What happens when someone dies without family?

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Who arranges a funeral if there’s no family? Who pays for the funeral if there is no family member willing to?

When someone dies and there’s no family left or the person was estranged from their family there are a few things that could happen.

In each example below, we’ll tell you what’s likely to happen and who’s responsible for paying for and organising the person’s funeral. We hope it makes your own circumstances clearer.

Example 1: The person who died organised a pre-paid funeral plan.

This means that the funeral plans and costs have been taken care of. The person who died has already paid for their own funeral. They’ve told funeral directors what they’d like and who should be invited. Some people choose to pay for their own funeral so they don’t leave any debt behind or because they don’t have any family left to organise it for them.

Example 2: The person who died was estranged from their family.

Perhaps the person who died has not been part of their family’s lives for a long time. Estranged family members may not want to pay for or be involved in any of the funeral arrangements. So who arranges the funeral if there’s no family member willing to? Does the next of kin have to pay for the funeral?

No. Family members aren’t legally required to pay for the funeral. The local authority where the person died will be responsible for organising and paying for the funeral instead. The local authority will organise what’s known as a public health funeral. This is a simple funeral that’ll cover the basics needed for a respectful send-off.

But before organising the funeral the local council will try to track down other family members to see if they’ll pay for the funeral. This is because a public health funeral is seen as a last resort. It’s only done to make sure that people who pass away without family are still taken care of and treated with respect.

Example 3: The person who died had no funeral plans in place and no family left. But they left behind some savings or belongings in their will that could help.

The local council may still be responsible for organising and paying for the funeral in this case too. If there are no family members left to make funeral arrangements the local council has a duty to do it instead.

If the person who died left any money that could cover their funeral costs the council will be able to recover this later on. Under the Public Health Act 1984 the local authority can recover funeral costs from the person’s estate as civil debt. The local authority must make this claim within 3 years of the funeral taking place.

Example 4: The person who died had no funeral plans in place and no family left. But they left a will naming a close friend as the executor of their estate.

This means that the friend they named in their will is responsible for arranging their funeral and can recover the costs from the person’s estate at a later date.

If you’re responsible for arranging someone’s funeral and worried about the costs there may be government grants or support from charities that can help.

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