Financing Funerals

(read time is  6 minutes )  ŠKenneth C. Lambert, 2003

What Do You Mean I Have to Have All the Money Before the Service is Scheduled?


As a general rule in sudden death situations, funeral homes do not lend money. And those who do, can be very unscrupulous (signing away the widow's home).

That seems so cruel. Why are funeral homes such jerks about this situation? You mean they would stop the funeral if they are not paid in full?

No, they would not stop the funeral, but the funeral service will not be scheduled until the service is paid in full.  If they did make the mistake of scheduling the funeral, and the family drug their feet with payment, they probably would stop the funeral.

Why?  Because the American public rips off the funeral industry on a regular basis. As several funeral providers have told me, "Once the body is in the ground and the tears stop flowing, good luck on getting your money from the family.  If they don't have it at the time of death, they aren't going to get it after the funeral.  All you will collect from the family is excuses as to why they cannot pay."

Unfortunately, the funeral director is right.  You may have a right to emergency healthcare in the United States, regardless of your ability to pay, but you do not have the right to a funeral.  And if the County has to foot the bill for the funeral, it will not be what you desire, and they will get their money or everyone in your family will have to prove they are flat broke. If you are thinking about walking away from your responsibility for paying for the funeral,  Ken's advice is:  Don't Mess with Texas.

Funding the Funeral At the Time of Death

  Just remember that as a general rule, funeral homes and cemeteries are not in the money lending business. If you have bad credit and no money, you can be in a real fix.

Several ways to pay for the funeral:

1.  Cash or Check

2.  Life Insurance Assignment

3.  Making a Loan

4.  Help from Family Members

5.  Fund Raising

6.  Charity

7.  County Burials


1. Cash or Check.  Money talks, especially cash. At the time of death is actually the best time to negotiate a funeral.  The funeral industry will tell you just the opposite. "Pre-arranged funeral plans are always best because you get discounts ahead of time." Don't fall for it. Keep in mind that you are an excellent shopper but decided even before you started shopping that you wanted to use the local funeral provider -- just don't let the local funeral provider know you are predisposed to using his establishment. Get him to match the price of his competition.  If he doesn't, head for the door and wait for his phone call.  Chances are you will not get out the door before he agrees to your terms.  After he does agree to your terms, tell him you need to think about it over lunch with your family. Let the funeral salesperson sweat it out. Then run the deal by Ken Lambert on the telephone. Ken will tell you if you have a good deal and what may be hidden to be sprung on you later.  Often funeral homes will agree to a deal and wait to spring surprises after they have the body. If you have alternatives lined up when they spring, you will catch them off guard and finalize a good deal.

Just remember it is the same routine as the car dealership, "Let me talk to my manager."  When this starts, head for the door.  And with your little pinkies pointed at the door, the salesman knows that as soon as you leave, you are probably not coming back.  Some funeral homes also have established a "no-walk policy" which means "keep the family in the funeral home at all costs, but don't let them get out the door." 

Cash and check talks. If paying by check, the check will probably have to clear the bank before the funeral service is scheduled.  Why?  Because too many families bounce checks and then can't pay because they never had the money in the first place.  If you think it is difficult for a funeral home to demand money up front, imagining the funeral home getting their money after the funeral, especially if the family discovers they could have gotten a better deal or a nicer funeral at less cost.


2.  Life Insurance Assignment. Most funeral homes and cemeteries will take a life insurance assignment, but the policy must have been in effect for over 2 years, i.e. past the contestability period.  You are going to have to prove you have the policy and the funeral home will verify it with the insurance company.  Why?  Because the funeral homes have been burned too many times.

Never volunteer that you have a life insurance policy until after you have negotiated the price of the funeral.  Then you only sign over the amount of the policy that you agreed to pay.  DO NOT JUST SIGN THE WHOLE POLICY OVER.  "Mrs. Jones, you have a $20,000 life insurance policy.  Why don't you just let us handle it all for you."  It is none of the funeral home's business how much life insurance you have or the amount of the policy.  The insurance company should be able to verify that the amount invoiced can be covered by the policy.  that is all the funeral home needs to know.

