Dear Penny: Should My Husband Refuse to Pay $600 for His Mom’s Cremation?

A man in a suit holds a wooden urn.
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Dear Penny,

My 72-year-old mother-in-law passed away last month. She had cancer, and, sadly, it took her very quickly. Before she died, she had made her wishes known to my father-in-law as to what she wanted after death, which was no funeral, just cremation, and for the family to go and have a meal together.

The problem is that my in-laws live in Britain, where my husband is from. His whole family still lives there. My husband has lived in the U.S. for 27 years. My one brother-in-law and his wife arranged everything for my father-in-law.

Money is tight for us so we could only arrange for my husband to go. He had enough frequent flyer miles to help bring down the costs a little for us, but there are still fees and taxes involved with those tickets. The ticket cost around $450. My brother-in-law offered to pick him up from the airport and take him back because he gets free diesel in his company van. My husband took $300 with him to cover meals and his share of the funeral meal. While he was there, he took out his dad and then his dad, brother and his family.

Fast forward to two weeks later, and we received an invoice for one-third of the cost of the cremation, which comes to around $600. The crematorium holds the ashes until the bill is paid. My husband is a little frustrated at this. He has two brothers, one who lives in the same town as his parents and the other who lives within driving distance of his parents. Neither spent a fraction of what my husband spent to get there.

We don’t know what to do. We don’t have the money immediately to pay. We can save, but it will take a couple of months. We finally paid off all of our credit cards through a consolidation loan so we don’t want to use credit. In the meantime, my father-in-law awaits my mother-in-law’s ashes, and it’s causing a rift in relationships. The brothers aren’t extremely close already, but my husband was hoping his mum’s passing might help bridge the gap.

Can we tell them it will take a few months to save? Or can we tell them we just can’t afford it?

-Frustrated at Funeral Costs

Dear Frustrated,

If you truly can’t afford $600, your husband should tell his brothers what you told me: “We don’t have the money immediately to pay. We can save, but it will take a couple of months.”

Your husband should also mention the costs of travel. If he and his brothers aren’t close, they probably don’t know that money has been a struggle lately. In that case, it’s reasonable that they would have assumed that each brother could afford to pay a third, even though your husband had to pay airfare.

Dear Penny

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But I don’t think your husband should refuse outright to pay the $600, especially since he’s hoping his mother’s death might help to heal the family rift. Yes, he will have paid more than his brothers to fulfill his mother’s final wishes when you factor in travel. But that’s what happens when you live thousands of miles away from family. I’m guessing his brothers have supported your in-laws in ways that haven’t been possible for your husband given the physical distance.

He should focus on the fact that he doesn’t have $600 to spend immediately — but that he’s not refusing to pay. He’s looking for solutions for an expense that was relatively unexpected.

He could ask his brothers whether they could each front $300 so their mother’s ashes aren’t held up at the crematorium any longer. Then he could offer to send them each $50 or $100 a month. Your husband could also turn to his father to see if he can afford to part with $600 temporarily.

You’re no longer paying off your debt, so you should have some extra room in your budget. I’m guessing you can save up that money quickly.

It may also make sense to use a credit card to pay off the $600. I get why you’d hesitate to do so, having just gotten out of debt. But the death of a parent counts as an emergency. If you make it a one-time purchase and pay it off quickly, you don’t have to worry about slipping back into debt.

It sounds like your mother-in-law was extremely reasonable about her final wishes. She didn’t request an elaborate ceremony and burial. She asked for a simple cremation and for the family to have a meal together. It sounds like she, too, wanted to bring the family closer after her death.

Paying $600 may seem like a lot when you’ve just gotten out of debt. But I’d hate to see that $600 move the family further away from fulfilling the spirit of your mother-in-law’s final wishes.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].