The question of who pays for a funeral is not always easy to answer. Wills and Probate specialist Jenny Greenland considers the legal position.
Jenny is available on 01225 755656 or by completing the Contact Form below.
Who legally has to pay for a funeral?
When somebody has passed away, one of the first questions I’m often asked is who is responsible for paying for the funeral? Or, put another way, who legally has to pay for a funeral? It’s a very good question and not one that’s always easy to answer.
However, the most straightforward answer is that the deceased is responsible for paying for their funeral from the money in their estate. Indeed, funeral expenses – within reason – have priority above all other debts in the estate. The practical problem is that the moment somebody dies, their estate is frozen until probate is granted (or letters of administration if there’s no Will), which might take many weeks or months. During that time, bank accounts remain frozen (but see below), and nothing can be sold to release funds.
In most cases, the family arrange and pay for the funeral and then seek to recover the cost from the estate. The person who is immediately responsible for paying the bill is whoever arranges the funeral. In doing so, they enter a personal contractual relationship with the funeral director. Although they will be entitled to recover those costs from the estate, for the reason stated above, they may be waiting some time for reimbursement – and that’s assuming there’s sufficient money in the estate to cover the cost.
Did the deceased have a pre-paid funeral plan or funeral insurance?
Many older people are concerned that the cost of their funeral is taken care of. For that reason, they may have paid a funeral director or funeral care company up-front for a specific type of funeral. This is usually called a ‘funeral plan’. With a funeral plan, you have no choice but to use that funeral director, or possibly one from an approved list. You should always check what’s covered by the plan as they often don’t cover all the expenses.
Alternatively, the deceased may have taken out a type of insurance that pays a fixed lump sum which should cover or largely cover the cost of their funeral. Sometimes these are called an ‘over 50s plan’. With this type of cover, you can use any funeral director, but always check the lump sum amount before arranging the funeral.
Unfortunately, there is no central register to check whether the deceased had a funeral plan or insurance. Instead, you will need to search through their papers. Sometimes, they may have stored the paperwork with their Will, which may be with their solicitor or their bank.
It’s worth mentioning that some funeral plan providers have received bad publicity in recent years, with several going into administration. From 29th July 2022, funeral plan providers will need to be regulated. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has recently published a list of those providers who have been refused authorisation (or have withdrawn their applications for authorisation) to continue selling funeral plans.
Paying funeral expenses from deceased’s bank account
Although bank accounts remain frozen, many banks will release funds directly to the funeral director from the account. You will need to take a copy of the Death Certificate and the funeral account to the bank. However, you should note that there is no obligation on the bank to do this.
Funeral expenses payment
If you and the deceased are on low incomes and cannot afford to pay for the funeral, government assistance, known as a ‘funeral expenses payment’, is available if:
- you receive certain benefits or tax credits; and
- you meet specific rules on your relationship with the deceased; and
- you are arranging a funeral in the UK, the European Economic Area (EEA), or Switzerland.
Public Health Funeral
For almost 200 years, the common law in England and Wales has recognised a right to a dignified funeral. The duty to provide (and pay for) the funeral lay originally with the parish where the death occurred.
Now, local authorities have a statutory duty to arrange and pay for a funeral for a person who dies within their boundary if no other suitable arrangements can be made. If there is money in the deceased’s estate, it’s the local authority’s responsibility to recover the costs of the funeral from the estate. Needless to say, expect simplicity! You may even find that the cost of a minister or celebrant is not covered, and in some cases, mourners are not allowed to attend.
Children’s Fund Funeral
Non-means tested government help towards funeral costs may be available from the Children’s Funeral Fund for England if the funeral is for a child under 18 or a baby stillborn after the 24th week of pregnancy. The funeral must take place in England.