21 Nov 2023

What happens if you can’t afford a funeral?

If you’re worried about funeral costs, you’re certainly not alone. Amid a cost of living crisis, not to mention the rising cost of funerals, many people are finding it harder to pay for funeral expenses. In this guide we examine who pays for a funeral if there is no money and look into some of the different ways you can meet funeral costs when money is tight, whether you’re planning ahead for your own funeral or organising a loved ones.

What happens if you can’t afford a funeral?

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How much does a funeral cost?

On average, a UK funeral costs £4,450, according to independent research carried out by Legal & General in 2023. While this figure can differ depending on whether you opt for a burial or cremation, there’s no doubt that many bereaved families face significant cost pressures when organising a send-off for their loved one.

One of the cheapest options for a funeral is a direct cremation, which is where the body is collected from the mortuary and cremated without preparation, with no Funeral Director or memorial service. This costs on average around £1,400.

How do you pay for a funeral?

Given that funeral costs can be eye-watering, how do people typically meet these costs? Here are some common sources of funeral funds.

  • Funds from the estate. In theory, your loved ones could finance your funeral using money from your estate. However, this may only be possible once they have secured a Grant of Probate – which gives them permission to deal with the estate – and this can take between three months and a year to obtain. So they might need to pay for the funeral using other funds and try to claim the money back from the deceased's estate.
  • A prepaid funeral plan. Taking out a prepaid funeral plan lets you pay for your funeral in advance through monthly or one-off payments. This can be beneficial as it means you can pay for your funeral at today’s prices rather than an inflated future amount – although there may be a charge for spreading the cost over a longer period of time.
  • Over 50s Life Insurance. While the payout from this type of policy is not designed to cover all the costs of a funeral, it can help towards some of the expenses.

What if you can’t afford a funeral?

If you're arranging a funeral for someone else, some funeral providers may let you pay or the funeral in instalments, which could help you manage the costs over the longer-term. If you can’t afford the cost of a funeral, there are options you could consider, including:

  • A public health funeral
  • A Funeral Expenses Payment
  • In some cases, you can use funds from the bank account of the deceased

Later in this guide, we’ll explore these ways to pay for a funeral in more detail.

Who pays for the funeral if there is no money?

If someone dies and they left no money or funeral plan to pay for the funeral, the deceased’s family members will ordinarily foot the bill. However, if the family members are unable or unwilling to pay for the event, the local authority will be obliged to organise a public health funeral.

When do you have to pay for a funeral?

Funeral directors differ in terms of when they expect to be paid, so before you choose a provider, it’s worth checking how their payment policy works.

For example, your funeral director may ask you to pay a deposit in advance of the funeral, which gives them extra protection if your family are ultimately unable to afford it. Other funeral directors may request payment before the Grant of Probate has been confirmed. While you’re waiting for the Grant of Probate, the bank may let you access the money in the account to pay for the funeral though. And in many cases, the final bill will be sent shortly after the funeral itself.

What is a public health funeral?

A public health funeral is overseen by the council in cases where there isn’t enough money in an estate (or among family members) to pay for a funeral.

Also known as paupers funerals, these funerals are primarily designed to protect public health, and councils are legally obliged to fulfil these duties under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. The exact nature of a public health funeral can differ, as the law does not specify how councils should organise the funeral itself.

If you think you might be eligible for a local authority funeral, you can apply directly through your council.

Donate your body to medical science

You can choose to donate your body to a medical school in your local area when you pass away. This valuable gift will help teachers and students in their research and studies. You will need to make sure you have signed consent forms in place, and it’s a good idea to include your intentions in your will as consent can’t be given on your behalf after you die, even if someone has Power of Attorney.

What is a Funeral Expenses Payment?

A Funeral Expenses Payment is a government scheme that helps some people on a low income to pay for the cost of a funeral. This can include expenditure like burial fees, cremation fees and travel costs for attending the funeral. It’s available to people experiencing all kinds of bereavement. If you’re organising a funeral and receive certain benefits like Universal Credit, Housing Benefit or Income Support, you may be able to apply for a Funeral Expenses Payment.

For more information on the Funeral Expenses Payment visit GOV.UK.

How much is the Funeral Expenses Payment?

There is no defined sum of money that comprises the Funeral Expenses Payment. According to GOV.UK, the Funeral Expenses Payment “will not usually cover all of the costs of the funeral”. In addition to the main funeral costs, up to £1,000 is available for “other costs”, such as cars, coffins and flowers.

The Funeral Expenses Payment is deducted from any money you receive in the deceased person’s estate. Also, if the deceased had a prepaid funeral plan, you won’t receive any funds from the Funeral Expenses Payment that aren’t already covered by the plan. 

How to pay for a funeral from the deceased’s bank account

In order to access the bank account of a deceased person, you will first need to register the death (within 5 days in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or 8 days in Scotland) and obtain the death certificate. You will also need to apply for the Grant of Probate, or if there is no will, the ‘letters of administration’, so that you can manage the deceased’s financial affairs, including paying for a funeral. Some banks might let you access funds without the Grant of Probate, but the amount you can withdraw might be capped, unless you are a named person on a joint bank account. For more information, read our step-by-step guide on the duties of the executor of a will.

Tips for making a funeral cheaper

We’ve covered lots of information on how to pay funeral costs, but what if you still can’t afford a funeral? We hope the below tips will give you some extra financial headroom when it comes to financing a funeral.

  • Host the wake at home. If your family – or a friend or relative – are comfortable having guests round, this avoids paying the cost of hiring a venue.
  • Arrange your own catering. Funeral food doesn’t need to be fancy, so rather than hiring a caterer, your family or well-wishers could make homemade food in batches.
  • Provide your own transport. Your guests could arrive in their own vehicles to avoid the need for expensive funeral transportation.
  • Bring flowers. Professional funeral flowers can be expensive, so rather than hiring a florist, your guests could bring flowers from their garden.
  • Scatter the ashes. It may be less costly to scatter ashes over land or sea than to pay for a designated burial spot.

Read more tips on how to reduce your funeral costs from Legal & General.

How Legal & General life insurance can help you with funeral costs

No one can ever predict the future, but the cash sum from a Legal & General Over 50s Fixed Life Insurance policy could be put towards some funeral expenses.  Funeral Benefit Option can be added for no additional cost. The cash sum at time of claim would be paid straight to Dignity Funeral Limited and a Dignity Funeral Director would take care of your funeral arrangements. An extra £250 would also be provided towards funeral costs.

Find out more about our Over 50 Life Insurance

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