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Indigent at Death: 4 Common Questions, Answered

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The average cost of a funeral is $7,848—up 6.6% from 2016. However, some families may struggle to find the means to pay for all the expenses included in a burial or cremation.

So, how does someone who may not have the funds still have funeral services planned for them? It’s likely because the state has declared the individual indigent at death.

 Generally speaking, indigent refers to someone who suffers from financial insecurity or is considered impoverished. When it comes to the deceased, someone who is indigent is unable to afford a burial or cremation.

Continue reading for answers to the four most common questions we hear as it relates to an individual’s indigency status—plus learn about Busch’s Community Care Program and if your lost loved one can qualify.

What Does Indigent at Death Mean?

When an individual is declared indigent at death, that means they have passed without leaving a determinable estate sufficient to pay part or all of the burial or cremation expenses.

The estate of the individual should include, but is not limited, to:

  • Ready availability of real or personal property owned.
  • Employment benefits.
  • Pensions.
  • Annuities.
  • Social security.
  • Unemployment compensation.
  • Inheritances.
  • Number and age of dependents.
  • Outstanding debts, obligations and liabilities.
  • Any other relevant considerations concerning the financial condition of the individual.

There are typically no funeral or memorial services included in an indigent death. However, if there are funds to pay for services, the municipality paying the bill will request those funds as reimbursement.

Who Is Responsible for Someone Indigent at Death in Ohio?

Cities, counties and states have processes in place to provide final arrangement services for people in their communities who lack financial resources.

In Ohio, the state has always had an obligation to take care of the disposition of those indigent at death. Unfortunately, this oftentimes includes those that find themselves:

  • In psychiatric hospitals.
  • In care homes.
  • In penitentiaries.
  • Homeless.

In most cases, there is no family to step in and take care of the funeral arrangements for someone who is indigent at death. Ohio’s state indigent program extends to help families on welfare or those who are considered low-income.

Note: The level and availability of indigent financial assistance for a funeral varies across the country. Some states have state-level programs and in some areas, it is managed at a county level.

How Do You Determine if Someone Is Indigent at Death?

Indigency is always determined by the municipality in which the deceased resided. In most states, it is the law director or someone in the law department that determines if a person will be cared for by the city as an indigent.

In determining if an individual is indigent at death, the state of Ohio considers the following:

  1. The ready availability of personal property of the deceased, which if sold, would provide sufficient funds for final arrangements.
  2. Any employment death benefits, pensions, annuities, social security, unemployment compensation or other financial resources available to the deceased.
  3. Inheritance, number and ages of dependents (if any), outstanding debts, obligations and liabilities.
  4. Any relevant facts concerning the financial means of the deceased.

Please keep in mind, the funeral home you are working with does not decide who is considered indigent—nor do social workers or caseworkers in hospitals and nursing homes.

At Busch, once the city in which the individual resides has approved the indigency status, we will arrange for a simple cremation and the city will compensate us with a small fee.

How Do Individuals Qualify to be Indigent at Death?

Qualification for public assistance for a funeral varies by state, and often by county. A local government entity is required to determine whether the deceased is indigent.

If the deceased was on welfare or another state assistance program, they may qualify for some financial assistance. In many instances you would need to be classed as “living below the poverty line” as your state defines it. 

As mentioned above, oftentimes individuals who are named indigent at death are those with no families or are completely homeless.

Busch’s Community Care Program

Busch offers a Community Care program that is available to anyone. However, it’s important to note that this is not the same as an indigent case.

In the case of Community Care, our staff members ask for a signed certificate from a clergy person, case worker or social worker familiar with the family who understands they are not able to pay our customary fees.

If the deceased is determined to be indigent, your local government entity must work with a licensed funeral director to provide final disposition (burial or cremation) at its expense.

Make Planning Final Arrangements Easier

Although not everyone has the means to plan a large funeral service, there are still over 125 steps that need taken to complete the process. Download our Funeral Planning Checklist for a list of items that need done and answers to some of the most common questions we hear.

Download our funeral planning checklist

Robert Solich
Robert Solich
Thirty years of experience helping people on the hardest day of their lives, and one of Busch's longest-standing staff members. Bob provides valuable guidance to families with his expertise and compassion. He serves on two non-profit boards in the greater Cleveland area, promoting healthcare and the arts. Proudly serving Busch families since 1983.

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