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Can You Be Forced to Pay for a Funeral?

The financial implications of death is a tricky subject that we must all confront at some point in our lives. There are many challenges associated with the death of a relative or family member, but one of the first priorities is making funeral arrangements.

Sam Jeans
· 6 min read

The financial implications of death is a tricky subject that we must all confront at some point in our lives. There are many challenges associated with the death of a relative or family member, but one of the first priorities is making funeral arrangements.

In the UK, the cost of funerals has steadily increased. According to Age UK, the average costs of basic burial and cremation in 2019 were £4,321 and £3,266 respectively. The BBC reported that this has already risen beyond £4,400 in 2020. For comparison, according to a Sunlife report, the cost of a funeral in 2004 was just £1,920.

Costs vary with funeral director fees, optional extras taken, and also the geographical area or local authority, especially regarding the price of burial plots. Third-party costs can be considerable, especially in the case of larger funerals, taking costs beyond the £10,000 mark in some cases.

As the coronavirus pandemic persists, we can expect ongoing disruption to funerals across the UK. This will affect the availability of funerals and their associated costs. If you need to organise a funeral during the coronavirus pandemic, then please consult the necessary government resources here.

Funeral costs: a brief overview

Funeral director fees account for most of the cost of funerals. These include assistance with funeral arrangements as well as legal registration of the death and preparation of the body. Other third-party costs include those of the cremation or burial, including plots, funeral staff, and local authority fees.

Funerals do not always need to be expensive. Increasingly, low-key or minimalist funerals have become more popular featuring simple services for close family and friends only.

Paying for a funeral

Since we’re all aware of the high costs of a funeral, not knowing how to pay can cause stress and anxiety. Some life insurance plans, including over-50s life insurance plans, can help us plan our funeral costs. Pre-paid funeral plans are another method of proactively financing our funeral costs, alleviating the financial burdens caused by our death.

If a relative dies without life insurance or a pre-paid funeral plan, it is the legal right of either the executor of their estate (in the case of a will) or the next-of-kin, (where there isn’t a will), to claim any funeral costs from the estate of the deceased.

In this case, funerals are paid for by either:

  • The bank account of the deceased. Banks usually release up to £5,000 when presented with a funeral invoice from the executor of the will or next-of-kin
  • The executor or next-of-kin, who then claim the money back from the estate at a later date.

What if the costs can’t be covered?

If you can’t raise the money for a funeral through any of the above methods, nor are you able or willing to pay using your money, then you can claim for a Funeral Expenses Payment providing you receive certain benefits.

These include:

  • Income Support
  • Universal Credit
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Working Tax Credit for disabilities
  • Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Housing Benefit

A Bereavement Support Payment is also available for those that lose their husbands, wives or civil partners. Further options include applying for funeral finance and loans, charity grants, or crowdfunding.

The final option is a public health funeral. Every local authority in the UK has a statutory duty to arrange basic funerals for anyone who’s funerals are not organised or financed by anyone else.

Who is responsible for paying for a funeral?

Funeral costs are always paid from the estate of the deceased where possible.

As of October 2020, no one has a legal responsibility to pay for a funeral that:

  1. They do not want to pay for.
  2. They cannot pay for.

Even if you are named in a will or are the legal next-of-kin of someone who has just died, you are not legally obliged to act on their funeral. Financial reasons are not the only reason why this might happen; it may also be relevant when the family member is estranged from their next-of-kin or when no next-of-kin are found. Next-of-kin may also choose to denounce involvement in the funeral due to a history of abuse or neglect.

No proof or justification needs to be given. Generally, however, the council must be provided with a letter disclaiming responsibility of the deceased. The exact procedure does vary between local councils, but the bottom line is that you cannot be forced to pay for the funeral of another.

Previously, there was one exception to this. When children died under the age of 18, it was formerly their parents’ responsibility to pay for their funeral. This changed with the launch of the Children’s Funeral Fund in 2019. Parents can now claim a non-means-tested grant to cover cremation or burial costs through their funeral director, including a contribution to the cost of a coffin.

What happens when no-one pays for a funeral?

Of course, the most common scenario is that the relatives of the deceased will organise the funeral. They are entitled to use money from the estate of the deceased and can also take advantage of additional financial support where necessary. This will usually be enough to cover at least a minimalist but formal service.

However, in the case that no one wants to or can pay for the funeral, the ultimate responsibility lies with the local authorities who are obliged to organise a public health funeral. The council will always seek to claim the money for the funeral from the state of the deceased first, but if there is not enough, then they will have to organise and pay for the funeral themselves.

Public health funerals are basic and organised at the council’s discretion. They will do their best to inform any relevant family members and friends of the funeral arrangements. The council is not obliged to lay on any real form of inclusive ‘service’ at all, and it’s the responsibility of family and friends to learn of any funeral details. This does vary between councils. Generally speaking, councils are a lot more attentive to so-called ‘pauper’s funerals’ now than ever before and some level of service or arrangement is usually possible.

Summary

Funerals in the UK are an expensive ordeal, and their costs can cause stress and anxiety, especially when there is a query over who will pay and where the money will come from.

The key points are that funeral costs can always be paid from the estate of the deceased. Executors of the will nor next-of-kin are not legally obliged to pay a penny of their own money towards funeral costs, even in the case of children under 18.

When family members or executors do not want to be involved in a funeral, local authorities have a statutory obligation to provide a public health funeral. These are also called ‘pauper’s funerals’ and are quite rare. Usually, the costs of a basic service can be easily covered from the estate of the deceased or through grants and support schemes.

Sam Jeans

Sam Jeans

Sam is an experienced writer and audio producer with a passion for health, science, music and playing the drums. When he's not writing, he can often be found digging through history textbooks, scientific journals and boxes of vinyl records.
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