What Type of Burial Assistance Does the Government Provide?

September 3, 2019

August 20, 2019 | by the National Care Planning Council

General Observations

Death and dying are issues typically overseen by the states. There are very few federal programs to help with burial as compared with numerous federal programs for eldercare. Only when death is a consequence of participation in a federal program is it covered. For example, assistance for burial is covered by Social Security, the Department of Veterans Affairs for veterans, the Department of Defense for military and some minimal support from Medicaid through Medicaid matching funds for states.

States, counties and cities themselves typically offer little assistance for burial unless the deceased is indigent and no funds can be found to pay for cremation or burial. And in many states, the only indigent people who are covered are those who die and the body remains unclaimed. In these cases, local county governments have no recourse but to cover the cost of a cremation. There are some exceptions to this general practice of no support with some states, but over the years more and more states have opted out of programs to help families with burial costs.

By and large, responsibility for funerals and burial or cremation rests with the family. It is therefore very important when planning for the final years of life to have money set aside or available for death. We will discuss below a number of community support options for those who do not prepare. In general, very few community or government assistance programs will pay for a burial. Cremation is generally the rule. A funeral service is optional for the family but typically not paid for with assistance funds.

Social Security Death Benefit

You may receive a one-time payment of $255 when a family member dies, depending on your relationship to them and how long they have worked. Generally, only surviving spouses and children of deceased workers qualify for the one-time death benefit. In addition, the deceased family member must have worked long enough to be insured under Social Security, but it doesn’t matter if they were already collecting Social Security or not.

The death benefit payment is made to the surviving spouse living with the deceased person at the time he or she passed, or if there is no surviving spouse, the payment is made to a child of the deceased person. Spouses who are not living together when one spouse dies may still receive the death benefit if they were eligible for benefits on the deceased spouse’s earnings in the month the spouse passed. If there is no surviving spouse or child who qualifies for the payment, then no payment will be made.

This is a one-time, lump sum benefit; however some survivors may qualify for a monthly benefit in addition to the one-time death benefit. You must apply for the lump-sum death benefit within two years of the family member’s death.

In addition to the one-time payment, certain family members may receive a monthly benefit for a deceased person. For widows or widowers without dependents, this amounts to receiving the larger of the two social security benefits if both were receiving benefits or receiving the deceased person’s benefits if the survivor was not receiving any. The following family members may qualify for Social Security survivor benefits:

  • a widow or widower, beginning at age 50 if disabled or 60 is not disabled;
  • a widow or widower who is caring for your child under the age of 16, regardless of the age of the widow or widower,
  • unmarried children of the deceased also qualify if they are under age 18 (or age 22 if they are disabled).
  • in some cases, even grandchildren, step children or adopted children may qualify for survivor benefits.

If you are divorced, you may qualify for survivor benefits on an ex-spouse if you were married for at least 10 years, and you are age 60 or older when your ex-spouse passes (you only need to be age 50 if you are disabled).

You should notify Social Security and apply for Social Security benefits right away after a family member has passed. To do so, you can call the Social Security Administration or visit the closest office to you. You will need to provide proof of death (death certificate or proof from a funeral home), your Social Security number and your deceased family member’s Social Security number, your birth certificate, marriage certificate if married, divorce papers if you are divorced, and income information for the deceased family member (from W-2s or income tax returns) for the most recent year

Veterans Death Benefits

These monetary benefits are for veterans who were receiving disability income from either Disability Compensation or Veterans Pension.

SERVICE CONNECTED DEATH

$2,000

NON-SERVICE CONNECTED DEATH (Reimbursement; veteran dies while hospitalized by VA)

$762.00

NON-SERVICE CONNECTED DEATH (Reimbursement for Veterans not hospitalized by VA)

$300.00

NSC DEATH STATE CEMETERY (Paid to a state veterans cemetery for the plot/burial)

$762.00

NSC DEATH PLOT ALLOWANCE (This amount will be paid to reimburse for a private-paid plot)

$762.00

A service-connected death is one where the veteran was receiving monthly payments for Disability Compensation and the death was due to the disability or condition for which the veteran was receiving pay. It is also possible to receive a service-connected death if the disability or condition was not the direct cause but the disability or condition contributed substantially to the death.

A non-service-connected death is one where the veteran was receiving monthly payments for Disability Compensation or Veterans Pension but the death was due to some other cause not related to the disabilities or conditions for which the veteran was receiving pay.

