General Question

emeraldisles's avatar

What do you do if you cannot afford a funeral?

Asked by emeraldisles (1949points) February 10th, 2013

Well I know this is morbid, but my godmother just died unexpectedly and her funeral is coming up. However, I’ve always wondered what happens if let’s say the family cannot pay for a burial or you can’t because let’s face it if you are very poor or under extenuating circumstances, you will not be able to. I found out that the average funeral is at least $7,000. lso, taking into consideration burial plots…. I’m sorry if this sounds strange, but it is a valid question, especially with the economy.

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27 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Where are you located? They have paupers funerals here in the US where the state either cremates or buries your or your loved one’s remains

emeraldisles's avatar

Massachusetts, and thank you. It’s just something I’ve wondered about.

CWOTUS's avatar

It’s a perfectly valid question, and a good one.

Although the average funeral is ungodly expensive, that’s a function of people’s unwillingness to sit down with funeral directors and working with them on planning a funeral on a very tight budget.

For example, you can get laminated particleboard or cardboard ‘caskets’ (nice looking, not like a shipping carton) that are suitable for a viewing and will then be consumed in cremation (which is by far the cheapest way to dispose of the body). In some places you can even rent caskets, I think. This would be for the viewing only, and then a different consumable container would be used for the cremation. (It’s something that I haven’t had much experience with, myself.)

Don’t let an unscrupulous funeral director “guilt trip” you into spending more than you can afford! That’s why funerals are so expensive.

wildpotato's avatar

People can let the state use the body for research, according to this article about the 18 heads found at the airport recently.

This more detailed writeup doesn’t mention needing to release the body for research, just releasing it legally, and adds that the remains will be laid to rest in a Potter’s Field. I think I would call the county coroner’s office for more details.

emeraldisles's avatar

Wow. The thing is some people “die” very unexpectedly, before they can even think of planning one or making some sort of arrangement. Trust me, I know. Thanks for the answers guys and sorry if there is a typo in the question.

JLeslie's avatar

A former coworker of mine died not to long ago. He was a dear friend of some friends I am still in touch with. When he died he did not have a will. My friends tried to find his sister, even though he and his sister were estranged for years and he really wanted nothng to do with her. Still, they thought she should know and have access to his belongings, some of which might have been family heirlooms. They couldn’t find her. The deal was the authorities gave a certain amount of time for family to come forward, and then the state took care of cremating him. My friends, who were very upset about the whole thing, said they think his ashes are on a shelf somewhere. I don’t know for sure if that is literally true, but I think so. This was in FL.

zenvelo's avatar

My former girlfriend’s dad died when she was in her early twenties, and she was a broke student. Her dad was broke too, died in a public hospital, might have lived five years more if he’d had insurance, but only made it to 46.

He had no service, and since he had no money, the Borough of Manhattan paid for his cremation. They gave my ex the cremains, in a plastic bag with a twist tie, inside a cardboard box that was about 8×8x10. She finally spread his ashes over San Francisco Bay about 25 years later, after she had done a lot of therapy.

jca's avatar

In some communities, the family and friends chip in (they may take a collection at church, for example).

You can contact the local Social Services department and they may Someone close to me died a few years ago and we contacted social services and they paid for his viewing and cremation.

susanc's avatar

My husband died five years ago, after a long useless treatment for lung cancer. He had time to tell us what he wanted. When he died in the hospital from “pneumonia”, my daughter-in-law called the funeral service, who came to the hospital after we had sat with my husband’s body for as long as we wanted to. They took his body away. My sons and I sat down with the funeral director a day or so later and paid for cremation and no service except for on-line “guest book” availability. Cost: $700. The USGovernment gave us a folded US flag in a triangular box because my husband served in the Marines. We took the ashes and saved them till we figured out exactly how to let them go.
This was a private funeral service. There was no pressure on us. We could afford $700. These people were great. We were lucky. Probably everyone should go find a good funeral service well before they die in order to educate themselves. This place was called Funeral Alternatives of Olympia. I think it’s a chain.

gondwanalon's avatar

Cremation is an inexpensive option. I paid for the cremation of a family member 18 years ago. The cost was only $1,200 at that time. They put the ashes into a small cardboard box. The ashes can be disposed of about anywhere for free. No coffin, funeral or burial plot buy.

rojo's avatar


Word of warning (or maybe advice):

If you ask the National Park Service if you can scatter someones ashes in their park the answer is always “NO”!

