Funerals are expensive. The average funeral now costs £4,000 – that is an 80% increase in the last ten years.
This article looks at ways of covering all or some of the funeral costs if you have to organise a funeral.
Let’s say it’s for Sally, as I don’t want to keep writing “the deceased”.
Funeral Payments can help if you are benefits
If you get Universal Credit or some other benefits including Pension Credit, ESA or tax credits you may be able to get a Funeral Payment (also called a Funeral Expenses Payment). This will give you £1,000 towards general funeral costs and it will in addition cover some specific items such cremation or burial fees and some travel costs.
There are more details on eligibility and how to apply here.
If you have already paid for the funeral, you can claim this help up to six months after the funeral.
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.
Was there any money in Sally’s bank account?
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.
Keeping the costs down
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 do some of it 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 companies who will keep the cost of a funeral a lot lower than average.
There are other ideas about keeping the funeral costs down on the Money Helper website.
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 can’t afford the funeral
Don’t get into debt to pay for a funeral. You don’t legally have to pay for the funeral even if you are Sally’s only surviving relative.
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.”
Bereavement benefits if your partner dies
If your husband, wife or civil partner has died and was paying National Insurance contributions and you are under State Pension age, you may be able to get Bereavement Support Payments:
- if you have dependent children, you can get a £3,500 lump sum payment, then up to 18 months of £350 a month payments;
- if you don’t have dependent children, you can get a £2,500 lump sum payment then up to 18 months of £100 a month payments;
The sooner you apply the better, as you will get payments for fewer months if you wait more than three months to apply.
The Bereavement Service helpline on 0800 731 0469 will guide you through eligibility and application. If in doubt, make that phone call – unlike many government benefit helplines the people who answer this one are sympathetic and helpful.
Longer-term money worries
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.
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 Universal Credit to get help with the rent 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? What is the impact of Bereavement Support Payments on other benefits? 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 . This may mean that there just isn’t enough money left to pay your debts.