family member gets the cremains and can choose whether to keep them in an urn or scatter them.

Total costs associated with direct cremation average around $2,000. Each state has different average costs, so depending on where you live, you might find that this number is too high or a little low.

In addition to costs for cremation, you’ll need an urn for your loved one’s ashes. As you’ll see, however, you might not pay a lot for an urn.

» MORE: Everyone's wishes are different. Here's how to honor your unique loved one.

Choose a free or inexpensive urn

Though funeral homes will try and sell you fancy, pricy urns, the truth of the matter is that urns can be crafted from nearly anything. As long as the urn pays tribute to your loved one, keeps the ashes safely stored, and reminds you of your loved one’s presence, any type of container can serve as an urn. 

Many containers work exceptionally well as free urns. Here are a few options to consider.

  • Use a vase, wood box, or glass container like an empty jewelry box for storage in your home.
  • Use a waterproof container such as an ammo box for storage in an area that might be exposed to the weather.
  • Use a cigar case to easily transport a portion of your loved one’s ashes with you wherever you go.
  • If you're looking for something more solid and tangible, companies like Parting Stone create beautiful, handheld cremation stones to help someone grieving keep their loved one close by.

Apply to charities for help

Some charities help with funeral costs. These charities can help cover expenses related to cremation, including the process of cremation and the cost of an urn.

Charities for people in numerous categories who need assistance including:

  • Parents who have lost a child
  • Veterans
  • Someone whose death is the result of a national disaster
  • Someone who was on Social Security
  • Those below the national poverty level
  • Someone who is a member of an indigenous tribe
  • Someone whose death occurred as a crime victim

Even if your loved one doesn’t fit any of the above categories, you can still request help through charities that help supplement funds for those on a limited income. It could also help to check with local religious organizations to see if you can gain assistance that way.

Apply for reimbursement from the military

Military veterans can become entitled to certain death benefits, including a free plot, headstone, and reimbursement up to a set amount for burial expenses. This covers traditional funerals as well as cremation services.

Check with your local VA office when applying for funeral expense reimbursement for your loved one.

Apply to your local county for funeral funds

Most counties across America set aside a certain portion of funds for burial expenses for those who have no family or for families below the poverty level. Call your county clerk’s office when inquiring into available funds and qualifications to apply.

Even if you don’t qualify for county funding, many counties have connections with funeral homes and crematories that can provide low-cost cremations.

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Choose services with a new crematorium

Did a new crematorium in your area just open for business? New crematories will often spend a few months focused on attracting business, referrals, and reviews to grow their business.

As such, they might have grand opening specials for customers who hire them to cremate their loved ones while they’re still in the beginning months of their business.

Ask crematoriums about discounts

Crematoriums might have deals and discounts they offer to individuals not advertised. Some even connect with charities that might be able to help you through their partnership with the crematorium.

Though it isn’t common, it’s certainly worth asking about when you inquire into a crematorium’s services.

Shop around

At the very least, shop around to guarantee the best prices. This often requires time that families may not have, so it’s best to do this before you need the services of a crematorium.

Choose several businesses that provide cremation services in your area and ask for their pricing list. Make sure the price list includes each expense associated with the type of cremation you want. Check prices for the following:

  • Transportation of your loved one’s body
  • Paperwork and permit filing
  • Cremation container
  • Cremation process
  • Urn or container for your loved one’s cremains
  • Returning the ashes to the family

Supply the cremation container 

Though you don’t need a casket, crematoriums do require a container to place your loved one in for the cremation process. You might want to provide this container yourself as the most expensive option.

If a crematory supplies this for you, it can add a few hundred dollars to the total bill. To save money, crematories can give you a list of acceptable containers you can provide.

Affording a Dignified Cremation

Though cremation offers the least expensive of all end-of-life options, it can still end up as a larger expense than families can afford. Thankfully, with a little research, a few phone calls, and some strategic planning, you can afford a dignified cremation for your loved one. 


  1. “Body Donation at Mayo Clinic.” Making a Donation, Mayo Clinic, 2020.

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