Who pays for the funeral?


- Kurt R. Nilson, Johnstown, Pennsylvania 

Contracting for Services
Unless the deceased has made funeral arrangements prior to death, the services and all associated materials must be chosen by family members or friends shortly after the death. 


A funeral and final interment must typically be resolved around one week from the date of death, which normally requires the arrangements to be made within one or two days of the person's passing.  Family members will most often meet with a funeral director the day after the death when possible. 



Being primarily concerned with the fact that life will no longer include the deceased, the people who make the burial arrangements are often experiencing heightened emotions during this time.  Under these circumstances, most people do not attend to the finer details of their actions with the same degree of attention that would otherwise be given to the same matters.


Even aside from the general emotional state that the survivors are experiencing, the actual act of making the funeral arrangements can quickly become stressful.  Comparing and selecting items like caskets and hearse services are not routine tasks; once the brochures and pamphlets start circulating for decisions, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the choices and, particularly, with the costs.  The purchaser is being presented with unfamiliar items while being asked to make almost immediate decisions.  (We all know how much a gallon of gasoline costs, but very few people know the going rate for 12 gauge copper burial vaults.)


Finally, a funeral is not the type of event that people want to appear overly frugal about. With the entire purpose of the ceremony being the honor of a loved one's life, it is difficult to refuse items that may not seem necessary, like a flower transport car.


The interaction of all these factors creates a situation that may result in an expensive contract that is signed by one family member who has not fully reviewed all of its terms.


Payment of the Contract
Funeral directors often allow a grace period of around one month to pay the funeral bill.  Just as with any other business, they will begin seeking payment once this time passes.  However, contrary to popular belief, the funeral director does not contact the estate's personal representative for payment. 



When seeking payment, the funeral director looks to the person who signed the contract on the day that the services were arranged.  Although the service bill may be submitted to and properly paid by the estate, the terms of the service contract actually obligate the signer to pay the funeral director


In many cases, the bill is paid before the estate is opened and before any of the deceased's assets are transferred to an estate account.  When this is done the paid receipt is simply submitted for reimbursement once the estate is opened.


Reimbursement and Insolvency
Funeral expenses are a priority obligation that will be paid prior to most other estate debts, which typically assures repayment to the family member who satisfies the funeral bill.  However, when estate assets are insufficient to repay the entire costs, the estate will only repay the expenses that it can reasonably afford. 


Although the estate will make a repayment to the fullest extent possible, neither the estate, nor the personal representative are obligated to seek funds beyond the estate's own assets to make a full repayment.  If the estate cannot pay the full amount, the person who pays the bill is simply left to accept the amount that can be given.


In some cases, no one pays the funeral bill and the unpaid invoice is submitted directly to the personal representative for payment by the estate.  Just as with reimbursement, the estate will pay the amount owing to the fullest extent possible, but will not be obliged to seek additional funds when the estate assets are insufficient. 


Even though the invoice is submitted directly to the estate, the funeral director will seek payment directly from the person who signed the contract if the estate is unable pay the bill in full.


By signing the contract when the funeral services were arranged, that person agreed to make full payment for those services and has a legal obligation to do so.  Failure to satisfy this obligation has the same consequences that come with a failure to pay any other personal obligations.


Family Obligation
It would not be uncommon for someone to expect similarly situated family members to share in these expenses, once the signer learns of his or her individual liability.  For instance, the one child who signs the contract may later ask the deceased's other children to contribute towards the unpaid portion of the bill.


Unfortunately, without a separate agreement between them, those other family members are not indebted to the funeral service providers or the signing family member.


The signer may not have fully appreciated the obligation that was being accepted at the time, but will still be solely liable to the funeral director and other service providers for the payment of all amounts that are not paid by the estate.

See Also: Are family members required to pay the deceased's unsecured debts? and Does a mortgage need paid after death?

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