Money and Funeral Etiquette

When a friend or family member passes away, people tend to want to help. This might mean bringing gifts of food, ordering funeral flowers, providing emotional support, hosting out-of-town guests, or even assisting with funeral plans. Depending on how close you are to the family, any and all of these can be appropriate gestures.

However, an outright gift of money or an offer to collect donations to help pay for the funeral might not be such a good idea. While there is no question that funeral costs are a strain to most  families, this is one step you should not take without first discussing it with the family.

Money is a Sensitive Issue

Even when faced with mounting funeral bills, it can be difficult for some families to accept monetary donations to help bury a loved one. Your generous offer could be seen as intrusive, as a way to put the focus on yourself, or even as offensive. And because emotions are already running high, giving offense can only add to the family’s stress level.

This is especially true if you are unsure what the current funeral arrangements are. Perhaps the deceased had a life insurance or funeral insurance policy you were not aware of. Maybe he or she was a veteran or received Social Security, and therefore has alternate payment avenues.

If you would like to help out, the best course of action is to ask if you may write a check out to the family in lieu of the more traditional gift of funeral flowers. This gesture indicates that you intend to spend money on the deceased’s funeral in either case, and that they may choose if the money would be better spent on decorations for the funeral, or to help cover burial costs. There is no need to specify an amount—the gentle inquiry is enough. If they accept and indicate that the money is very much needed, you can then extend the request to perhaps start up a community fund on their behalf.

When You Give a Gift of Money

When you give money to a grieving family, it is important that you consider it a gift—no strings attached. Although you might want to check to make sure your funds are being used to pay for the funeral or in an otherwise fiscally responsible manner, it is considered bad etiquette to dictate the exact way the money is spent. The best course of action is to rest comfortable in the knowledge that you have done your part to ease the burden and then step away.

It is also important to note that your gift is in no way tax deductible—even if you give to a family donation fund or provide funds directly to the funeral. In terms of finances, this is considered a gift to an individual, nothing more.

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