Advice on asking for donations to help with funeral expenses

Q. A dear friend of mine since our high school football days recently drowned in a tragic accident, leaving a widow and three children. His wife asked me to arrange funeral services near my home. I live several states away, but my friend was born and grew up here. Is it proper to suggest that, in lieu of flowers, people send memorial contributions to the family to help pay funeral costs? The widow is not prepared for the expenses. Also, how do I tell the family to use these funds to pay for the services? As I make these arrangements, I am incurring expenses that would normally be the family’s responsibility. I’m established enough to take care of the bills, but they are an unanticipated cost. It bothers me to even mention this, knowing that the right thing is to just take care of my friend’s family. What are your thoughts?

A. This is a tough one because people can be so sensitive about financial issues in general, let alone when an unexpected death has occurred. I’d tell the wife, “I would like to ask people to send a check made out to you to help cover funeral costs, instead of buying flowers. How would you feel about that? Would it be okay?” Then see what her response is. I can visualize reactions ranging from gratitude and relief, to refusal because it would be a “handout.” If she agrees with your idea, talk to the funeral director about whether it’s appropriate to ask for such contributions in the obituary. (You can, of course, tell selected people yourself.)

Be aware, too, that there may be other financial resources available. For example, if the deceased was a veteran, the widow may be entitled to death benefits. There may be benefits from social security or from the deceased’s employer. The deceased may have had his own insurance policy. In addition, the widow may have extended family that can provide assistance.

As bills arrive for the funeral, I’d ask the widow, “How should payment be handled?” The point is you are not responsible for funeral costs. You are already spending a great deal of time and effort handling arrangements for a grief stricken, overwhelmed widow. I think most people in your shoes would feel as uncomfortable with reimbursement issues as you do. One thing is certain: You are behaving like a caring, loyal friend. The family is very lucky to have you.


If you have a question for Florence, please email her at


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 Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.  



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Comment by LDennis on September 28, 2012 at 1:29pm

 In our culture (I am African American) we always put money in a card for the immediate family- for funeral expenses etc. It doesn't matter what it pays for- that's what we do. I work for a government agency of many cultures and races and we always seem to have a problem concerning donations when someone dies, especially if they are African American. Other races seem to think it is inappropriate to put money in a card to the family. I have been asked several times (for Afr American families) what charity the family wants to donate to. I always say that we usually put money in a card to the family. Some Afr Amer families are starting to adopt the idea of donating to charities and others stick to what we are used to doing. I mistakenly put some money in a card for someone that was of another race and they were deeply offended. In their family members death notice, they didn't state anything about people making a donation to charity. They thought I was implying that they needed help with the funeral expenses ( which I did not think they did- it's just our custom). Then we also have those people that will ignore our custom and refuse to give money to the family and send the money to whatever charity they want to. I know of a personal friend who did need some help with funeral expenses and her section at work collected $500.00 which she could have used. The supervisor never asked her about the money and sent it to my friend's church without her knowledge. My friend was very upset. The money should have been given to my friend, unless she told her supervisor to donate the money elsewhere. We have also have problems where money was collected and not given to the person grieving for months after the family member's death occured. Needless to say we have many problems about this matter at work. We really need to have some Diversity Training sessions where we can talk openly about this issue and other issues that we have at work.

Comment by Berle Brereton on February 18, 2011 at 6:50pm
My girlfriend suddenly passed away last saturday February 12, 2011 she owned a hair salon business in Baltimore Maryland. Whats a good way to remember her? She was only 42 years old.
Comment by Berle Brereton on February 18, 2011 at 6:50pm
My girlfriend suddenly passed away last saturday February 12, 2011 she owned a hair salon business in Baltimore Maryland. Whats a good way to remember her? She was only 42 years old.

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