What Happens If You Can't Afford A Funeral

Elderly woman sitting anxiously on her sofa

As funeral costs continue to rise, a growing number of families are experiencing what is known as ‘funeral poverty’. According to a 2018 study by the Competition & Markets Authority, the price of saying goodbye is equal to 40% of a low-income family’s entire yearly income

The 2021 British Seniors Funeral Report places the average cost of a funeral at an estimated £5,631 with a significant chunk of this cost being spent on discretionary items like flowers, catering and memorials. Could your family pull together that much money on short notice if you were to die unexpectedly?

The report shows that those closest to the deceased frequently contribute to costs for flowers, the coffin or urn, catering hearses and transport among other things.

Sadly, in many cases, we’re not financially prepared for the sudden loss of a relative. But what happens if you die and your family can’t afford to pay for your funeral? 

Your money is used to pay for your funeral

According to the UK Government, funeral payments cannot be deducted from a house or any personal items you have left to your surviving partner - they are instead deducted from bank accounts and savings. When we die, our family can request to have our assets released from the bank. Assuming you don’t have any outstanding debts, this money can be used to pay for funeral expenses. 

Local authority funeral

If you haven’t left any available funds and your family simply cannot access thousands of pounds at short notice, there is another option. Your family can sign away the responsibility of your body to the council. After providing a written statement disclaiming responsibility of the deceased, the relevant local council will then provide what is known as a public health funeral or local authority funeral.

How does a public health funeral work?

You see, when someone dies alone, dies in state care, dies in poverty or a deceased individual goes unclaimed by friends or relatives, they’re entitled to a local authority funeral. This kind of funeral is commonly referred to as a ‘pauper’s funeral’. These days fewer people are using this expression since it can be demeaning to those who are laid to rest in such a way. 

Once the responsibility of the deceased has been signed over, the council will take over. They will provide a coffin and place the deceased under the care of a funeral director. The funeral director will assist with arranging a simple but dignified burial or more commonly, a cremation.

What happens after signing away the responsibility of the deceased?

Unfortunately, there are restrictions when it comes to this kind of funeral. For instance, you cannot choose the funeral director. The local authority will hold a short service, but they will decide on the time and date. Often months pass before the service takes place which can be distressing for families. 

There are no flowers, or memorials and no viewings or any of the standard funeral traditions. The deceased in many cases will be cremated or buried in an unmarked grave that could potentially be shared with others. Unless of course they previously bought a plot, or they have the right to be buried in a family plot.

While some are perfectly content with having a public health funeral, and some are happy to have no funeral at all, many families run themselves into debt trying to avoid this situation. 

A meaningful send-off

We would all like to have a say in how we bid farewell to the ones we love most. Unfortunately giving someone the funeral they deserve is sometimes beyond our reach financially. Which is why it's very beneficial to look into planning your own funeral

Using life insurance to cover funeral costs

It’s possible to help your family with funeral costs by securing a life insurance policy. Over 50 Life insurance helps protect your family financially at the time of your death. We all want to give our loved ones the send-off they truly deserve. Life insurance can help to relieve that financial hardship and allow your family to say goodbye on their terms. 

Taking precautions

An unexpected death can be detrimental when there are no financial provisions in place. When we don’t prepare for the worst, we put those we care about at risk of debt. But not to worry, British Seniors can help you prepare. Our Over 50 Life insurance is guaranteed for any UK resident aged 50-80. That means no medical or health checks required.

You might also be interested to know that British Seniors also offer a free Funeral Benefit Option. This is a free £300 contribution towards your funeral on top of your benefit amount. If you choose an unattended cremation, please note that the £300 contribution will not apply.1


An unattended cremation means any cremation where there is no funeral service, funeral procession (or other services such as family viewing, limousine(s), embalming or delivery of ashes). The cremation is arranged at a crematorium at a date and time chosen by the allocated funeral director and without anyone attending other than the funeral director’s staff.