Funerals in the U.S. cost on average about $11,000 or more, and the costs associated with funerals rise every year. By comparison, the median American household has only $11,700 in savings.
In the event of an unanticipated death in the family, some American households would have their savings wiped out by funeral costs. It’s no surprise then that many people end up having to ask for donations for funeral expenses.
Tip: Paying for the funeral and asking for donations is just one small part of what happens after a death. If you need help with your other post-death tasks, check out our post-loss checklist.
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You may find yourself being asked to contribute funds to cover funeral expenses or living expenses for surviving family members. If a family already has funeral expenses covered thanks to end-of-life planning, you still may be asked to provide money.
More and more families are asking that mourners make donations in lieu of sending flowers. Donations are often directed towards a charitable organization supported by the deceased. They may also be solicited on behalf of a medical research group.
Virtual funeral tip: If the family is hosting a virtual funeral using a service like GatheringUs, they're even more likely to request donations in lieu of flowers or physical gifts. Your donation will likely help pay for the costs associated with hosting a virtual or hybrid funeral service.
So how much money should you give? That depends on a variety of factors. We’ll delve into some of those here.
What to Consider Before You Give
There are a lot of things you should consider before you make a donation. It’s important to know where the money is going, as that may affect the amount you feel like you can spare. You also need to consider your own financial situation. Here are some specific questions and considerations to keep in mind.
Who is collecting money
We all want to think the best of people. But sadly, some people will take advantage of people’s generosity. Before you donate to an online fundraiser, make sure the person collecting funds is authorized to do so.
In the past, unauthorized people have set up fundraising accounts for high-profile cases and kept the money for themselves. Do your due diligence before contributing to a fundraiser if you don’t know the parties involved.
Where donations are going
The amount of money you give may be determined by where funds are going. You may prefer to donate more money if it’s going to help with funeral expenses or the living expenses of the deceased’s surviving family.
You may prefer to provide less if it’s going to a charitable organization you choose not to support. You’re allowed to prioritize the amount you give depending on its allocation.
How you should make a charitable donation
If the family has requested donations be made in lieu of flowers, there are a few ways to make this happen. If there is a service at a funeral home, the funeral director may accept donations on the family’s behalf.
It is generally considered poor manners to hand money directly to the family at a funeral. Many charitable organizations will send a postcard to the family to let them know a donation was made on a loved one’s behalf. You can also send a sympathy card, like this one from Amazon, and mention that you made a donation in memory of the deceased. Just don’t reference an exact amount of the donation in the card, as may be considered to be in poor taste.
Tip: Looking for a unique way to give money? Read our guide on creative ways to give money.
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How you should make a personal donation
Many families will set up an online fundraiser through GoFundMe or a similar fundraising platform. These fundraisers can cover funeral expenses or living expenses for the family. Once you’ve verified that these fundraisers are on the up-and-up, you can donate through them.
However, fundraising sites generally keep a small percentage of the funds raised. If you’d rather make sure the family gets all the funds, you can give it to them directly.
Situations that Call for Funeral Gift Money
There are all kinds of reasons people may need financial help when a loved one dies. Many people don’t realize how much a funeral costs, and may fail to set enough aside to cover all the assorted expenses.
Even if you go with the most bare-bones options, funeral costs can be astronomical. You may have to pay for a headstone, a burial plot, a coffin, and more. If the deceased was a dominant earner in their household, the family may not have enough money to pay the mortgage and other bills.
Even if the family doesn’t require help with funeral or living expenses, they may ask for donations of another kind. It’s become increasingly common for families to request donations be made in honor of their loved ones. It can be a way of creating positivity during an emotionally fraught time.
Donations for funeral expenses
$11,000 may seem like an astronomical fee for a funeral. In truth, that’s just the median cost. A burial plot, casket, burial vault, and headstone alone can cost a minimum of $6,000 for the most basic models. People who get higher-end features might spend upwards of $18,500.
Other fees associated with funerals including embalming, dressing and preparing the body, and printing funeral programs could cost $2,200 or more. The funeral director who handles all the logistics will charge around $2,100 for their services.
A virtual or hybrid funeral service using a high-quality, all-inclusive service like GatheringUs also costs money. If the funeral can't take place in person, or if certain family members can't attend, the family might find themselves in need of funds for a virtual service.
When a loved one dies, you want to be able to give them the funeral they deserve. It’s heartbreaking to think you might not be able to do that. If you have a loved one or acquaintance who died, you may discover their family can’t provide the kind of funeral they deceased would have wanted. If you contribute to a fundraiser for funeral expenses, only give what you can afford.
Donations to a charity
For many years, flowers have been widely accepted as an appropriate gesture to let the family know you’re thinking of them. But in the past few years, people have begun to ask for more practical gestures.
Having dozens of people sending expensive flower arrangements may feel wasteful to some people. They’d rather have people spend money on something that will make a positive impact. As such, more people are requesting that mourners make donations to a charitable organization in the name of the deceased.
The kind of donations asked for will depend largely on the deceased. If they supported a local charity like a food bank or pet shelter, their family may ask for donations to go there. If the deceased died of an illness, the family may ask for donations to a research-based nonprofit organization looking for a cure. People may also make donations to places the deceased had a personal connection to. Giving to a scholarship fund at their alma mater is another popular choice.
You don’t have to make large charitable contributions to make a big impact. A general rule of thumb is that donations should be in line with the cost of a bouquet of funeral flowers.
Even just a nominal donation for people on tight budgets is a welcome gesture. Funeral flowers tend to cost in the range of $50 to $80 for a moderate to well-sized bouquet, and $100 or more for a large wreath. Send a donation in the same amount you would have spent on a floral arrangement.
Contributions for the family’s living expenses
A death in the family can cause all kinds of hardships. Besides the emotional trauma, there can be an immediate financial toll. If the deceased was the primary breadwinner, the family can quickly run through savings trying to stay on top of bills. Even small things like making a run to the grocery store can become extremely stressful.
Unexpected new expenses can crop up, too. If the deceased was a stay-at-home parent, the surviving spouse will have to figure out how to pay for childcare. Some families have life insurance, which can eventually help mitigate some costs. But even in this case, money will be tight for a while.
There are a lot of ways you can contribute to help a family in need of support. You can donate to an online fundraiser. You can give them cash or checks directly. If they are the kind of people who have a lot of pride about accepting financial help, you can help in a more roundabout way.
Slip them a grocery store gift card, or ask them for their grocery list and go shopping for them. That can relieve a little financial pressure as well as emotional pressure. The amount of support you give will depend largely on your budget. $20 can be a big help if that’s all you can afford. If you can afford more and want to give it though, it will be appreciated.
Donating Money for Funeral Costs
When someone dies, it’s important for their community to come together. You can make donations to a charity to honor their memory. You can also make donations to help pay for a funeral or help with living expenses. If you were going to send a $50 or $75 bouquet of flowers to the funeral, you can allocate that amount towards funeral expenses instead.
Regardless of how you pitch in, your assistance can make a big difference for a family that’s going through a hard time.
- Elkins, Kathleen “Here’s How Much Money Americans Have in Savings at Every Income Level.” Cnbc.com, CNBC, 27 September 2018, www.cnbc.com/2018/09/27/heres-how-much-money-americans-have-in-savings-at-every-income-level.html.