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Hospice Provider Guide: Burial Assistance for Low-Income and Uninsured

About 1.7 million patients enter hospice care each year. Most patients have costs covered by Medicare, Medicaid, the Veteran’s Health Administration, or private health insurance. However, there are a significant number of patients who need hospice care as they get ready for the end of life but are uninsured or fall below poverty levels for income. For these patients, worrying about finances can take a toll.

As hospice teams work to care for patients and their families, questions often arise about other available services, what happens to their loved ones when they pass, and the costs. We have assembled this comprehensive guide to help hospice workers stay up-to-date on state help with funeral costs, burial assistance for the uninsured and low-income, costs of cremation vs burial, and other options such as whole body donation.

Burial Assistance for the Uninsured and Low Income

Several options through federal, state, and local governments may help with burial assistance for low-income or uninsured individuals.

Social Security Administration (SSA)

The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides a one-time death benefit of $255 for surviving spouses or families of workers. This benefit is available regardless of income as long as the patient has worked the required number of hours to be eligible for the benefit.

Contact: Social Security Administration

The Department of Veterans Affairs

For veterans of military service, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) A offers several types of financial assistance. Levels of aid will vary depending on veteran status, ranging from $300 to $796. The VA may also assist with plot internment.

The VA does not pay upfront. Instead, it provides reimbursements for costs that families pay. In some cases, reimbursements can take up to six months to be processed.

Contact: Veterans Administration


Medicaid is a federal program that is managed at the state level. Medicaid does not provide funding or burial assistance for uninsured or low-income individuals. However, Medicaid offers a program where individuals can direct part of their payments to prepay for burial and funeral services. Hospice teams should check to see whether a patient has used this program.

Contact: State Medicaid office

Bureau of Indian Affairs

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) provides one-time payments of up to $2,500 towards burial or funeral expenses for members of a federally-recognized tribe. BIA provides payments directly to mortuaries and not to individuals. Payments are made for indigent individuals.

Contact: Bureau of Indian Affairs

State Programs

Most locations do not provide state help with funeral costs, but there are often county programs and local jurisdictions that do. There are also indigent burial programs at the county level for those who cannot afford burial or cremation.

Typically, families must be at or below the current federal poverty income guidelines, have limited assets, and provide proof of financial need to receive assistance or no-cost cremation. However, those not meeting the guidelines may still qualify for low-cost cremation in many areas of the country through private grants and charitable organizations.

Contact: Local coroner’s office or local funeral homes

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Other Types of Aid for Burial Assistance for Uninsured or Low-Income Individuals

Other places to check for potential assistance include:

  • Community organizations: Religious organizations and local nonprofits may be sources to help with burial or cremation costs and provide other levels of support to uninsured or low-income families.
    Contact: Local organizations or call the 2-1-1 hotline
  • Memorial societies: All but a handful of states have memorial societies that may help with funeral costs. The Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) is a nonprofit organization that can help locate a memorial society.
    Contact: Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA)
  • Funeral Homes: Some provide discounted or low-cost services for those in need or may have connections with local help groups.
    Contact: Local funeral homes
  • Crime Victims: Nearly every state provides financial assistance for victims of a crime that leads to death. While this is rare in hospice settings, it may be an option under certain circumstances.
    Contact: Local police departments or state Crime Victim Compensation Boards
  • Disasters Victims: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also assists uninsured and low-income individuals if their death resulted in conjunction with a natural disaster.
    Contact: FEMA

You can also contact the United Way help hotline by dialing 2-1-1 and asking about other programs available in your area.

Whole Body Donation

Another option hospice workers may want to suggest to families is whole-body donation. Beyond organ donation, body donations provide valuable human tissue to help in drug and device research and development, education and training of physicians and surgeons, and advancing medical research.

When you donate a body to science with United Tissue Network, UTN pays for all expenses, including transporting the body and cremation. Cremated remains are available for pickup.

Contact: United Tissue Network in Arizona or Florida.

Donor Service coordinators are available to walk you through the process and answer all of your questions.

How to Donate Your Body to Science

Family members of hospice patients in Arizona or Florida can register individuals for pre-approval at United Tissue Network. Once a patient has passed, the registration is completed along with consent forms.

United Tissue Network will handle all expenses associated with donating a body to science, transferring the body to a UTN facility, locating appropriate scientific testing facilities, research hospitals, or training facilities, and cremating the remains. UTN also works with organ donation groups to ensure all usable organs are directed to needy patients.

Hospice professionals can help families navigate donating a body to science by discussing options with family members and helping them with the registration and paperwork. When the time comes, hospice care facilities can coordinate the logistics of body donation to ease the burden on families, working with United Tissue Network to ensure remains are handled ethically and with dignity.

