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? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question, and resolving this issue will require a close look at the estate of the deceased.
If the estate of the deceased has assets which can be used to pay for the funeral, the children of the decedent will likely not be required to contribute their own funding. Similarly, if the decedent had a life insurance policy which can cover the expenses of the funeral, children will not be forced to spend their own money.
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.
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.
Catie Watson spent three decades in the corporate world before becoming a freelance writer. She has an English degree from UC Berkeley and specializes in topics related to personal finance, careers and business.