Should You Put Money in a Sympathy Card?

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Do you hem and haw every time you fill out a sympathy card, unsure whether to include money? The best advice is to go with your gut. Here are a few other things to think about.

Jump ahead to these sections:

Etiquette for Putting Money in a Sympathy Card

How do you properly give money to a grieving family member? Tucking cash or a check inside a sympathy card is a great way to offer support. 

Include a check if you mail the card. You may only want to include cash if you present the card to the family at the visitation or funeral.

Regardless of whether you put cash or a check inside the card, there is no need to tell the recipients about the monetary gift. Talking about money at an end-of-life service is not appropriate funeral etiquette. Instead, share positive memories about the deceased. 

Situations where giving money is appropriate

Most of the time, we are not privy to others’ financial situations unless they choose to share this information. However, there are a few situations where it might be clearly appropriate to offer money:

  • The primary income earner of a household dies. It takes time to gather up the appropriate documents to collect a life insurance claim. Even if you are positive that the family had plenty of life insurance, the survivors may not have access to those funds for weeks or months. 
  • The person who passed away had minor children. A surviving spouse may be in a situation where he or she must feed and care for kids with half the income as usual. Not only that, but he or she must pay for funeral expenses, purchase appropriate clothing for the children to wear to the funeral and more. There’s no shortage of ways your extra money can help a family with kids. 
  • A surviving elderly spouse is on a fixed income. A surviving spouse may not have a lot of money coming in and may appreciate some extra cash. This is especially true if he or she does not have an extensive support network. 
  • The death is the result of suicide or homicide. Most people assume that insurance companies will not pay if the death was the result of suicide. This is not always true. Most insurance companies will deny claims if the policy is less than 2 years old. Families of homicide victims may have a more difficult time collecting money from a life insurance company right away. 
  • The family asks for cash instead of flowers. Some families choose not to beat around the bush. They may add a line in the obituary that asks for money to help pay for the funeral instead of sympathy gifts. This makes it easier for those attending the funeral to know what to do.

Tip: If you decide to give money, check out these creative ways to give money to a loved one.

Amount of money to give

How much money should you include in a sympathy card? That question is almost impossible to answer.

One approach is to give as much as you can afford. Don’t go into debt for the month because you gave all your available money to a grieving family. It doesn’t make sense for your family to be shortchanged because you gave away all your available funds. 

Also, consider the situation. If you know that the surviving family is destitute as a result of a family member’s death, you may consider giving more than usual.

And, you'll want to consider the medium. Do you feel more comfortable sending cash, a check, or a gift card? If you aren't able to be there in person, a gift card might be the fastest way to send your condolences. You can buy digital gift cards from a number of reputable online shops, like GiftCards.com, Amazon, and others.

Finally, ask yourself how close you were to the family. If the person who passed away was in your inner circle of friends, you might want to write a larger check than if the deceased was someone you barely knew. 

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What to Write in a Sympathy Card With Money

What sympathy message is appropriate in a card? What do you say when your card includes money?

It’s common for survivors to choose a nonprofit organization for donations in memory of their loved ones. If the family opens your card and finds a check, they may assume the money is for the memorial donation. However, if you want the money to be spent in some other way, such as to help pay for funeral expenses or to help tide the family over during a financial crisis, it’s crucial to indicate that in your note.

Here are some examples of messages you could write in a sympathy card that includes a cash or a check. 

For a family member

Our hearts are broken by your mom’s death. She was my favorite aunt, and I have many wonderful memories of her from the summers we rented the beach house together. Please use this money to help pay for the personal expenses that you incurred during Aunt Betty’s prolonged illness. 

Uncle Ernie was a kindhearted man. My siblings and I loved it when he jumped on the trampoline with us and played football in the backyard. Please use this money to help pay for his funeral expenses. Uncle Ernie was an important person in our lives, and we want to help with the arrangements.

I know how much my sister valued formal education. Please divide this money evenly into the college fund of her four grandchildren. 

For a close friend

I will miss Lucy more than you will know. She was an important part of my life. Please use this money to pay for some of the personal expenses you incurred while caring for Lucy during her last days. Thank you for taking such good care of my friend. 

I’ve enclosed a check. Please use this money to help pay for funeral expenses. 

You will notice that I enclosed a check. Instead of making it out to the American Cancer Society, I wrote it out to you. Please use the money to help pay for some of your bills and other expenses during the upcoming months.

For an acquaintance

I am so sorry for your loss. Please accept this check and use the funds to help pay for your husband’s funeral expenses. 

I know you’re having a difficult time right now. Please use this money to help pay for some of your personal expenses. I wish I could include more, but I wanted to assist you at least in a small way.

I am so sorry about the loss of your mother. Please use this money to help pay for some of your travel expenses to the funeral. 

For a client, coworker, or boss

Please accept my sincerest sympathies. I am sorry to hear about Ben’s death — everyone in the office will miss him. Please use this money to help pay for funeral expenses. 

We know how proud Michael was of his three children. Please divide up this money and put it in their college funds. 

Everyone in the office loved working with Gretchen. She always told us to put our families first and our jobs second, and we know that she really meant it. Please use this money to do something special as a family. We know that is what Gretchen would want you to do.

Choosing the Right Amount

More than anything, families who have lost someone important to them want to hear good things about the person who died. Share specific memories about the person who passed away. 

Does putting money in sympathy cards make you consider your own end-of-life planning? There are lots of things to consider. Do you want to be buried or cremated? Where do you want your remains to be placed? What kind of music do you want at your funeral?

The more decisions you make now, the easier it will be for your family when they do make arrangements for your funeral. 

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