11+ Ways to Pay for a Funeral if You Can't Afford One

This is part of Cake's collection of funeral planning funeral articles. Create a Cake profile for free to discover, document, and share your end-of-life wishes.

Published on:

Paying for a funeral could be one of the biggest expenses you’ll ever cover. The cost of a casket and a cemetery plot alone may set you back thousands of dollars. Many experts recommend planning ahead to cover expenses and make seamless funeral plans. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

But sometimes, people don’t plan ahead. This results in a surprise scramble to pay for a funeral. Fortunately, there are options available to help you. Here’s how to get help if you can’t afford to pay for a funeral.

1. See if You Qualify for a Military Funeral

A military funeral is very important to some people and it may be the most important part of funeral planning. Did your loved one serve overseas? The law mandates that all military honors be given free of charge. This changes, of course, with factors such as dishonorable discharge. Go through the VA to make sure you understand what’s involved in a military funeral.

You may be eligible for help from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) if your loved one was a veteran. After you pay for the funeral, you can submit receipts for reimbursement. Under the current system, you will be paid back for these expenses. 

If your loved one was a veteran, you may receive a $300 reimbursement if his or her death wasn’t connected to military service. On the other hand, if he or she died in the line of duty, you can be reimbursed for $2,000. 

The VA provides caveats that may affect your individual circumstances. For example, if your loved one was a federal prisoner or a member of Congress, you may not be reimbursed. The amount of reimbursement varies widely, too. If your loved one’s death wasn’t connected to his or her military service, you may receive between $300 and $796 for funeral expenses. 

Share your wishes, just in case.

Send your end-of-life preferences—including your cremation, burial, and funeral choices—with your loved ones. Create a free Cake profile to get started.

2. Check Your Eligibility for a Native American Burial

Many organizations provide burial assistance through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. For instance, the Chickasaw Nation pays up to $2,500 toward funeral expenses. Unlike the VA, the Chickasaw Nation pays this money to the funeral home. They do not operate on a family reimbursement policy. 

To apply for this assistance, collect the necessary resources. You’ll need a death certificate, proof of residency, and your loved one’s Social Security number. The Chickasaw Nation will also need an itemized expense sheet from the funeral home.

There are two primary eligibility criteria. Your loved one must be a member of a federally recognized tribe. You must also complete a burial assistance application within six months of your loved one’s death. 

3. Fallen Police Officers or Firefighters Programs

Losing a loved one in the line of duty is tragic because his or her service helped make society a safer place. Many benefits are in place to recognize this and the funeral benefits you’ll receive vary by state and may also depend on whether your loved one was a volunteer or a career firefighter or an active duty or retired police officer. 

Your loved one’s department may cover the majority of the expenses involved If he or she was a police officer or firefighter and died in the line of duty. You can learn more about eligibility for these programs by reading our guides on police funerals and firefighter funerals.

4. Look Up Local Charities

Soliciting the help of local charities may be necessary if you don’t have the money to pay for a funeral. Research charities in your area that may be willing to help. Receiving this aid might not be straightforward, though. Some charities can donate caskets or the cost of a burial plot. This takes the place of monetary contributions. Here are two national charities that may help: 

There are also charities for specific types of loss. For instance, if you lose a child, Final Farewell helps with funeral costs. You can fill out an application on its site for advice and financial assistance. Each charity differs when in its rules and requirements. 

5. Double-Check Your Insurance Policy

Check to see whether your loved one had life or burial insurance. Life or burial insurance may straighten out your financial woes. Life insurance is paid to a named beneficiary, which was selected during your loved one’s lifetime. If you aren’t the beneficiary, find out who is. The beneficiary can take financial responsibility for the funeral with this money. Life insurance can be used to cover funeral costs or anything else. 

Another benefit of life insurance is that the payout is often made quickly, which means you don’t have to continue to try to get the money for months on end.

6. Ask for Donations

Donations are a great way to bring a community together to support a family. There are two ways to solicit donations. There are crowdfunding options available, and this is preferable for many. Crowdfunding is the act of getting donations from a large number of people. Individual donations are usually small, and it’s often done over the internet. Pick a popular site like GoFundMe to set up a crowdfunding campaign. Register with the site of your choice, describe your campaign and upload relevant photos. The goal is to tell potential donors why your campaign deserves their money. 

Explain who your loved one was in a short paragraph. Some people also describe their circumstances, though this isn’t necessary. Upload a photo, too. This way, donors can put a face to your loved one’s name. 

There are two final steps to finish your campaign. Set goals and a time limit for your campaign to reach it. Let’s say you need $5,000. Figure out when you need that money. This will provide donors a visual way to track how close you are to reaching your goal. To receive the money, connect the campaign to your bank account. 

7. Tell Friends and Family You Need Help

No one likes to ask for money from their friends or family. Sometimes it’s necessary, though, especially during difficult times. To ask for money from friends or family, try this approach. Start by conducting all the necessary research. If your loved one had specific wishes, this makes your job much easier. If he or she wanted to be cremated, for instance, this narrows down the number of decisions you must make. 

Once you’ve created an outline of expenses, coordinate with friends and family. If several relatives chip in on a casket, this lowers the amount each person has to pay. 

8. Research Statewide Programs

Are you enrolled in a program or programs that assist needy families? If so, the state may also help pay for a funeral and you may qualify for Medicaid funeral assistance. Investigate your state’s burial policy. Contact your state’s Department of Social Services or Department of Human Services. Either will be able to provide the necessary information. Request necessary forms from the department. Once you fill them out, they can provide expedited aid. 

Some states cover cremation costs and basic funeral costs. Others provide a flat-rate amount that is given to anyone who can prove assistance need. Programs on the state, county, and local levels vary widely. 

9. Look Into FEMA Assistance

Devastating hurricanes, tornadoes, and other events wreak havoc on certain areas each year. After a while, it becomes a tragic pattern and FEMA often declares major disasters and emergencies. If your loved one died in one of these major disasters, FEMA may cover some of the costs. The organization has covered a variety of expenses in the past. This includes urns, caskets, burial plots, and more. 

You’ll need to apply with the appropriate documents to obtain FEMA assistance. You’ll need a death certificate and proof of funeral expenses. 

10. Get Help From Local Churches

Was your loved one an active member of a religious organization? Members of these organizations — whether a church, synagogue, or mosque — often form a small family over time. 

A religious organization might offer a funeral plot or something else. Maybe you can hold the service at the church. Maybe others are willing to provide food, potluck style. Brainstorm ways to get help with small expenses. 

Getting assistance with food and venue is most likely what will happen. It doesn’t cost the church much, which matters if it isn’t financially stable. Financial assistance for a member’s funeral may be offered. 

If you’re an active member of a church and your loved one was not, it’s still worth the effort of checking. If you’re desperate to pay for a funeral, any chances are a great opportunity. 

11. Arrange a Cheaper Option

There is more than one way to conduct a funeral. Start brainstorming if your loved one wasn’t particular about his or her end-of-life wishes. 

Cremation is one of the cheapest options available. With this choice, you won’t need to pay for a casket or a cemetery plot. Still, if you’re strapped for cash, cremation is quite expensive. Cremation costs around $1,000. Investigating other options, such as promession or green burial, is a great idea. The cost of a natural burial is often less. Like cremation, the price point starts around $1,000.

Get Help Paying for a Funeral

Dealing with financial woes during emotional times is painful. You may not know how you’re going to pay the rent after the funeral is over. 

In an ideal world, things would be different. For one, end-of-life planning would be a priority for everyone. If you’re experiencing financial and emotional strain when planning a funeral, brainstorm with the options above. Even if one choice doesn’t work, another one might.