What To Do If You Can’t Afford a Funeral

Memorial Service Options

When a loved one dies, it is often an unfortunate consequence of our modern society that the thoughts of grieving family members turn immediately to money. A lot of factors go into this, of course, but the most important may be the initial discussions with a funeral director in which – by federal law in the United States – a funeral home is required to inform all prospective clients of the prices they ask for their services. Further, most funeral homes today also make their credit policies very clear up front too, and, well, the policies almost always are that credit is not an option. (The general rule of thumb in the death care industry today is that a family’s payment, in full, must clear the bank before any services can be performed or products delivered.)So, it is very often the case that, within 24 hours after a shocking death in a family, those who have just lost a loved one are being greeted with the troubling news that they will have to come up with $10,000 – $15,000 in just a few days or face the embarrassing situation of having a funeral service delayed indefinitely.

The stress of such a situation can be about as traumatic a scenario as a family can experience in many generations. So, to help bring a little peace to situations like this, we offer the following tips on what a family can do if it finds that it cannot afford a funeral for a dearly beloved departed family member. Here we offer a few tips to keep in mind when faced with the prospect of planning a funeral at the last moment.

Do Your Own Research

Families should be wary about relying upon their funeral director or crematory sales person – often called a “family planner” for financial information. While these people do generally have a great deal of experience in helping families to plan funerals and burials that they can afford, they also have a vested interest in getting the families to spend as much as possible. It is not uncommon for these service providers to exclude pertinent options – such as the option of purchasing a metal burial casket online – rather than striclty through a local facility. One particularly important thing to keep in mind on this topic is pre-purchased funeral services and grave plots. It is important that families search their own records thoroughly to assure that anything a funeral home or cemetery representative may tell them is entirely true. An alarming case in point happened in Texas in 2014: two family members met with a family planner at a cemetery where they knew their deceased relative had long intended to be buried in a family plot that had been purchased many years before by his father (who had long since passed away). They inquired about the family plot and were told quite emphatically, after an investigation by the cemetery staff, that all the spaces in the plot had been used. While the two family members questioned that, they did not know how to verify it quickly – in time for a timely burial. So they simply purchased another single plot in another section of the cemetery, at a cost of about $4,000. It turns out, however, that, when they finally took the time to investigate the matter themselves a few months later, they discovered, of course, that the cemetery staff had been wrong. In fact, there were two extra spaces available and open for use in the family’s plot.

In this case, the cemetery manager agreed to quickly move the body to the family plot and to refund the family all money that had been paid for the single plot. But it’s clear that the family could have done just a little research itself and avoided the entire mess. A simple trip to the family plot itself, for example, would have revealed that the plot had room for at least two more graves.

But, being in a hurry and under a lot of stress as they planned a quick memorial for their relative – who died very unexpectedly on a holiday weekend in which many family plans had to be changed – the family simply neglected to take the time to do the few minutes of research that would have saved them thousands of dollars off the initial cost of the funeral and burial services.

Many families simply cannot afford to make such a mistake. They do not have an extra $4,000 that they can spare for just a few months. So, for them, trusting a cemetery salesperson’s reply to such an inquiring is simply not an option. Likewise, these families who are having trouble affording the cost of a funeral should carefully question any claims that a funeral director or cemetery representative may make about insurance policies that the deceased may have. They should check with the company themselves to discuss issues such as what is paid for and what is not and exactly how the payments will be made. It is almost always a mistake – a common mistake, mind you – to allow a funeral director to handle the specifics of a burial insurance claim on his own. Yes, the funeral director has plenty of experience in such matters, but he or she also has plenty of incentive to sell a family more than it may need for a funeral when, in fact, the extra money paid by the insurance policy to the funeral home may have been returned to the family directly as a means to help with other expenses that may be incurred (such as hiring an attorney to assist with legal matters and maybe even accounting and planning help for estate sales and such).

Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Help

Various Memorial items are often available through different dealers.

The previous section should not be construed as advising grieving families to avoid seeking help for paying for funeral expense entirely. On the contrary, in fact, many funeral directors and cemetery sales representatives will likely be great sources of information for how to find help paying for a loved one’s final expenses. You should simply be careful about taking these people’s advice exclusively however, and always keep in mind that they have a vested interest in making as much money off your loved one’s final affairs as possible. This is similar to a scenario in which a fox would guard a hen house.

Alternitavely, it is never a bad idea for a grieving family member to seek the help of a close friend or relative who is not as emotionally involved with the deceased. It goes without saying that anyone who is grieving the loss of a loved one is emotionaly vulnerable – and that is exactly what allows many to be taken advantage of by less than scrupulous businesses in the death care industry have taken advantage of. Often, families who are trying to put together their services will hear (at least once) ‘Only the best for your beloved’. Unfortunately, usually the ‘only the best’ item is one of the most expensive options that can be presented. Having a person who is clear minded available to help will be less susceptible to such implications.