Who Pays Your Funeral Expenses If You Die in Debt

Here lies Mozart in a pauper's graveHere’s a fun thought. Assuming you do decide to go without life insurance and when you are abruptly taken from this Earth, you leave your heirs nothing but debts and a cat and a sad looking couch. Who pays your funeral expenses? Who covers the cost of your casket, your gravestone, your embalming? That stuff is expensive, and we don’t dump burlap-shrouded bodies in unmarked paupers’ graves sprinkled with quicklime anymore, right? So what does happen?

Presumably the burden shifts to your family; but what if you have no family and/or your family can’t pay?

Well, in jolly old England, which is running out of space to bury people anyway — in London, they’re already re-opening old graves and reusing them (!) — you can opt for cremation. It’s cheaper and the Church will now help subsidize the costs.

Also in the UK, potters’ fields are making a surprising comeback. Though the preferred terminology is “Public Health Funerals,” please. 

according to a new study, paupers’ burials are making an unlikely comeback as families exploit a legal loophole to save thousands of pounds on funeral costs.

Researchers found evidence that a small but growing number of families are turning to taxpayers to meet all the costs of burying or cremating loved-ones as the “stigma” of being unable or unwilling to contribute disappears.

A Government fund provides compassionate grants known as Funeral Payments to almost 40,000 benefit dependent families a year to assist with the cost of bereavement. But under a separate provision, originally applied only in extreme cases where people died with no known relatives, local councils have a duty under public health law to dispose of bodies where no one else takes responsibility.

But researchers led by Dr Kate Woodthorpe, a sociologist at Bath, interviewed public health officials across the country who reported a discernible rise in demand for the services recently.

In Scotland, the practice is called a “council-assisted burial.” And yes, it’s very much still a thing there too.

Scottish Labour social justice spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “It is shocking that we still have pauper’s graves in 21st century Scotland – but an absolute scandal that they are on the increase.

“It is disgraceful if government policy is contributing to the growing number of people buried in unmarked graves. No economic situation – however difficult – can excuse this inhumane practice.”

When people die in penury without their funeral costs covered, local authorities will pay for a service. Costs vary from area to area.

Staff treat the dead with respect, but coffin, burial or cremation and ceremony are basic.
And councils do not pay for headstones, so many of the dead are laid to rest in unmarked graves.

How about in America? According to US News, you can pre-pay the costs, donate your body to science, or opt for cremation.

Cremation is considerably cheaper than an open funeral. The average cost, according to the Cremation Association of North America, is $1,650, which includes a memorial service. Without the memorial service, an average cremation is $725.

If worst comes to worst, your loved ones could simply not claim your body. Then what happens?

Often, unclaimed bodies are cremated by the local government and the remains are held until something can be done with them. Every year, Los Angeles holds a mass funeral for unclaimed bodies; last December, mourners, chaplains, and county officials said goodbye to 1,656 people, most of whom died in 2009. It’s also common for an unclaimed body to be offered to a medical school for research or perhaps sent to a body farm, where human decomposition is studied.

I’ve never heard the words “a body farm” before, and I weep for my lost innocence. Once I’m done crying, I guess I will go give some more serious thought to that life insurance.



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