Not that they really mind. they are required to deny your request. But they do not check everyone for ashes so just do it but do not ask permission.

zenvelo's avatar

@emeraldisles Thanks for asking this question. My ex is just about homeless, and her health is bad (although the Grim Reaper knows she would give him an argument that would drive him around the bend.) But I was thinking a few weeks ago if she dies, for my kids’ sake I will probably have to pay for everything.

ucme's avatar

If you’re in grave financial straits, I suggest digging around just in case there’s any cash buried somewhere in the house.

emeraldisles's avatar

Yeah well unfortunately it is just so much worse when you have dire circumstances. I saw her obituary and the services are private, but it said a donation could be made in her name. It’s just unbelievable how “big business” the funeral industry is, and her poor parents and brother were/ are scrambling around.

rojo's avatar

@emeraldisles Interesting how they listed the services as “private”.
Many years ago I got word that someone I had known well in high school had died back where I grew up. I called his parents and was told in a very terse manner that there was not going to be a funeral service. I thought that this was odd but as I had considered his folks batshit crazy when I knew them I did not question it. So I called around and I finally got hold of the funeral home where he was located and was told that the services were private.
All these years, I thought that the family actually had a small, private ceremony for him. Now, knowing this, I think they may have just said “not our problem anymore” and let the state handle it.

delilah75's avatar

Donate the body to science. Only if your body is healthy they then may take it and bury the remains for free. It is a good way for Medical students to learn.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

@emeraldisles Your question isn’t morbid at all. Death is simply a part of life’s path, and it’s an honor to be involved in a loved one’s final care.

During difficult economic times, cremation becomes very popular. A decedent can be cremated for a fraction of the price of a traditional burial.

Ok…here’s where I might be the one who seems morbid. In a cremation, the family doesn’t purchase a coffin, which costs thousands of dollars. The coffin is merely “rented” for a wake or memorial service and then kept by the funeral home. It’s expensive to dig a gravesite, comply with local and state laws about linings or vaults, inter the decedent, and cover the grave; these costs are avoided by cremation.

Beyond the burial vs. cremation decision, your family can minimize expenses by cutting funeral costs. You can pass on having a limousine, plus a driver, to take you from the funeral home to the church or synagogue service (if any) and the cemetary (if any). You can limit the funeral home visits to just one period of time, perhaps the morning before the decedent is removed.

Yes, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to consider these matters. My mother is very ill, and I recently made arrangements for her last care and pre-paid the expenses through an irrevocable funeral trust.

My condolences for your loss.

Adagio's avatar

@delilah75 I have MS and would like to donate my brain to science when I die, I think scientists would love having my brain to investigate, I doubt you need to be healthy to donate your body for research after you die at all.

JLeslie's avatar

@Adagio If it is important to you, make sure scientists would actually be studying your brain for MS if you do donate your body. My sister once told me something about people donating their bodies to science and how the bodies often are not used as we might assume, but I do not remember exactly what she said. My great uncle donated his body to science and his sister, my grandma, was very upset. She needed the burial. I do think the person dying should be able to decide their fate after death, but I winder if he knew how mich it would trouble his sister if he would have changed his mind?

I am not trying to discourage you, just saying don’t make assumptions if it is an option you are seriously considering. I think it is wonderful if science can learn from people willing to allow their bodies to studied.

Shippy's avatar

Pauper burial or cremate no service.

rojo's avatar

@JLeslie I believe that many times the body, or ashes, is/are returned to the family after a certain period of time.
Arrangements are made up front, prior to death.
And, I am not sure you can donate someone elses’ body. It may be that you can only give of yourself.

JLeslie's avatar

@rojo Did you mean to address me? I don’t know why you wrote me that?

rojo's avatar

@JLeslie just trying to address something both about your earlier comment (3 up) about the grandma wanting a funeral. The last part was more in general about the remains of the person in question.
I should have tried to be a little clearer, sorry.

JLeslie's avatar

@rojo Where I was confused is that I understand my grandmother had no say legally in whether her brother was donated to science. I didn’t understand why you thought I might have thought she did?

As far as the ashes being returned to the family, I don’t understand why you addressed me on that, but it isn’t a big deal or anything, I just thought maybe you clicked the wrong jelly name (I have done that myself) and that person would not realize to answer you.

Anyway, no apology necessary. :)

lulu329's avatar

Call ur local churches they do help and cremation is alot cheaper

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