What If You Can’t Pay for a Funeral or Burial? 15 Options


Losing a loved one is devastating, but recognizing just how much a funeral costs can make the pain even worse. Between the funeral service, burial, and other unexpected expenses, the cost of a funeral can quickly add up into the thousands. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

With so many expenses to worry about, you might wonder what happens if you can’t pay for a funeral or burial. Whether you’re unable to access your loved one’s estate or there simply is no money available, you have options. Everyone is entitled to a compassionate, thoughtful funeral. 

Funeral expenses are a burden many families struggle with, and it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Here’s what happens if you can’t pay for a funeral or burial and what to do next.

How Much Does a Funeral and Burial Cost?

The costs of funerals and burials are on the rise. Since this is an essential service that many families need after a painful loss, it’s understandable that you might expect the costs to be more affordable than they are. 

In reality, a family can pay upwards of $11,000 for the funeral, burial, and other costs. These expenses include transportation and preparation of the body, the funeral venue, catering, cemetery plot, headstone, casket, and so on. With so many things to worry about, a family might find it hard to make ends meet. 

Saying goodbye to a loved one is an essential part of the healing process. But when the cost is too high, it’s hard to determine the best way to move forward. Luckily, there are many options available for surviving loved ones to give a compassionate, effective sendoff. 

» MORE: Grief can be lonely. Create space for your community to share memories and tributes with a free online memorial from Cake.

Options for When You Can’t Afford a Funeral or Memorial Service

Unfortunately, much of the responsibility to provide a funeral or burial for your loved one falls on the family. There are limited state and federal government assistance programs for those in need. 

That being said, you don’t need to pay a fortune to create a meaningful service. There are many low-cost options to help pay for a funeral if you can’t afford it.

1. The deceased’s estate

If there were no prior arrangements made to pay for final expenses before the individual’s death, you might be able to use a portion (or all) of their estate to pay for the funeral. 

While this is more complicated depending on whether or not they created a legal will, this is sometimes the most effective way to afford a service without needing to use your own funds. 

You’ll need to gain access to the deceased loved one’s estate by becoming their executor or working with an estate attorney. 

2. Social Security death payment

The Social Security death payment is known as a survivor’s benefit. It’s a one-time, lump-sum payment of $255 for the surviving family of someone who received Social Security benefits. 

This payment can go to the surviving spouse or children of the deceased. However, this is only a one-time payment and does not include any other benefits. 

3. Employer benefits

If your loved one was employed or a member of a union, there might be additional death benefits available. These typically assist with covering death care costs like a burial or funeral service. Check with your loved one’s benefits package to see if this was included in their coverage. 

4. A funeral loan

Funeral loans are what they sound like, a form of credit taken out to cover funeral costs. Unfortunately, many traditional lenders are usually unwilling to finance a funeral, so you may encounter predatory lenders. 

In general, it’s not a good idea to go into debt to afford a funeral. That being said, if you have good credit and an efficient payoff strategy, it might be worth considering. Always pay close attention to terms, interest rates, and your payoff plan. 

5. Spread the cost

A safer alternative to taking on debt is to spread the cost between family members. If there is no money in your loved one’s estate to afford a funeral, the family can pay for it in any way that works for them. 

Many families have success when they split the amount between multiple people. Not only does this make it more affordable for everyone, but it allows more funds to go towards making this experience special. 

» MORE: Your family has 500 hours of work to do after you die. Learn how you can make it easier for them

6. Create a fundraiser

Another alternative way to raise money for a funeral is to create a community fundraiser. If your loved one was a beloved member of his or her community, a larger fundraiser might be successful. 

With crowdfunding tools like GoFundMe, it’s never been easier to create a digital fundraiser in seconds. To get started, look for community groups or news outlets to raise awareness. 

7. Look into charity groups

There are many charities that help with funeral costs. While these might be specific to a situation, such as if someone was the victim of a crime, these are a great way to get help if you need it.

These organizations help people from all walks of life and backgrounds. They understand the importance of a funeral when it comes to finding closure, and they think this should be accessible to all. 

8. Hold a low-cost funeral at home

Finally, if you’re unable to afford a funeral at a church, venue, or funeral home, this isn’t your only option. There’s a lot of pressure to spend a lot of money on a funeral or memorial service. In reality, this isn’t what the occasion is about at all. 

It’s entirely possible to host a powerful, meaningful funeral service from home. As long as the family can gather (whether in-person or virtually), you can say goodbye and honor your loved one. There is no rule that you must have an expensive funeral service. 

Options for When You Can’t Afford a Burial or Cremation

If you’re unable to afford a burial or cremation, you might wonder how to lay your loved one to rest. There are many options to help make this process more affordable, so you likely have more flexibility than you realize. 

1. Choose direct burial

A direct burial is the cheapest way to bury a loved one. The body is buried shortly after the death in a simple container. There is no embalming, viewing, or visitation. Unlike a full-service funeral, this is a quick and affordable way to lay your loved one to rest. 

2. Choose direct cremation

Alternatively, if you’d prefer cremation, direct cremation is also affordable. Direct cremation is when the body is cremated immediately after death. Like with a direct burial, there is no service involved or viewing of the body. 

» MORE: It's time to focus on what really matters. Use these tools to help.

3. Opt for an eco-friendly green burial

Green burials have risen in popularity in recent years for being an eco-friendly alternative to traditional burials. While they’re better for the environment, they’re also significantly more affordable. 

A green burial is when the body is buried in a simple, natural container. This can be cardboard, wicker, bamboo, or even fabric. The body is buried without any ornamentation or expensive headstone. It’s a simple, green return to earth. 

4. Donate the body to science

Many people like knowing their body is used for good and progress when they pass. Donating one’s whole body to science means it will be used in medical research. 

When you choose to donate a loved one’s body to science, it’s usually free of cost. The facility will transport the body for free, and they usually provide free cremation, as well. This is a free way to do good while honoring your loved one’s wishes. 

5. Hold a home burial

Most states allow you to have what’s called a home funeral. This is when you complete the entire funeral and burial process from home. While you’ll need to pay close attention to local burial laws, you’re often free to bury your loved one on your own private property. 

By preparing the body at home and conducting the burial on your own land, there’s no need to pay for the services of a funeral home or cemetery. Finding your own meaningful way to say goodbye to a family member in your own space can be a healing process. 

6. Review any veterans’ benefits

If your loved one was a veteran, they might be eligible for burial in a veteran’s memorial. This could be a state or national cemetery.

If your loved one died in the line of service or from service-related injuries, they might get an additional death benefit. Either way, veterans are usually entitled to a free burial in a veteran’s cemetery. 

7. Talk to your funeral home and providers

Finally, many funeral homes and providers have extra funds or services available for those who are in need. Though not true of every provider, it’s common for funeral homes to conduct free cremations in extreme circumstances. 

In addition, headstone providers are known to donate damaged or imperfect products for those who are unable to pay. It’s always worth talking to your funeral home or service/product providers about your specific situation and what options are available. 

Saying Goodbye at Any Cost

What do you do if you can’t afford a funeral or burial? First and foremost, it’s important to recognize that there’s no legal or necessary reason to pay a lot of money for a funeral or burial. There are no rules when it comes to saying goodbye. 

As long as you’re choosing something that’s right for your family and your budget, you should feel confident in your decision. There are a number of options to reduce the cost of the funeral and burial. From at-home funerals to charity contributions, everyone deserves the right final resting place.

  1. “If you are the survivor.” Social Security. www.ssa.gov/benefits/survivors/ifyou

Icons sourced from FlatIcon.