Too Poor to Die? Some Solutions for a Funeral

The city morgue.

The city morgue.

CNN Money today ran a report on a Detroit morgue where bodies were beginning to pile up from various results of the recession. Without jobs, people cannot afford a cremation, let alone the cost of a traditional burial. So, they leave the bodies at the city morgue, where – eventually – funds derived from various sources (including from other taxpayers) will allow the city to dispose of the human remains. The answer to these neglected remains usually means a burial in a potter’s field or cremation.

But, lack of funds is not the only reason for accumulation of cast-off bodies in larger cities. Higher crime rates, suicides and other deaths that occur as the result of lost jobs and poor outlooks to the future also add to the human cost. Detroit isn’t alone in this battle. Other large cities and regions of the country are hurting.

Representative Tom Perriello from Southside Virginia, for instance, is fighting the withholding of unemployment fund extensions in states with unemployment rates under 8.5 percent, as a statewide survey doesn’t jive with what has happened regionally during this economic downturn. While Virginia’s unemployment rate is low at 6.5 percent, there are regions in his district where unemployment ranges from 15.3 percent to 22.1 percent.

In other words, large cities and even larger regions of the country are struggling to make ends meet. When the death of a loved one occurs, that problem looms even larger for surviving family members and for local mortuaries. According to the Detroit story, one couple – the Vickers – had to leave a beloved aunt behind until they found a resolution to their problem:

The state, however, does have some funds available to assist with burial costs. For fiscal year 2009, Michigan allocated $4.9 million for assistance, and of that, approximately $135,500 remains. Those in need of assistance can find grant applications at Michigan Department of Human Services offices, most funeral homes, and at Michigan.gov/dhs.

The Vickers did not know about the funds until CNNMoney notified them. But, fortunately, they were eventually able to scrape together the $695 and will be able to cremate their aunt with help from Social Security, social services and their aunt’s church.

The way Darrell [Vickers] sees it, the stimulus package should have helped people in situations like this, rather than to “spark the economy and sell cars. We can’t take care of our own when it comes to laying them to rest and letting them rest in peace.”

Outside of possible state funds in your area, Social Security, social services and your local church, you can opt for planning now for your funeral and using the only free option available to dispose of earthly remains – a full body donation. But, even this option is available only if you fit certain criteria (not obese, for instance) or if you make plans beforehand to choose which company or organization you’d like to use for the donation and take the time to understand their limitations and guidelines.

A full-body donation to science does not cost anything, and often the cremation is included in the services. Some companies may even offer to provide funds for a memorial service, although they cannot pay to take your body. Some institutions may not transport your body across state lines, however, so if you die in a state other than your resident state, your loved ones may need to pay for transporting your body. And, if your religious beliefs deter you from choosing this option, you cannot take advantage of the least expensive funeral option on the market today.

But, you can still plan ahead. Seek out funds available through your state or region. Talk with a funeral director to determine other options as well. If nothing else is available, then you know – at the very least – that the taxpayers will pay for your funeral if you don’t mind staying on ice for a while at your local morgue. Of course, as the deceased, you’ll never know this is your fate. But, your loved ones may suffer as a result.

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