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April 5, 2019 Beyond The Dash

Who is Legally Responsible for Funeral Costs in the US?

When the deceased left no assets

Who is Legally Responsible for Funeral Costs in the US?
When someone has died, their funeral must go ahead regardless of finances. Who will pay for expenses if the deceased had no assets? (Shutterstock)

When someone dies, there are many sudden financial responsibilities left to handle on their behalf. All final expenses are supposed to be paid out from the deceased person's estate, including the cost of the funeral, burial or cremation. But what happens when the deceased person left no assets or property to cover the costs of their own funeral?

The executor

When the deceased person has appointed an executor in their will, it becomes the executor's responsibility to ensure the funeral is planned, and that the final expenses are paid. 

The money does not come out of the executor's pocket. Typically the deceased person's assets will be turned over to the executor as a trustee of the estate for payment of legitimate expenses following the death. The executor will also ensure that the remaining assets are lawfully distributed to the beneficiaries in the will.   

The next of kin

If no such person is appointed, it falls to the closest living relative to pay for the cost of the funeral. 

What does the law say? 

Legally, the person who signs the contract with the funeral home is legally obliged to pay the bill. It's prudent to ensure that the executor or estate will reimburse you for the costs before signing for the funeral service. 

When no funds are available

If the estate, closest living relative and other next of kin relatives lack the funds to pay for a funeral, the person handling the death can sign a release form at the coroner's office. The form is a declaration that you are unable to afford to bury or cremate the family member. Once signed, it releases the body to the corner to handle the remains. If your family wishes to receive the ashes, a fee may be charged for their return. 

How much does a funeral cost?

The total cost of a traditional funeral ranges from $7,000 to $10,000. You can read more about this range in our article, How Much Does a Funeral Cost?

These expenses depend on the type of funeral planned, and the state where it is to be held. Some of the funeral-related expenses you can expect include the following: 

  • Funeral director

  • Ceremony

  • Gravesite

  • Burial in a cemetery

  • Headstone installation

  • Obituary

  • Transportation

Are any of the funeral costs refunded? 

In cases where a funeral home is involved, the survivors are often asked to pay the costs directly after the funeral. After that, you may be able to get reimbursement if you or your loved one meet certain criteria for Social Security death benefits. Additional help may be available if the deceased person was a veteran

The importance of a promissory note 

The person who arranges the services is asked to sign a promissory note to the funeral home. This guarantees that the due bill will be paid. Over time many morgues have adopted this policy; however, it is not mandated by law.

A final word 

Someone must take responsibility for the care of a deceased person's remains—no matter their assets when they departed this earth. Whether an executor, next of kin, or the corner pays for the service, know that your loved one will be cared for regardless of their financial situation. 

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