Destitute funerals: What happens to your body when you die with no money

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Destitute funerals, more commonly known as 'Pauper's funerals', take place regularly across the country. Source: Getty.

When you think of funerals, it’s easy to picture hordes of grieving mourners, perhaps dressed in black, laying flowers and bidding their final farewell at a church or crematorium. However, while that type of send-off may be considered the ‘norm’, it is not the reality for hundreds of Australians each year.

Funerals these days can cost anywhere between $3,000 and $12,000, with Australian Seniors’ recent Cost of Death report revealing that even a ‘basic funeral’, including only services deemed as essential, would set you back around $3,000 for cremations and $8,000 for burials.

While most people plan their funerals ahead of time and clearly spell out their wishes to loved ones, not everyone does so, which can leave relatives struggling to cover the cost of the service. Whereas others may die alone, leaving behind no loved ones to carry out their wishes, or cash to pay for them to be laid to rest.

In these cases, the deceased are given what is known as a destitute funeral, usually funded by the local authority, depending which state or territory they resided in at the time of their death. Or, in instances where the deceased do have surviving relatives but they cannot afford the burial or cremation costs, financial assistance may also be given.

In New South Wales, someone who has died destitute – meaning they have no money, assets and no next of kin who are able to pay for their funeral – can have their burial or cremation paid for by the local area or public health service. According to the policy, the “preferred form of disposal is cremation”, unless there is an objection set out in the deceased’s will.

Also, in cases where families have already arranged and held a funeral for a departed loved one, despite being in financial strife, they can apply to the Area Health Service for an ex-gratia contribution towards the costs.

Struggling families of those who die in similar circumstances in Queensland may be able to access assistance for a simple burial or cremation via the Department of Justice & Attorney-General, provided they have not begun making arrangements and their loved one passed away within the state, with no assets to their name.

Low income families in the NT can make an application to the Indigent Persons Funeral Scheme – managed by the Coroner’s Office. While anyone who dies with no money and unclaimed by relatives in Tasmania will be eligible for an Essential Care Funeral Package funded by the state government.

Destitute funerals in WA are covered by the Department of Communities’ Bereavement Assistance Program. According to the department’s website, the deceased and their relatives are income and assets tested to determine if they have sufficient means to fund or borrow for the funeral. Should their application be successful, the program can fund the likes of; a hearse, coffin, cremation, storage of bodies and the attendance of a Minister.

In Victoria however, a state-funded ‘pauper’s burial’ is not the only option for people with limited means, as support is also available from non-profit charity Bereavement Assistance who can help cover the costs of a dignified funeral service.

State program Funeral AssistanceSA is available to those who meet the eligibility requirements in South Australia, as long as the deceased’s estate does not exceed the value of $3,000. While their immediate relatives must also have access to funds totalling less than $3,000, among other criteria.

Whereas families who have already planned a funeral, but have not yet settled their bill with the funeral director, may be eligible for a grant of up to $625.

Anyone who is struggling to pay for the funeral of a loved one, or would like advice about planning their own, can also access the Federal Government’s free and independent Financial Information Service.

Have you given any thought to what you’d like your funeral to be like? Are you surprised by how costly burials and cremations are?

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and for information purposes only. It does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It is not financial product advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any financial decision you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from an independent licensed financial services professional.

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