3.  Making a Loan.  Borrowing money for a funeral is a bad idea.  If you cannot pay for it now, you probably will not be able to afford it later.  Usually, the family's income is less especially if there is little life insurance and the main bread winner passed away.

Many women are turned down for funeral loans from banks simply because it is the right thing to do.  A woman on social security has no business borrowing large sums of money to pay for her husband's funeral.  There are many options on funerals that most funeral providers do not volunteer.

Negotiate and get the funeral you can afford. Don't go into debt for a funeral.  If you are in such a situation that you simply cannot afford the basics, get help from other sources. 

There are many other things in life that are much more important than paying for a funeral. Unfortunately, if it happens suddenly, families prompted by the funeral industry,  are often pressured into "doing the right thing" which translates to over-spending on the funeral.  Slow down and think.  Call Ken Lambert and bounce your ideas off him.

4.  Help from Family Members.  CAUTION! CAUTION! CAUTION!  Funeral homes are pros at the divide and conquer strategy.  They know how to smell out which family members have money and who is willing to spend it.  They also know that many family members with money have guilt feelings about not being there when they were needed.  They made a lot of money because they were busy.  The other family members, who bore the brunt of taking care of elderly parents, a handicapped sibling, etc., are often aware of their sacrifices and the sacrifices the "more rich but absent family members" did not make while their loved one was alive.  The funeral home will team up and become allies with other family members to make sure that the offending family members pay their dues when it comes to the funeral.

Do not fight or reveal family situations with the funeral home. The less they know about your family, the better. Negotiate the price, then decide how you are all going to pay for it.  If someone in the family wants to pay the whole bill, let them pay after the deal is negotiated.  If they want to throw money around, put it into something useful like a Memorial Scholarship Fund or an income trust for the survivors.

5.  Fund Raising.  You see it all the time.  Barbeque fund raiser for family who lost husband with non-working spouse with four children.  It happens and people are willing to help. But whenever possible, keep the funeral home out of it.  Funeral homes have a lot of ideas concerning fund raising.  But the intent is to get money to pay their price for the funeral.  Too often, if the price was negotiated (it wasn't) there would have been money to pay for the funeral without a fund raiser.  There are all kinds of ways to raise money for the funeral quickly.  But if you are looking for money to pay for an elderly parent's funeral, there is a large crowd of people in the boat with you.  Charities are drained and people are tired of being hit up for good causes.  Unless you have a really special need, don't expect a lot of help, especially if you are trying to raise a lot of money to pay for the funeral and especially if your tastes get more expensive as the money comes in.

6.  Charity.  Some charities do help with funeral expenses, but they are hit up from every direction.  Chances are you are going to have to prove that you are indeed needy.  If a charity is helping with expenses and the funeral home finds out too soon, the funeral provider will be less willing to negotiate or he will try to sell more expensive merchandise now that you have some money coming in.  But let's also give the funeral industry some credit.  They often help in many ways. They reduce the costs of their funerals and often work with families who have no money.  Sometimes at a clergy member's request they will do the funeral at  what appears to be cost. Too often, it appears that way but the funeral home is still making a profit.  Some funeral homes do infant graveside services at no charge.  But beware. It is a marketing game.  You get the babies, then you get the grand-parents. It is a lot tougher to negotiate when the funeral home has done you a big favor.  See the section on charities.

7.  County Burials. For families who are truly destitute, the county will do burials through their indigent burial services.  The burial is usually done in a grave space in a county run cemetery without embalming and a minimum casket.  Be very careful with this program.  Not everyone loves their departed loved ones especially if Uncle Jim was a drunk and a derelict.  Often the family says, "Let the County bury the old goat.  He is finally gone."  He may be gone, but the County will hold the body to find out if you have the resources to take care of funeral arrangements for "the old goat".  Under Texas Law, it is my understanding, that a family has the responsibility to take care of their dead whether they like it or not.  If you play games with the county, in the long run, you will spend a lot more money than if you had negotiated a funeral.  County burials are for the indigent and the truly needy, and they mean truly needy.  

There are many other ways to fund and finance a funeral.  These were just a few of the options.

ŠKenneth C. Lambert, 2003