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What happens if you can't afford a funeral?

Last updated 14th July 2022

5 min read

If you’re unable to put money aside for the future, or there’s been an unexpected loss in the family, you might be wondering what happens if you can’t afford a funeral.

Bereavement is already an emotional time for friends and family. You don’t need the additional stress of worrying that you can't pay for a funeral on top of everything else.

We’ve put together this guide to support anyone who’s not sure how to pay for a burial or cremation when there’s no money to cover funeral costs.

Who pays for a funeral?

In the UK, there’s no set rule on who’s responsible for the cost of a funeral when somebody dies, so you’ll need to find out a little information first.

The deceased may have already paid for their chosen arrangements with a funeral plan or life insurance, or left a certain amount in their estate to cover the costs. If this is the case, the executor of the estate can use this money to pay for the funeral.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the amount left may not be enough to cover the full service, so more money could still be needed.

If no formal arrangements have been made, a family member or friend may choose to pay for the funeral. They may do this out of their own pocket, or claim the cost from the deceased’s estate if there’s enough money remaining.

You can read more detailed information on this topic in our article Who pays for a funeral?

Search for the deceased's funeral plans

If you have access to their home, personal documents or email account, check whether the deceased has already made any plans for their funeral.

This could be records of payments paid into a funeral plan or insurance policy, or it may be mentioned in their Will.

If you don’t have any detailed information but have found details of the policy provider, you can try calling them to see if they can help.

A funeral can be paid for from the bank account of the person who died

Providing there are enough funds in it, you may be able to pay for the funeral from the deceased’s bank account.

You don’t have to be the executor or administrator of the estate to do this, although you may need their help if the account has been frozen.

Even if you’re already able to access the deceased’s bank account (for example, if you have their debit card and PIN or know their online banking login information), you may need to get written approval from the bank before withdrawing any funds. After this, the bank may also be able to transfer the money from the deceased’s account directly to the funeral provider on your behalf.

What documents do I need to do this?

To access money from the deceased's bank account to pay for their funeral, you usually need:

  • A copy of the death certificate
  • A funeral director's invoice with your name on it
  • Proof of your identity

It's always worth double checking with the bank to make sure you've got everything you need before you start.

You can claim the funeral costs back from their estate

Perhaps you’re able to temporarily cover the cost of the funeral, either with your own money, on a credit card, or by taking out a loan. In which case, you can claim some or all of the costs back from the estate of the deceased.

It’s best to find out the value of the estate before proceeding with this option, in case there isn’t enough money to cover what you’ve already paid out.

The executor or administrator of the estate can tell you what will be left after any secured debts (such as a mortgage) have been repaid. This will help you to decide what type of funeral you can afford.

How to pay for a funeral with no money

What if you can’t afford a funeral? If there is no money available to pay for the funeral, there are some options to provide financial support.

As well as the options mentioned below, you can read our guide to getting help with funeral costs to find more ways to get support.

Funeral Expenses Payment

If you receive certain benefits( opens in a new tab) and need to arrange a funeral, you can apply for a Funeral Expenses Payment( opens in a new tab) grant from the government.

This can help to cover some or all of the costs for:

  • Burial fees for a particular plot
  • Cremation fees and the doctor's certificate
  • Travel to arrange or attend the funeral
  • Moving the body more than 50 miles within the UK
  • Death certificates and other documents
  • Up to £1,000 for other funeral expenses, such as flowers or funeral director's fees

You can apply for the grant if you have already paid for the funeral and it took place within the past six months, in which case the money will be paid into your bank account. If you haven’t paid for the funeral yet, the money will be sent to the funeral director.

Children's Funeral Fund for England

The Children’s Funeral Fund for England( opens in a new tab) provides support for the funeral costs for a child under 18, or a baby stillborn after the 24th week of pregnancy.

This support is not means tested, so it’s not affected by the amount of money you earn or any savings you have.

The fund can help to pay for:

  • Burial fees
  • Cremation fees and the doctor's certificate
  • Up to £300 for a coffin, shroud or casket

The funeral director can claim for the burial or cremation fees. Any money will be paid directly to them and you should not be charged.

For other funeral expenses, such as flowers for the coffin, you need to submit a claim online( opens in a new tab). Claims must be made within six months of the funeral.

To cover any remaining costs, you may also be eligible to apply for the Funeral Expenses Payment mentioned above.

A Public Health Funeral

If there isn’t enough money in the deceased's estate, no friends or relatives are available to make arrangements, or you aren’t eligible for financial support, the local council or hospital can arrange a Public Health Funeral( opens in a new tab).

This very simple funeral is usually a cremation with a short service. Flowers, cars or funeral notices are not included.

You can attend the funeral, but the date and time is decided by the local council.

Help with preparing for funeral costs

To protect your loved ones from stress if they can’t afford to pay for your funeral, it might be worth setting up life insurance.

By paying a premium each month, you’re guaranteed a payout to put towards the cost of your funeral after you die, or a nest egg for your loved ones. So it’s peace of mind for you and your family.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed in the page are those of the authors, intended to be informative, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SunLife. See our Terms of Use for more info.