Q. My cousin just died, leaving his family high and dry. Money management wasn’t one of his talents, and he left no insurance. His wife is disabled, and their son is unemployed. Funeral expenses will more than wipe out what little savings there are. I know it’s incredibly tacky, but I think they should request monetary donations instead of flowers from people to help pay the funeral costs. Is there a tactful way to ask for money? 


There are times when etiquette is beside the point, and this sounds like one of them. Anyone who knows the family’s predicament would need a heart of stone to feel offended—especially in view of the current economy. Assuming the widow and son agree and are willing to go along with your suggestion, they can use wording such as, “The family would appreciate [or requests] donations for funeral expenses in lieu of flowers.” This statement can be included in the obituary notice and/or communicated to people privately.


However, be aware that this approach is a bit more complicated than it seems at first glance. For example, how will the donations be handled? Should checks be sent to the family’s home or somewhere else? It’s possible the donations can be sent directly to the funeral home. In any case, provide the appropriate address. Should a separate checking account be set up receive contributions? These are all issues to be considered, and the funeral home can provide information/guidance on options. Funeral homes can also suggest ways to pare costs that may not have occurred to the family.   


Another question can involve how the checks should be made out—to “Cash” or to the widow? Family fights have erupted over who gets the money, especially if someone has laid out funds for certain expenses and wants to be reimbursed first. 


Realize, too, that the family’s place of worship may be able to help with funeral expenses. It’s worth a call to the office to ask, if this hasn’t already been done. We’ve all seen campaigns by community groups and churches to raise money for funeral expenses, and it’s now easier than ever to do so. I recently saw such a request on Facebook for the funeral of a young woman.


Note, incidentally, that donations to the bereaved are not tax deductions. The IRS deems charitable contributions deductible only when made to qualified organizations, not individuals.  


If you have a question for Florence, please email her at fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.


Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.  


Image via Flickr Creative Commons / takeasmartstep.com     

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