Are Children Liable for Parents' Funeral Expenses?

by Catie Watson ; Updated June 27, 2018
Are Children Liable for Parents' Funeral Expenses?

Losing a parent can be one of the most difficult events in a person's life, and paying for a funeral can compound the challenge. Parents who want to spare their children those costs can include their funeral expenses in their estate, but are children responsible if their parents don’t plan ahead?

Paying Funeral Expenses From the Estate

Funeral expenses can be paid with assets from a deceased parent’s estate, but because of the legal process in most states, the funds will not be available right away. Since many funeral homes want payment at the time that funeral services are provided, this often means that the children or another relative will need to cover the expenses up front and then be reimbursed from the estate. If there is a funeral trust associated with the estate, then the estate executor or attorney can pay the expenses from the trust. When an estate does not have the funds to cover funeral expenses, someone will need to pay them without reimbursement.

Parents with Prepaid Funerals

Some parents who want to ease their passing for their family work with a funeral home or cemetery and make advanced payment for services. The drawbacks to prepaying for funeral expenses is that a parent may pass away in a different location or have a change of heart about final plans. Also, some unscrupulous funeral homes may come up with hidden costs that children will have to shoulder later when it’s time to conduct the funeral.

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Using Insurance for Funeral Expenses

Life insurance payments often are available before the assets from an estate and may be used to pay funeral expenses. Some parents might have burial insurance, which is a special type of policy designed to pay death-related costs. However, AARP does not recommend burial insurance since customers often pay more in premiums than the policy is worth before their survivors collect on it.

Help for Children Who Can’t Pay

If parents don’t leave an estate or other means to pay for their funeral and their surviving child or children are unable to pay, some of the expenses can be paid by the Social Security Lump-Sum Death Payment. For eligibility, the deceased parent must have earned the required number of Social Security work credits. The payment is $255 to a surviving spouse or child. If a parent was a U.S. military veteran, that parent may be able to be buried free of charge in a national cemetery or receive a payment from the Veterans Administration to be buried elsewhere.

Finally, if the children of the deceased are unwilling or unable to pay funeral costs and the estate doesn't have the assets to cover them, many counties across the country will pay at least partial final expenses. The treasurer's office in the county where the person died should be able to answer questions about that.

About the Author

Catie Watson is a California-based freelance writer and former software engineer and Disney Imagineer who covers personal finance, careers and technology for numerous websites and print publications. With degrees in English and Computer Science and a decade of professional writing experience, she makes complex topics accessible with engaging content.

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