It’s easy to put off thinking about something that’s going to happen in the future. You’re not likely to worry about paying for a funeral until you have to. You may be entitled to apply for a bereavement support payment, but what happens if you don’t qualify? In this article, we’re going to look at your options.
A funeral can cost thousands of pounds, so it’s important to think about how much it will cost and how to pay for a funeral.
Who legally has to pay for a funeral?
It is the deceased’s nearest and dearest in normal circumstances, typically their children or a partner if still living, who are responsible for funeral costs.
What happens if the circumstances are not normal? If, for example, an estranged family member dies, relatives may have to explain why they feel they are not obliged to take responsibility for the funeral costs.
Can you be forced to pay for a funeral? Relatives are rarely forced to pay for any funeral costs. However, if you have made the arrangements and signed the funeral firm's contract then you have made yourself liable for the costs.
There is, however, one exception. If the estranged relative is your child, you have a duty to bury or cremate them under common law, provided you can afford it. But there is no legal obligation to pay for a funeral ceremony.
Funeral costs can come out of the person’s estate. They should be paid first before debts and bequests. If there isn’t enough money to cover the costs, the person organising the funeral must meet the difference.
What happens if you can't pay for a funeral?
If you have no money to pay for a funeral, there are no family or friends to pay for the funeral and no estate, the local council (if death occurred at home or nursing home) or the NHS Hospital Trust where the death occurred will organise a public health funeral, also known as a pauper’s funeral. When a hospital or the council pays for a funeral, it is a very simple ceremony, usually with a short service. Typically, the funeral will be a cremation. Guests are generally allowed to come and may be able to choose when and where the funeral will happen. In the past councils have not returned ashes to families so ask about this.
How to Pay for a Funeral: Best Options
1. Pay for your own funeral
The price of funerals has been steadily rising over the years, but the cost of dying has soared more recently. An increasing number of families now struggle to pay for a funeral and are getting into debt.
Funeral directors will usually do all they can to assist a family in financial distress, but you will usually be required to pay the crematorium or burial fees upfront as a minimum. The funeral firm might agree to spread their fees over a period of time, but they are not obliged to do this and there will be a limit on the number of instalments they can offer.
There are several ways you can save your loved ones from such a financial burden. The more common ways to plan ahead and pay for your own funeral include:
- Prepaid funeral plans: You pay for your funeral up front, over a period of months or years. You also get to include your final wishes.
- Savings: Set aside a certain amount every month. The only problem with this idea is that those you’ve left behind may not have access to your savings until probate is granted.
- Life insurance: Pay a small amount every month, and a life insurance plan can provide a lump sum when you die that can contribute to your funeral cost.
Prepaid funeral plans
A prepaid funeral plan is one of the best ways to plan ahead for the future and ensure you pay for a funeral before you need it. Make sure your prepaid plan is safe by checking that the funeral plan provider is a member of the Funeral Planning Authority (FPA), and from July 2022 only funeral plan providers authorised by the new regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, will be allowed to operate.
When you take out a prepaid funeral plan, you pay for your own funeral in advance. You can make a single payment or arrange to make payments over a period of months or years. With monthly funeral plans, you spread out the cost and don’t have to make a lump-sum payment.
Your plan provider will outline how what you've paid is used. The vast majority should go towards your funeral costs with a clearly stated (and modest) sum towards marketing and administration of your plan.
Check exactly what is covered as some plans only make a contribution towards things like the cremation or burial fees. Unless the plan comes with a guarantee to cover 100% of the costs your family may need to "top it up". Of course, this also applies if they add extras that were never included in the plan.
You can also include your final wishes in prepaid funeral plans. You can include information about whether you want to be cremated or buried, what readings or music you’d like at the service. This means your family doesn’t have to make these difficult decisions.
Pay for your funeral with life insurance
When you take out a life insurance policy, you can choose the value of the policy. Be aware that this value is rarely inflation-protected and so a sum-insured that sounds generous now may not actually cover the whole cost in 10 years' time. Another option is to take out a special whole of life insurance policy for over 50s. Your loved ones can use the payment from this type of policy to pay for your funeral. Some over 50s policies also include specific funeral benefits paid directly to a funeral director on your death.
2. Paying for your loved one’s funeral from their estate
You can usually pay funeral expenses from the deceased person’s estate. However, you may have to wait until the probate process has been completed for funds to become available. This process can take up to 12 months, possibly even longer, depending on how complex the estate is.
3. Choosing an affordable option for all funeral expenses
The cost of a funeral depends on the type of funeral selected. The cost of dying varies for cremation and burial. A direct cremation is an option worth considering if you want to be in control of the farewell, have greater flexibility, or stick to a tight budget.
4. Are you eligible for a military funeral?
In the UK, any British Armed Forces member is eligible for a military funeral, paid for by the British Armed Forces, if they die during active service. In cases where a soldier, sailor, or airman dies but is not in active service, the cost of their funeral and the arranging of military rites is the family’s responsibility. However, the Royal British Legion can offer advice and help with contacting organisations that may be able to provide help to pay for a funeral for eligible parties.
If you or your deceased loved one is a US veteran, it’s worth checking with a VA office for a tax-free cash payment.
5. Crowdfunding and other ways to raise money for a funeral
Some families turn to crowdfunding websites to help pay for a funeral, however these have been used by fraudsters, and it is difficult for donors to be sure how their money will actually be used. Some of these websites, such as GoFundMe.com, are general fundraising platforms. However, there are websites specially tailored to funeral fundraising, such as the Funeral Fund.
Other funeral fundraising ideas include:
- Memorial dinner
- Tree planting fundraiser
- Bake sale
- Benefit sports tournament
- Restaurant fundraiser
- Community mural project
6. Apply for Funeral and Bereavement Support Payment
There are two main ways you can get help with funeral costs from the Department of Work and Pensions. They are the Funeral Payment and the Bereavement Support Payment. Both help people on certain benefits pay for a funeral.
7. Turn to nonprofits and charities to pay for a funeral
Several charities help to pay for a funeral. Here are some examples:
- Leukaemia Care
- The Child Funeral Charity
- Children are Butterflies
- Care Workers Charity
- Friends of the Elderly
In the UK many funeral directors, cemeteries, and crematoria offer their services either completely free or at substantially reduced fees, where the funeral is for someone aged 16 or younger. A simple, respectful service will be provided for free, but of course, it is possible to add extras if desired.
8. Check with employers (including past employers)
Some employers provide pension schemes that pay a lump sum to help with funeral costs. It’s always a good idea to check whether the person who died has ever belonged to this sort of scheme.
9. Get extra help with funeral costs
That’s the most common options covered, but there are a few more worth mentioning. One possibility is using a credit card or taking out a loan. The only downside with these options is that there is the possibility of paying interest on the funeral amount. You may be able to get around the interest with a funeral loan. Some lending companies offer these to families often with no interest in the first few months.
It’s nothing to be embarrassed about if you need help with funeral costs. Your loved one wouldn’t want you to be stressed about covering the cost.