Is there burial assistance available from the state?

Mercla asked...

My father-in-law has been told by a doctor to prepare for anything. His sons here have no money for burial costs and have no clue what that entails. In their native country the cost of burial is nowhere near what it is here. In fact the "family" owns a pine box and shroud and clean the body at the home and just leave body at the grave site and reuse the pine box and shroud for the next burial. We are basically living on one income… mine, because my husband is in school fulltime and is in a two year nursing program. Of course I can’t speak to him about this because even though he is aware of what is going on, he does not want to face losing his father. According to their beliefs, the body has to be buried right away which means that we would have to be ready (financially) for actions. With all that being said, I’m wondering if the state has any provisions for people who cannot afford a burial. I would like to know this now and sort it out somehow because my husband and brother-in-law will be in no position to do this.

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

You are wise to plan ahead—and at least be able to offer the best information available to your husband and his family when the time comes.

All states--and many counties and municipalities--run programs that offer financial benefits for funerals, burials, and cremation to families that have limited funds. Unfortunately, there is no good central resource that tracks all of them--and what is available varies widely, depending on where you live.

If your father-in-law is receiving some type of public assistance, the family should first contact that agency. Otherwise, the best way to find out about the specific benefits offered in a particular locale is to do an Internet search of the state plus the county plus the words "burial assistance." It is often the counties that have the most targeted funds available.

To secure any of the benefits, survivors have to fill out an application that the state or county agency will provide, usually including a brief listing of available cash, property, and other resources. So it would also be wise for you to start collecting this type of information now.

Another place you might turn for good guidance is the Funeral Consumers Alliance--a nonprofit group aimed at helping consumers keep funeral costs affordable.