Funeral Costs and Expenses

Resources to Help Pay for a Funeral

1 The deceased's own resources
Consult the deceased’s bank and important paperwork to discover if any provision has been made for funeral expenses. Is there an insurance policy? Is there a savings account with a named beneficiary or some other Payable On Death (POD) bank account? Are you sure the decedent hasn’t already pre-paid a funeral home, crematory or cemetery for products and services? A phone call to local funeral homes confirming nothing’s been pre-paid, can’t hurt.

2 Social Security death benefit
If the deceased person worked long enough under Social Security to quality for benefits, a spouse or minor child of the deceased may receive a one-time lump sum death benefit payment of $255 to be used for funeral expenses.

Social Security should be notified as soon as possible when a person dies. You can report the death to a Social Security Administration service representative by calling the toll-free number, (800) 772-1213, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call the toll-free TTY number, (800) 325-0778, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days. Whenever you call, have the deceased person's Social Security number handy.

3 Social Security survivor’s benefits
Social Security is best known as a retirement program, but Social Security also includes survivor insurance that could be used to help fund a funeral.

When a deceased worker has paid into Social Security, certain family members may be eligible for survivor insurance. To be eligible, the deceased worker must have credit for work covered by Social Security, ranging from one and one-half to ten years depending on the age at death.

The amount of benefits paid to survivors depends on the average lifetime earnings of the deceased worker. The higher the earnings, the greater the benefit. However, a survivor's earnings may reduce the amount he or she is entitled to under Social Security.

Eligible survivors include:

  • A widow or widower age 60 or older (50 if disabled), or at any age if caring for an entitled child who is under 16 or disabled,
  • A divorced widow or widower age 60 or older (50 if disabled) if the marriage lasted ten years, or if caring for an entitled child who is under 16 or disabled,
  • Unmarried children under age 18 and age 19 if they are attending a primary or secondary school full time; and under certain circumstances, benefits can be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren or adopted children,
  • Children who were disabled before reaching 22, as long as they remained disabled,
  • Dependent parent or parents 62 or older.

An application must be filed to receive survivor benefits. You may apply at any Social Security office or, if you wish, you may apply by telephone. Just call (800) 772-1213. Information needed to apply for benefits includes:

  • Death certificate,
  • Social Security numbers — the deceased, the applicant, dependent children,
  • Applicant's birth certificate,
  • Marriage certificate and divorce papers, as applicable,
  • W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax return for deceased worker for most recent year,
  • Bank and account number for direct deposit of benefits,
  • If you are already receiving benefits as a husband or wife on your spouse's record when she or he dies, immediately report the death to Social Security to have your payments changed to survivor benefits. If you are receiving benefits on your own work record, complete an application and Social Security will determine if you can receive more under survivor benefits.

The Social Security Administration has a helpful website with answers to many commonly asked questions. You can find the website at http://www.ssa.gov/

4 Veterans funeral benefits
Veterans of the U.S. armed forces and some civilians who have worked with the military or U.S. Public Health Service are entitled to a number of funeral benefits. Spouses and dependent children may also qualify.

Veterans’ Funeral Benefits may include:

  • Free burial grave in a national cemetery; Across the United States, the Department of Veterans Affairs' maintains 119 national cemeteries (with six more legally mandated) and 33 soldier's lots and monument sites,
  • Opening and closing of the grave and perpetual care,
  • Free headstones and or grave marker,
  • Free grave liner for casketed remains,
  • Burial flag,
  • Presidential Memorial Certificate,
  • Lump sum payment up to $300 burial allowance to families of eligible veterans and up to $2,000 burial allowance for veterans who die from a service-related incident.

Veteran's funeral benefits apply to both casketed remains and cremated remains.

There's a two year time limit for claiming reimbursement of burial expenses.

Many states have established state veterans’ cemeteries with eligibility requirements similar to national cemeteries. Requests for burial are usually submitted by the funeral director handling the funeral arrangements.

The following information should be provided to the veterans' cemetery.

  • Full name and military rank,
  • Branch of service,
  • Social security number,
  • Service number,
  • VA claim number, if applicable,
  • Date and place of birth,
  • Date and place of death,
  • Date of retirement or last separation from active duty,
  • Copy of military separation documents.

Some private cemeteries offer free gravesites for veterans. Be aware that restrictions may apply and there may be requirements to purchase an additional gravesite or a grave marker. The VA will provide a free headstone or marker for private cemetery burials, however, this benefit is limited to eligible veterans and not to their spouses and children.

Under a Department of Defense program, funeral directors can request military funeral honors on behalf of veterans' families. Veterans’ organizations oftentimes assist in providing military funeral honors and the playing of taps at the grave site.

For information on burial at sea, contact the United States Navy Mortuary Affairs office
toll-free at (866) 787-0081.

For additional information about veterans' benefits in general, call the Veterans' Affairs office at (800) 827-1000 or visit their website at http://www.va.gov/.

5 Taxpayer benefits
Local taxpayers in many cities and counties qualify for reduced inurnment costs in cemeteries.

6 Church members and members of civic and other organizations benefits
Church members and members of civic and other organizations may qualify for funeral assistance or for reduced costs. Contact organizations where the deceased was a member or involved to inquire about possible death benefits.

7 Credit card holders
Credit card holders have their credit reduced or even discharged if they have a death benefits policy.

8 Employee benefits
Check the deceased's employer. Does the company have a death benefit policy for employees?

9 Crime Victims' Compensation Fund
A Crime Victims’ Fund often provides funeral benefits in instances of death by a criminal act. There are many crime victim funds across the United States. Most are funded by the state or county. Ask the prosecutors office in your area or do a computer search using the name of your county or city and the term “crime victim fund”.

10 Death Benefits from pensions, societies and other organizations
Organizations affiliated with some professions, such as the Railroad Retirement Board, as well as some social groups, unions and pensions, offer allowances to defray funeral costs.

Consider the following -

  • Workman's compensation, if death was work-related,
  • Civil service (federal, state, county or local) retirement pension fund,
  • Railroad fund,
  • Teacher's fund,
  • Miner's benefits fund,
  • Trade union fund,
  • Credit union fund,
  • Fraternal organizations fund.

11 Set up a individual Payable on Death (POD) account at your local bank
(Also known as “Informal Trusts” or “Totten Trusts”)
Payable on death accounts are widely used to set aside relatively small amounts of money (less than $15,000) for anticipated funeral costs. You simply open an individual savings account or certificate of deposit with your local bank and name a beneficiary. During your lifetime you have total control over the account and complete access to it. However, at your death, the money passes automatically to the named beneficiary without having to go through probate. The money is intended to cover funeral expenses but can be used in any way the beneficiary wants.