As funeral costs continue to rise at an alarming rate, more and more people are looking for ways to get around the sky-high prices. Many think they have found a loophole in choosing to have a ‘pauper’s funeral’. For those who don’t know, a pauper’s funeral is provided by the local council, when loved ones don’t have the finances to pay for a funeral themselves. They don’t include flowers, viewings, obituaries or hearses. Many people believe they’d be fine with this, but as Susan learnt when her friend Michelle passed away in summer, things weren’t as straight forward as they seemed. She tells us her story below.
“This summer my closest friend Michelle passed away. She had been ill for quite some time, so I knew it was coming, but it was still awful. Because she had been ill for a couple of years she had had a while to plan how she wanted to go. She’d been adamant that she didn’t want anyone else forking out for her death, so she was going to have a ‘pauper’s funeral’. At the time, I didn’t really have a clue what that meant, but Michelle said that as long as we said we couldn’t afford to pay for her funeral, the local council would look after everything. It’s true that I couldn’t afford it- I’ve just recently retired and don’t have a great pension so I didn’t have the kind of money needed to pay for a funeral spare.
So anyway I didn’t think much about it again until she died, when I realised that because I was the executor of her will that responsibility for paying for the funeral fell on me. Michelle couldn’t have kids and divorced her husband a long time ago now, so I was expecting to be in charge of it all. She’d instructed me to write to the council and tell them I would not be paying for her funeral, and asked them to provide a pauper’s funeral.
You have to sign a declaration that you refuse to arrange or pay for a funeral, which I felt a bit uncomfortable with. That was when it started to become apparent what a nightmare the whole process was going to be. Turns out you can’t even request a particular day or time that you’d like the funeral to be, and it was really hard to get information out of the council. So glad I don’t work any more or I have no idea how I’d manage to get it off work because it was quite short notice- she wanted a couple of our other friends there who struggled.
The actual day was completely miserable- the body doesn’t get transported in a hearse, just a kind of unmarked van, and there was only a short committal ceremony at the side of the grave, and then it was all over. Although I know this is what Michelle thought she wanted, I was so devastated that this was her farewell from this world. She lived life to the full and this bare-minimum funeral didn’t reflect that whatsoever. In hindsight, I would have probably ignored her wishes and at least bought some flowers or tried to have a small ceremony. It felt like I didn’t really get to give my best friend a proper good bye.
One positive to come out of the whole thing is that it made me consider my own plans. The whole experience made me 100% certain I wouldn’t be doing the same as Michelle. Instead I properly did my research, looking at everything from leaving my body to medical science to being buried under my favourite tree. I learnt that, with medical science, not all bodies actually get accepted, and apparently your body is returned to your loved ones a few years later- by which point funeral expenses will be even higher than they already are! And burying your body somewhere unusual requires a ridiculous amount of paperwork.
Instead, I settled on taking out funeral insurance. It’s a really easy way of contributing an amount of money towards your funeral to help out your loved ones when your time comes. You can pick the amount of money you’d like to give, so it could be a little contribution to cover your flowers or something, or a much bigger contribution to take care of almost all the costs. It works out as such a small amount of money a month to me, but I know it will make a massive difference to my family at the time.”