Funerals are expensive. The average funeral now costs £4,000 – that is an 80% increase in the last ten years. They are also a difficult time, as you are upset yourself and having to deal with what may seem like an over-whelming list of practicalities, from getting death certificates to informing friends and relatives who haven’t yet heard about the death. And if you were living with the person who died, you may be worried about how you are going to manage financially from now on.
This article looks at ways of covering all or some of the funeral costs if you have to organise a funeral, let’s say for Sally as I don’t want to keep writing “the deceased”.
Did Sally have a pre-paid funeral plan?
If you look at her bank statement, a regular monthly payment may suggest that she has a Funeral Plan policy. These often aren’t very good value if you are thinking about getting one for yourself – it’s usually better to just save the money up. But if Sally had one, then you need to find the details and use the funeral director covered by the plan.
If you think she probably had one but you can’t find any details, the Funeral Planning Authority offers a tracing service.
There may also be details of the sort of funeral she wanted either in her will or kept with the will: cremation or burial, lists of people to be told, no-one to wear black, suggested hymns etc. You don’t have to follow these instructions but it is good to take them into account if you can.
Was there any money in Sally’s bank account?
If Sally had any money at all, then the law says that paying her funeral expenses is top priority. If she had any debts, her creditors will just have to wait and see if there is anything left over after the funeral costs have been paid.
Her bank will usually be prepared to pay the funeral director’s bill directly and not wait until probate has been obtained.
The charity Quaker Social Action offers free practical guidance and support on finding the most affordable and appropriate funeral – see Down To Earth – Helping people struggling with funeral costs. Anyone can use this service, you don’t have to be religious, and they are completely confidential.
The Natural Death website gives details about how to organise a funeral yourself, without a funeral director. This might be to save money or perhaps you just don’t want a traditional funeral for Sally.
If this seems very daunting, you can use a funeral director but take charge of some parts yourself, for example you could print a personalised Order of Service yourself, perhaps with photographs of her. This doesn’t just save costs, it can give a lovely service.
If you want to use a funeral director, go through all the details including costs before committing to use his services, as after discussing things you may prefer to go to someone else. Rosie Inman-Cook, who has been running the charity Natural Death Centre for 16 years says:
“My number one call over the past 18 months has been from people in financial difficulty who think they have to use the first funeral director they come across. But people need to know there are alternatives. They should shop around and stick to a budget.”
Rosie says she has a list of 12 companies who will keep the cost of a funeral below £1,000.
There are other ideas about keeping the funeral costs down on the Money Advice website, for example embalming isn’t necessary. Often after a death you may be feeling that you should have phoned Sally more often, or feel upset that you couldn’t manage to get to the hospital before she died. But spending a lot on a coffin won’t make these regrets go away and the people at the funeral won’t notice the difference.
If you really can’t afford the funeral
Even if you are Sally’s only surviving relative, you don’t legally have to pay for the funeral. The local council will organise a “statutory funeral” if no-one else does. They are sometimes called “pauper’s funerals” which sounds horrible and Dickensian, but they aren’t.
I went to one for an old lady that had lived near me who had no relatives in this country. It was a Church of England ceremony because she was a Christian and perfectly nice. The only way you might have guessed this funeral wasn’t a “normal” one was because there were only half a dozen mourners and no family present. And the comments in this article on “funeral poverty” are similar:
“It was a lovely service,” she says. “We had Celine Dion and Leona Lewis. I’d spoken to the vicar all about Joe’s life and he gave a lovely eulogy. Joe would have loved it.”
Funeral Payments can help if you have a low income
If you get certain means-tested benefits such as Pension Credit, JSA, ESA or tax credits you may be able to get a Funeral Payment which will be £700 towards general funeral costs plus covering some specific items such cremation or burial fees and some travel costs. You can claim this back up to three months after the funeral. There are more details on eligibility and how to apply here.
Bereavement benefits if your partner dies
There are three types of benefits that only apply after the death of your partner:
- if you are under state retirement age, you may be able to get a £2,000 one-off Bereavement Payment;
- if you are aged between 45 and retirement age, you pay be able to get a Bereavement Allowance for a year from the death
- if you have children, you may qualify for a Widowed Parent’s Allowance until the children leave school (men can get this too, not just women)
The rules for these are complicated, but the Bereavement Service help line on 0345 606 0265 will guide you through eligibility and application. The sooner you apply the better, as some have time limits and can’t be backdated. If in doubt, make that phone call – unlike many government benefit help lines the people who answer this one are sympathetic and helpful.
(These benefits aren’t actually meant for funeral costs, they are intended to cover the fact that your partner may have been working so you have lost that income, hence the rather odd age restrictions.)
Longer term money worries
If the death has left you with big financial or housing problems, then go to your local Citizen’s Advice. They will be able to help you through what can seem like a maze – how can you apply for housing benefit if you don’t know if you are going to get a pension from Sally’s employer? if the tenancy was in Sally’s name, can you still live there? etc
CAB will also be able to help you with debt advice. You will need to focus on the priorities for your family – keeping everyone housed, fed and warm – and this may mean that there just isn’t enough money to pay your debts. If Sally died leaving debts, then if she had any assets, the debts will need to be paid. But if she had more debt than assets, then her debts do not become your responsibility, even if you were married. Don’t let pushy debt collectors tell you otherwise.