What Happens If I Can't Afford a Funeral?

The average cost of funerals is rising steadily in the UK. Last year it was calculated that the average cost of a basic ceremony – including a funeral director, hearse, service and simple coffin - was £3,700 in the UK. In many cases, the deceased’s estate simply isn’t sufficient to cover these costs. And often there are no family members able to pay for a funeral.

Here is some information to help you understand the process if there is little or no money to cover the cost of a funeral.

Public Health Funerals

When someone dies without any money to cover funeral costs, it becomes the local council’s responsibility to cover the costs of a basic funeral.

This statutory duty was originally put in place as a Control of Disease provision under the Public Health Act 1984 and is currently estimated to cost local councils £1.7 million a year in the UK.

Social Fund Funeral Payment

In the event that the deceased is survived by close relatives or friends who are on low incomes or unable to cover the entire cost of a funeral, the Social Fund Funeral Payment is designed to subsidise funeral costs.

The fund may award up to £700 towards funeral costs, although it may be necessary to repay some or all of this fund from the deceased person’s estate if there are sufficient funds after the will has been executed.

Eligibility to receive the Funeral Payment is dependent on an individual’s relationship with the deceased, the individual’s financial situation and the size of the estate left behind.

For those eligible to receive funding for the deceased person’s funeral, they must use the payment to help with one of the following:

  • Burial fees and exclusive rights to burial in a specified plot
  • Cremation fees (including a doctor’s certificate)
  • Funeral expenses such as coffin, flowers and funeral director fees
  • Travel
  • The cost of moving the body within the UK if it is over 50 miles.

Crowdfunding funerals

Crowdfunding was once reserved for supporting start-up businesses and charity events. But in 2016, there was an explosion in the number of funerals paid for through crowdfunding. According to figures from donation and online social website, JustGiving, more than 2,000 funeral services were funded through crowdfunding between the months of January and September in 2016 – four times the number funded during the same period in 2015.

Who is responsible for handling the finances of a funeral?

The responsibility for paying the funeral costs typically falls to the executors of the will. The executors are primarily responsible for distributing the assets of an estate to the beneficiaries and covering any costs or liabilities owed by the deceased, which may include the funeral costs.

Where money has been left, the funeral bill is allocated the highest priority above all the other debts payable – except for secured loans such as a mortgage.

While the deceased person’s assets and bank accounts may be frozen following their death, banks and building societies can be asked to release sufficient funds to cover the cost of funeral arrangements.

In some instances, the deceased may have taken out a pre-paid funeral plan and have paid for their funeral in advance. This can simplify the situation for the executor and beneficiaries.

An experienced legal service provider can help guide you through the process of wills and probate, whatever the financial situation of the deceased or their family.


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