In strained economic times, it’s not uncommon for families to find that they have no money to pay for an unexpected funeral. The death care industry is a notoriously expensive one, and if you don’t have disposable income or advance funeral plans, being hit with a several thousand dollar funeral bill might be more than you can handle.
Fortunately, programs do exist to help bury a loved one even if you don’t have enough money to cover funeral costs. In most cases, you will need to provide proof of income or extenuating circumstances in order to qualify.
Indigent Burial Options
The term used when you can’t cover funeral costs and rely on state or county programs to help you out is “indigent burial.” Although it’s not the nicest term to use in referring to this kind of burial, the concept has been around for as long as funerals have been taking place. Because it’s impossible for an entire society to be affluent enough to cover the cost of every burial, it has always been necessary to have some government-sponsored assistance when it comes to funeral planning.
In order to qualify for indigent burial, however, both the deceased and the next of kin must qualify. There is also a fairly lengthy process of paperwork and legal formalities to wade through. Every county runs a little differently, but here is a general overview of the steps involved
1) Contact the county officials. There is almost always a special department that handles this kind of situation. The coroner or local funeral homes should be able to point you in the right direction.
2) Fill out an application. You’ll be asked to provide basic information like name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, and other contact info. You might also be asked to provide some financial documentation like tax records.
3) Wait for approval. Because the process of funeral planning must move swiftly, you can expect your paperwork to go through fairly quickly.
4) Allow others to make decisions for you. This is one of the most difficult parts of this kind of burial. Because you aren’t paying for the funeral yourself, you release all rights to the county. Although you may be able to choose between burial or cremation, they will select the funeral home, burial plot, and grave marker. You most likely won’t get to view the body before it is buried, and a funeral service will not be held.
Because counties and funeral homes work together to make indigent burials possible, they are dependent on public funds. Unfortunately, government offices are just as short of money these days as people are.
In order to defray these costs, some counties are turning to alternative options. These include donating bodies to science, raising death certificate fees to offset costs, pushing cremation over burial, and relying on funeral homes to provide discounts.
How to Avoid County Burial
If the idea of losing control over a loved one’s burial is one that doesn’t appeal to you, it’s important to take the necessary financial steps now—well before death occurs. In addition to setting aside money for a funeral, you can purchase fairly inexpensive funeral insurance, pre-pay for an entire service, or talk to a funeral home about other advance arrangements.
Thanks to options in green funerals, direct burials, and cremation, funding a funeral doesn’t have to be expensive. With the right planning and time on your side, you can avoid much of the heartache and trouble associated with government-assisted burial.