Financial help when someone dies

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Jean Watkins, of the National Bereavement Service, outlines the help available towards post-death costs.

When someone dies, it’s often an emotional time for the families that are left behind.

This time is often made more difficult when these families are left to struggle to pay for immediate expenses, such as the funeral bill.

With rising funeral costs, it’s become common that a funeral director will ask for a payment up-front, before they agree to deal with the funeral. Surprisingly, one of the most common forms of credit card debt is post-death expenses.

Fortunately, there is help available for people who don’t readily have funds available for immediate expenses following a death.

Funeral payments

Funeral payments from the social fund exist to help people who are on certain benefits and/or are on a low income. This benefit is dependent on your circumstances, and can help towards burial or cremation expenses, such as funeral director fees, flowers and a coffin (to the cost of up to £700).

The funeral payment can be applied for to help towards the cost of the funeral, provided you are the spouse or civil partner of the person who has died; or the parent of the deceased; or a close relative or friend who is taking responsibility for the funeral. You, or the person who has died, needs to be on certain benefits in order to qualify for the payment.

To apply, the applicant needs to complete form SF200 and send it (freepost) to the Department for Work and Pensions, or submit it in person at their local Job Centre Plus Office.

Generally, this payment will need to be repaid from the deceased person’s estate, where there is an estate and sufficient assets exist within.  

The bereavement allowance

For spouses who have lost their husband, wife or civil partner, an additional source exists in the form of the bereavement allowance (previously the widow’s pension allowance). The bereavement allowance is a one-off payment to a spouse or civil partner of the deceased and is dependent on the national insurance contributions of the deceased.

For this payment, you need to be over the age of 45, under the state pension age, and for your late husband, wife or civil partner to have paid national insurance contributions, or died as a result of an industrial accident or disease. The bereavement allowance can't, however, be claimed where the surviving spouse or civil partner is bringing up children. In these circumstances, the widowed parent’s allowance can be claimed instead.

Nevertheless, in most cases, there is often sufficient money held in the estate that will be released once the grant of representation (probate) has been obtained. In these circumstances, the majority of institutions, such as banks, building societies or even pension providers, will in fact release money directly to the funeral director to cover the cost of the funeral bill before the grant has been issued by the court.

If the only asset within an estate needs to be sold, such as a property, your solicitor can ask the funeral director if they are happy to wait until the estate is in liquidity before they receive the payment of their bill. Your solicitor will then arrange payment as soon as there is money available. Often, funeral directors are happy to wait as long as they know that there is money available within the estate, which will settle their account. This, however, is not always the case, so you should check the terms given to you by your funeral director.

It is important to remember that every person’s circumstances is different, and each case is assessed on various criteria. The National Bereavement Service can guide you through the process, as well as keep you on the right track when it comes to any aspect of bereavement.

About the author

Jean Watkins is head of the National Bereavement Service, a not-for-profit organisation. Having worked in legal services for the majority of her career, she identified a gap for people who need practical advice about what to do when someone dies.

The National Bereavement Service can help anyone who needs bereavement support  from registering a death, arranging a funeral to the legal side of bereavement. Visit the website for more information, or call the helpline on 0800 0246 121.

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