It should be noted that generally a non-service-connected death can produce $1,062 a month if the survivors have to pay for a funeral plot. Note that if the veteran died while hospitalized by VA and the survivor has to pay for a funeral plot the total amount available is $1,524.

Disaster Associated Burial Benefit

The most tragic disaster-related loss imaginable is that of a loved one. Under the Individuals and Households Program’s (IHP) Other Needs Assistance (ONA) provision, an applicant may qualify for certain eligible funeral expenses.

FEMA Funeral Assistance is provided to help with the cost of unexpected and uninsured expenses associated with the death of an immediate family member when attributed to an event that is declared to be a major disaster or emergency.

Eligible funeral expenses may include:

  • Cost of casket
  • Mortuary services
  • Transportation of the deceased and/or up to two family members into the area to identify the decedent (if required by state/local authorities)
  • Two Death Certificates
  • Burial plot
  • Interment or cremation
  • Cost of re-interment if disinterment is a) caused by the declared disaster, and b) occurs in a family cemetery on private property
  • Eligibility Criteria

Typically, federal and state personnel at the FEMA Joint Field Office review the supporting documentation from the applicant and payments are approved by the Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) or designee and his/her state counterpart.

To be eligible for funeral assistance, applicants must provide:

  • A death certificate for the decedent
  • Documentation from a designated, authoritative state or local entity (attending physician, Medical Examiner’s office, or Coroner’s Office as appropriate) that attributes death or the injury causing death to the declared emergency or major disaster
  • Proof that the applicant is the official “next of kin” as defined by the appropriate state or local authority
  • Confirmation that funeral expenses have not been paid for by other resources (Social Security and Veterans Affairs benefits, for example, would duplicate Funeral Assistance and would be subtracted from an award)
  • Evidence of an unmet funeral expense (a receipt from a service provider)
  • Ineligible Costs

Not all applicants reporting funeral expenses will be eligible for Funeral Assistance. Some common reasons for ineligibility include:

  • The death was not attributed to the declared incident
  • Funeral expenses are fully covered by other sources of assistance
  • Insufficient and/or incomplete documentation
  • If disinterment was the result of the disaster, FEMA will provide Funeral Assistance only for a disinterred coffin under the following conditions:
  • The unearthed coffin(s) were located in a family cemetery on their private property
  • The coffin(s) were removed from the ground by the declared disaster

Private Sector and Community Programs

There are a number of ways where the private sector and certain community groups or church denominations will help cover a burial and possibly a funeral.

Taxpayer Interment Benefits

Local taxpayers in many cities and counties qualify for reduced interment costs in cemeteries.

Church Members and Members of Civic Organizations Benefits

Church members and members of civic and other organizations may qualify for funeral assistance or for reduced costs. Some church denominations will also provide burial for their members in the church cemetery. This is principally for Greek Orthodox, Jewish and Catholic faiths but may include other faiths as well.

Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund

A Crime Victims’ Fund often provides funeral benefits in instances of death by a criminal act. There are many crime victim funds across the United States. Most are funded by the state or county. Ask the prosecutor’s office in your area or do a computer search using the name of your county or city and the term “crime victim fund”.

Death Benefits from Pensions, Societies and Other Organizations

Organizations affiliated with some professions, such as the Railroad Retirement Board, as well as some social groups, unions and pensions, offer allowances to defray funeral costs. Some organizations and pension funds include an automatic group life insurance policy on their members. This may include unions and other fraternal organizations as well as veterans service organizations. These may be small amounts of coverage such as $1,000, but adding up benefits from a number of sources might produce enough for a burial or cremation. Here are some examples of funds that will defray costs.

  • Workman’s compensation, if death was work-related,
  • Civil service (federal, state, county or local) retirement pension fund,
  • Federal Employees Life Insurance (Includes a lifetime benefit even after retirement)
  • Railroad fund,
  • Teacher’s fund,
  • Miner’s benefits fund,
  • Trade union fund,
  • Credit union fund,
  • Fraternal organizations fund.

Discounts or Gratis Services from Funeral Homes

For families who simply cannot come up with enough money to bury a loved one, funeral homes may be surprisingly accommodating. Even though they may not advertise it, funeral homes may offer charity for a number of people in the community when no other way to bury a loved one is possible. This might include steep discounts, extended monthly payment plans, extremely affordable economy plans and possibly even providing the burial — in this case very likely a cremation — for free.