Paying for Funerals
Who pays, and what if no-one can afford it?
Costs of the funeral
Funerals can be expensive. The cost of a basic cremation starts from $2200.00, and the cost of a basic funeral starts from $4400.00. Amongst all of the grief and loss, one of the most distressing questions can be who will pay for the funeral expenses.
The general rule is that the person who organises the funeral is responsible for paying for it. That is because when you deal with a funeral service provider, you enter into a contract. If you request the service, you are expected to pay the cost.
Usually, the costs of the funeral will be paid by the estate (the money or assets that the deceased person had at the time of their death). Also, if the deceased person left a Will, their executor (nominated in the Will) is responsible for arranging the funeral and also paying the funeral expenses.
Usually, if the deceased person had a bank account, the bank will pay the costs of the funeral of the deceased person if given a copy of the death certificate and the funeral account, even before the Supreme Court approves the Will (called a grant of probate) or appoints someone to finalise the deceased person’s affairs (called a Personal Representative).
Normally, if this process is used, the bank will draw the cheque from the deceased’s bank account payable to the funeral service provider.
If the estate does not have enough money to pay for the funeral, the person who organises the funeral will have a binding contract with the funeral service provider that they are personally responsible for paying.
If you are not sure if the deceased person had money to pay for their funeral, or if the deceased person does not have a Will, you should get legal advice before you enter into a contract for a funeral service.
Assistance with paying for a funeral
If the estate or you and your family do not have the ability to pay funeral expenses, there are some options open to you.
Centrelink have the ability to make a bereavement payment. The payment is made to the spouse or de facto partner of the deceased (including a same sex partner), or a carer who looked after the deceased. The amount of bereavement payment depends on the type of benefit that you and the deceased received. You might receive these payments as a one off payment or as fortnightly instalments, depending on the circumstances.
Contact Centrelink on 13 10 21 for more information.
Payment for funeral expenses can be made to a family member(s) of a person who was the victim of a homicide. The amount paid cannot be more than $8,000.00.
Payment can be made directly to the funeral service provider.
Contact Victims Services on (02) 8688 5511 or 1800 633 063 (Freecall) or email to: for more information.
If the deceased person was a war veteran or if they were the dependant of a person killed during war service, the Department of Veterans Affairs may be able to pay part of the funeral costs in some circumstances. A Veterans Affairs funeral benefit is a one-off payment, not more than $2,000 to assist with the funeral costs of an eligible veteran or dependant and may also assist with the costs of transporting the veteran’s body from the place of death to the normal place of residence.
To be eligible, the deceased person has to be an Australian veteran who, at the time of death:
was receiving Special rate (T&PI) disability pension; or
was receiving Extreme Disablement Adjustment (EDA) rate pension; or
was receiving disability pension plus an allowance as a multiple amputee; or
a former prisoner of war;
A funeral benefit might also be payable for Australian veterans and former members who died:
from an accepted service-related disability; or
in needy circumstances; or
in an institution (including a hospital or nursing home); or
travelling to or from an institution; or
after discharge from an institution in which the veteran had received treatment for a terminal illness; or
while being treated at home for a terminal illness.
A funeral benefit may be payable where a war widow(er), wholly dependent partner, child under 16 or full time student under 25 dies in severe financial need. Applications must be made within 12 months of the dependant’s death.
Contact the Department of Veterans Affairs on 133 254.
Other sources of help for funeral costs might be:
The deceased’s employer or Union may have a scheme to assist families of deceased workers. You should contact the deceased person’s employer, and also their Union (if they were a union member).
The deceased’s insurer, if the person died of an injury covered by their insurance.
What if no-one can afford to pay for the funeral?
If you can’t afford to pay for a funeral, don’t organise it.
If you do organise the funeral you will be required to pay the costs of the funeral, as you will have entered into a binding contract to pay the costs of the funeral.
Depending on how and where the person dies, there are a number of people who can assist with arranging and paying for the funeral if you can’t.
Situation: The deceased person has died in a public hospital, State Government nursing home, or other facility under the control of a public health organisation AND a medical practitioner has issued a death certificate
Point of contact: the Social Worker at that facility
The Social Worker is responsible to make enquiries to find relatives, friends or members of an organisation that might wish to pay for the cremation or burial of the deceased person.
If no one is able to pay for cremation or burial of the deceased person, then the Social Worker will:
Arrange for the contracted funeral director (contracted by the Area Health Service) to cremate or bury the deceased person;
Arrange for an officer of the Public Hospital, State Government Nursing Home or public health facility to attend the service; and
Arrange for the Area Health Service to pay the cost of the cremation or burial.
Situation: The deceased person is in the care of the NSW State Coroner OR a death certificate has not been issued
Point of Contact: the Police and the Coroner
If the Police decide that no one is able to pay for cremation or burial of the deceased person, then the Police will refer the matter to the Coroner.
The Coroner then issues and Order for Disposal of a Destitute Person, and requests that the Public Health Unit at the Area Health Service attends to the burial or cremation.
The Environmental Health Officer at the Area Health Service will then arrange for the burial or cremation of the deceased person, and arrange for the costs to be paid.
Usually, Police and the Area Health Service make enquiries to find relatives, friends or members of an organisation that might wish to pay for the cremation or burial of the deceased person, before arranging the burial or cremation.
Situation: The deceased person did not die in a public health facility AND has not been handed into the care of the Coroner BUT a death certificate has been issued
Point of Contact: the Police
Police are responsible for contacting the Area Health Service, which then arranges to pay the cost of cremation or burial.
The Police are responsible for:
Deciding whether to report a death to the Coroner;
Deciding if anyone is able to pay the cost of burial or cremation
Ascertaining whether the deceased person had any assets or estate from which the cost of burial or cremation could be paid;
Liaising with the Area Health Service or Coroner to start the process to finalise funeral arrangements.
Whether or not you can contribute to the cost of the funeral, bereaved relatives and friends of the deceased person should be informed of funeral arrangements by the funeral director contracted by the Area Health Service, and encouraged to attend the funeral service. Relatives and friends who wish to attend the service will be responsible for their own transportation to and from the service.
What if no-one can afford to pay for the funeral?
Where the funeral service has already happened, and persons responsible for the funeral arrangements claim financial difficulty, it is possible to ask the Area Health Service for a contribution to that cost. Chief Executive Officers of the Area Health Service have limited delegation to approve financial aid to impoverished families to assist with already incurred burial costs of deceased relatives (called an ex gratia payment).
The request is in the form of a letter asking for assistance which talks about the reason for the request.
In addition to the letter, the person asking for the payment must supply a signed statutory declaration witnessed by a Justice of the Peace, which gives:
- a complete list of the assets of the deceased;
- a complete list of assets, income, expenditure of the remaining relatives;
- a copy of the funeral director’s invoice. If the invoice has been fully paid, it would be in very exceptional circumstances that any assistance would be offered;
- a copy of the death certificate;
- details of any financial assistance provided by charities, Centrelink or any other source; and
- details of any arrangement made with the funeral director to pay off the debt.
There are limits to what a Chief Executive Officer of the Area Health Service can approve, and there is no guarantee that the entire cost will be met.
Disclaimer: This information is a general guide to the law. It should not be relied on as legal advice. If you have a specific legal problem you should consult a lawyer.
It applies to people who live in, or are affected by, the law as it applies in NSW, Australia. The information contained in this publication is current at 1 January 2014.