How to Bury a Loved One If You Can’t Afford It

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Funerals are expensive. If your loved one recently died, you may be struggling between wanting to give him or her a beautiful burial, but not wanting to go into debt to do it. 

However, please keep in mind that you are not legally responsible for paying for a family member’s funeral. The money for the funeral in most cases can be obtained from your loved one’s estate. 

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But what if your loved one had zero assets when he or she died? Even though you would like someone to tell you how to handle this situation, the best we can do is give you a list of options to consider.

Here are some ideas for paying for a burial when you have no money.

Medicaid Funeral Assistance

Even if your loved one received some health benefits by qualifying for Medicaid, that does not mean that there is a Medicaid funeral assistance program to pay for your loved one’s funeral. 

But, since the state controls some of the Medicaid resources, some states may offer financial assistance for end-of-life expenses. 

However, some government programs tend to change with each administration. Confirm the burial nformation by checking the state government’s website. Make sure you are looking at a website ending with “.gov", as these aren’t necessarily the first ones that pop up in a simple Google search.

Understand that some state Medicaid programs are more generous than others. For example, if a person dies in Michigan, the survivors may receive $475 to spend toward the burial. But Wisconsin residents may receive $1,500 to spend on funeral expenses. 

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Look into Veteran Death Benefits

Was the person who died a veteran or current member of the military? Was he or she the spouse of a veteran or the child of a veteran? If your loved one served in the military, you might be able to receive help to pay for the funeral from veteran death benefits. If your loved one died as a result of a service-related death, you might receive up to $1,500 to pay for funeral expenses. 

If your loved one was hospitalized by Veterans Affairs (VA) at the time of death, survivors would receive $796 to spend toward burial expenses and an additional $796 for a plot allowance if their loved one is not buried in a national cemetery. 

If your family member was not hospitalized at a VA facility at the time of death, the survivors would receive $300 to spend towards burial and $796 to spend towards a plot if they are not buried in a national cemetery. 

Of course, to receive this compensation, there are eligibility requirements. At a minimum, the veteran needs to have received an honorable discharge. Check the VA's website for the complete list of requirements. 

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Seek Out Prepaid Funeral Plans

Check through the deceased’s records to look for evidence that the funeral may have already been paid for as a part of a prepaid funeral plan. Many older adults pay for their funerals in advance. 

One benefit of paying in advance for a funeral is that the dying person has a sense of comfort, knowing that the financial burden has been covered. When paying for a funeral ahead of time, you can make your own choices for your end-of-life services, and the prices are locked in, so even if the burial or cremation becomes more expensive over time, the survivors will not have to pay additional funds. 

There are a couple of drawbacks to prepaying for a funeral. First, the funeral home that you chose may go out of business. Second, if the survivors are not aware of the plans, the money the deceased previously paid may go to waste.

Whether or not you can pay for your family member’s burial, you could consider contacting the funeral homes in your area to see if the expenses had been prepaid.

Look for Life Insurance Policies

Perhaps your loved one had a life insurance policy that would help pay for the funeral. Check with the deceased’s employer to see if the company purchases policies on their employees’ behalf.

Check the paperwork of the person who died, and search through some accounts online to discover a relationship between the deceased and an insurance company.

Consider Donating the Body to Science

One way to cut down on funeral costs is to donate the deceased’s body to a medical school for study. However, in most cases, this type of donation requires a person to fill out a form before death. 

If the deceased had made these arrangements before passing away, it would cut costs on the funeral expenses. The estate usually pays for transportation to and from the medical facility, but the medical school typically pays for the cremation after the body has been studied. 

Ask for Donations

Your local funeral home director is a valuable resource. They may be able to connect you with local civic groups or religious organizations that can donate funds to help cover funeral expenses. The director may even reach out to these organizations on your behalf, or at least give you the contact information so you can do the leg work yourself.

Besides asking local organizations for assistance, you may ask others who knew the person who passed. It is common to collect donations for charitable organizations on behalf of someone who died. You may consider asking that those donations help cover funeral expenses. Instead of collecting cash or checks written in your name, request that the money be given directly to the funeral home. 

For some, asking for financial help can be an awkward process. Some choose to send pleas via social media posts, emails, or letters. Others may feel more comfortable asking for help in person.

Consider Direct Cremation

Direct cremations are the most affordable way to handle end-of-life arrangements. Direct cremations involve cremating the body as soon as the legal paperwork is completed and processed. The waiting period is usually between 24 and 48 hours, and during that time, the body is usually stored in giant refrigerators at the funeral home. 

During the next step of the process, the body is transported to a crematory. Some crematories allow family members to be present during the process, but others do not. Once the process is complete, the family members or funeral home employees will be given the remains so they can be present at the service.

The reason a direct cremation is a good option for people low on funds is that the survivors do not have to pay for a casket, embalming, and transportation of the body. The family may save money by not having to purchase a cemetery plot or headstone.

Other Things to Consider

How do you bury a loved one if you can’t afford a funeral? First, look for government resources. Secondly, ask for donations from friends, family, and local organizations.

Check the safety deposit boxes, file cabinet, and computer of the deceased to look for clues that there may be funds available to help pay for the expenses. Finally, choose the least expensive options to take care of the end-of-life needs.

If you have exhausted all of your options, there are two thoughts to consider. First, no one can force you to pay for the funeral expenses of another person. The money will be taken from the deceased’s estate. Even if the deceased had no funds, the spouse, children, parents, or siblings are not legally responsible for taking care of the final expenses.

Finally, you do not have to have a funeral service for your loved one. If there are no funds from the estate, and you do not have any other resources to help, you do not have to have a traditional funeral. Instead, you could ask friends or family members to gather at a public spot and hold an impromptu service. 

It's About Your Unique Situation

Affording a traditional funeral for your loved one may not always be possible. However, reminding yourself of the good times you spent with each other can help overcome any anxiety or sadness you feel about not having a traditional funeral.

Remember their favorite foods and music. Remember the sound of their voice. Ask others about their memories of the person you are missing. Share your feelings with grief counselors, ministers, or good friends. 

Let yourself grieve for the loss of your loved one, but don’t grieve over an elaborate funeral that you cannot afford. 

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