How to Fund a Funeral: Six Resources to Tap Into After a Loved One Dies

A man looks up in the sky during the burial service at a funeral.
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When our loved ones pass, it feels like the world stands still. That feeling couldn’t be further from the truth — after a death there’s so much to handle, from submitting copious amounts of paperwork to planning an entire funeral. But all that is happening against a backdrop of immobilizing grief.

The situation becomes even harder when the death was unexpected — or when the death was anticipated, but you simply don’t have the resources to fund a proper ceremony and burial. With funerals costing anywhere from $6,500 to over $10,000 and most funeral homes requiring 100% upfront payment, the struggle is tangible and real.

We don’t have to resign ourselves to skipping a celebration of our loved one’s lives, though. Even when you don’t have the cash on hand, there are programs out there that can help you fund funeral and burial expenses. Today, we’ll look at six different options that can help you get the funding you need to properly memorialize those you love.

How to Fund a Funeral

Submit Paperwork to the Life Insurance Company Quickly

If your loved one had life insurance, it can be used to cover the costs of a funeral. Processing times for claims vary dramatically depending on the insurance company, though. The quickest companies issue payouts within a few days, while some companies can take up to two months.

You want to do everything you can to speed the process along. The moment you have the death certificate, contact the insurance company and ask for a claim form. You’ll be dealing with a lot of grief, but if you can prioritize this one task, you’ll get the financial means you need to cover everything else as quickly as possible.

It’s worth asking how long claims take to pay out. If life insurance is your only form of funding, it may affect how you deal with interment. For example, if the company typically has a lag time of a month, you may opt for cremation over a traditional burial – depending on religious beliefs.

Is life insurance taxable? No, except in these four situations.

Get Up to $9,000 in FEMA Funding for COVID Funeral Expenses

The government has officially ended the national COVID emergency effective May 2023. With the official government emergency declaration ending, the funding for the vast majority of COVID-era programs has been revoked. One notable exception is FEMA funeral funding for COVID-related deaths, which extends until September 30, 2025.

FEMA will give you $9,000 to cover funeral and burial expenses if the listed cause of death was COVID-19. If you have a loved one in the hospital, you may want to make this point to the doctor and attending team prior to the death — if the doctor has strong political views on “caused by” or “co-occurring,” the way they fill out the death certificate could be the difference between securing a FEMA grant or not.

If you qualify, FEMA funds can cover the following expenses:

  • Funeral services.
  • Interment.
  • Cremation.
  • Marker or headstone.
  • Casket or urn.
  • Burial plot.
  • Transport for up to 2 people to identify the person who passed.
  • Costs you incur to produce the death certificate.
  • Transfer of remains.
  • Local or state government fees associated with the burial/funeral process.
  • Clergy fees.
  • Funeral home fees.

Get State Assistance if Your Loved One Was on Government Assistance

Depending on your state, you may be able to get burial and cremation expenses funded by the government. For example, in Pennsylvania, you can get such funding if your loved one was receiving any Social Security income or cash assistance at the time of their passing. You may even be able to secure funding if they weren’t receiving cash assistance, but they were eligible for it at the time of passing.

To find out if you’re eligible for this type of funding, you could reach out to your local welfare office. The level of service you get is going to be highly dependent on who staffs the office, though. Another route you could pursue is a local nonprofit that works in welfare recipient advocacy. You can find local nonprofits of this nature by calling 2-1-1 or otherwise getting in touch with your local United Way.

Bear in mind that when these programs exist at all, they tend to cover burial and cremation expenses, but not additional costs associated with the funeral.

Get Victims’ Assistance Funding if Your Loved One Was the Victim of a Crime

If your loved one passed as the result of a crime, many states do have victims’ assistance funding available, and it can be used to fund funeral expenses. However, getting the funding is typically a long, drawn-out process that can take months. Because most funeral homes do not accept payment plans, this is really only a viable option for funeral funding if you have money up front and want to be reimbursed at a later date.

Veterans Can Get Free Burial in National Cemeteries

If your loved one was a veteran who was released with an honorable discharge, they may qualify for free burial services — including a headstone — at a national cemetery. In some instances, spouses and children of veterans can also qualify. Veterans will also be eligible for military funeral honors, but bear in mind that if you want a viewing or anything that doesn’t happen at the graveside, you’ll need to cover those expenses on your own or apply through another program.

If your loved one wanted to be buried with family or anywhere other than a national cemetery, they may also be eligible for a veterans burial allowance, which can cover the plot, burial and funerary expenses. Typically, people apply for reimbursement through this program rather than claiming the money upfront.

Turn to Religious Groups for Charitable Funding

While some clergy members and houses of worship do charge fees for funerals, others do not. If your loved one didn’t have a particular congregation they met with on a regular basis, it may be OK to shop around for funeral and memorial services.

If your loved one was religious and dedicated to a particular house of worship, though, you may feel obligated to pay the fees regardless of how high they get. This can get particularly difficult if their religion dictated a burial within 24 hours of death. In these cases, do not feel bad asking the congregation for help. Especially if they knew your loved one, they’re likely to be all too happy to crowdfund a celebration of their life.

Don’t be shy about asking for assistance, even if the expenses pour over to the funeral home. Some religions prohibit cremation, so while it’s a cheaper option, it may not be appropriate for the religious rites and rituals of the person who passed.

We can often feel alone and isolated in our grief, but this is one time where if you reach out to people who shared your loved one’s beliefs, you can expect to get financial assistance in appropriately honoring their memory.

Pittsburgh-based writer Brynne Conroy is the founder of the Femme Frugality blog and the author of “The Feminist Financial Handbook.” She is a regular contributor to The Penny Hoarder. The Penny Hoarder staff also contributed to this post.