Who's Responsible for Paying for a Funeral?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Who's responsible for paying for a funeral?

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com 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.

Final expenses, including the costs of a funeral and burial or cremation, are generally paid out of the estate of the person who died -- if there's enough money and property of value to cover the bill.

If a funeral home is involved, survivors are often asked to pay its costs before or soon after goods and services are provided; then those costs are reimbursed to them from the estate. A possible additional twist:

The person who arranges the services may be asked to sign a promissory note to the funeral home personally guaranteeing any unpaid portion of the bill. No law requires this, but many mortuaries have adopted the policy -- and consumers are free to negotiate the terms or seek out another provider that doesn't demand the guarantee.

If an estate is insufficient to cover the costs of final expenses, there may be other sources that can provide help.

  • The Social Security Administration may make a payment of $255 to help cover final expenses if the deceased or family members meet eligibility requirements.

  • The local funeral or memorial society -- a nonprofit group devoted to protecting consumers' rights and keeping down funeral costs -- may provide inexpensive options and information on payment assistance. The Funeral Consumers Alliance maintains a listing of local groups.

  • If the deceased was a veteran, some burial and memorial benefits may be available through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

  • Finally, most counties will pick up the costs when a person doesn't have the money or means to defray funeral expenses, and his or her relatives or friends are unable or unwilling to pay. Check with the local county treasurer's office for details.