Body Donation Requirements

As a non-profit organization, UTN can often accept bodies that many for-profit organizations cannot. For example, upper age, cancer, and dementia patients may still qualify. In most cases, the only conditions that disqualify someone are a history of communicable diseases, such as hepatitis or HIV.

Currently, United Tissue Network accepts bodies in Arizona and Florida for individuals older than 18. The medical history of potential donors will be reviewed, and tests conducted before bodies are provided to medical groups to ensure researchers can use the tissue safely and effectively.

Cost of Cremation vs. Burial

Families needing help handling funeral costs for hospice patients need to understand the various options available. So, providing information about the cost of cremation vs. burial can help families and loved ones make a more informed decision.

How Much Do Burial Services Cost?

The average cost of burial services is nearly $8,000, according to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) survey of funeral homes, conducted a few years ago. Burial typically includes the purchase of a casket, embalming service, gravesite preparation, gravesite markers, and cemetery fees. Some cemeteries require the purchase of a vault, which can add about $1,500 to the total.

Viewings and services may be included or added at an additional cost.

How Much Does the Most Basic Cremation Cost?

Comparing the cost of cremation vs. burial, you will notice that cremation is significantly less expensive. The average cost for cremation without a service can vary between $1,500 and $7,000. Some crematoriums offer discounts for low-income families, lowering costs to about $800-$1,000. The costs vary based on how the remains are handled and whether the funeral home handles the cremation or direct through the crematorium.

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What Is the Least Expensive Way to Be Cremated?

The least expensive way to be cremated is through direct cremation. Rather than holding a viewing or funeral service, a direct cremation — also called a cremation without ceremony or unattended cremation — is a no-frills option.

What Happens to a Body if There Is No Money for a Funeral?

If no money is available for a funeral, the body is generally released to the legal coroner or medical examiner for burial or cremation. The county or city administers indigent burial service programs under the direction of the state.

In most cases, the bodies will be cremated. Receiving the ashes from loved ones after cremation may be possible by paying a small fee.

Information for Arizona Hospice Centers

For Arizona hospice centers, we have put together this guide to burial assistance for the uninsured and for low-income or indigent patients.

What Happens if You Can’t Afford Cremation in Arizona

There are a few options if you cannot afford cremation in Arizona. Maricopa Country in Arizona offers a funeral assistance program of up to $1,200 through participating funeral homes.

Contact: Maricopa County

Many funeral homes and crematories provide discounted programs for uninsured or low-income individuals. There are also indigent burial programs in each county.

Indigent Burial Programs in Arizona

For individuals and families that are unable to pay but meet eligibility for federal poverty guidelines may also qualify for indigent burial programs in Arizona under state statutes. These programs are generally administered at the county level. Depending on a family’s insurance or income, counties reserve the right to attach liens against property to recover costs.

Contact: County offices or the local coroner’s office

Arizona Indigent Burial Programs by County

Does Medicare Pay for Cremation in Arizona?

Medicare does not pay for burial or cremation in Arizona. Medicaid does not provide financial assistance for burial either.

Information for Florida Hospice Centers

Here is the information Florida hospice centers need to know about burial assistance for the uninsured and for low-income or indigent patients.

What Happens if You Can’t Afford Cremation in Florida?

There is no state help with funeral costs in Florida, but most counties and some cities have programs to help with cremation costs for those who cannot afford a private funeral. There is generally a low-cost fee if family members wish to take possession of the remains.

Many private funeral homes and crematoriums throughout Florida also offer discounted cremation services for low-income and those that meet income guidelines. For example, in Miami-Dade County, there are options for basic indigent cremation ranging from $400 to $700. Brevard County also provides up to $450 for cremation expenses for low-income residents.

There are also indigent burial programs in each county.

Contact: County offices or the local coroner’s office

Florida Indigent Burial Programs (15 Largest Counties)

For other Florida counties, visit the Florida Department of Health website for contact information.

Does Medicare Pay for Cremation in Florida?

Medicare does not pay for burial or cremation in Florida. Medicaid does not provide financial assistance for burial either.

About United Tissue Network

United Tissue Network is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to furthering medical research and education through body donation. When families donate a body to science, they get the peace of mind of knowing they are contributing to the ethical advancement of medical science while also receiving no-cost cremation services.

To discuss options for donating a body to science in Arizona or Florida for hospice patients, contact United Tissue Network or call 1-877-738-611. Donation advisors are available to answer your questions and provide the information you need.

Ready to register a loved one?

Click the link below to get started: