Even In Death, The Gimmes Are A Grave Matter

by admin on March 19, 2012

I was reading the obituary section of the newspaper today and came across something I have never seen before. After listing the deceased, his date of birth and passing, his surviving relatives and services, there was the following paragraph (names & places changed):

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Smith family, c/o Jane Smith, 20 Main Street, Any town, USA 12345

The lady who you are supposed to send the contributions to is the mother of the deceased.

Have you ever came across this or something similar? I have often seen where the family would write, “In lieu of flowers, please donate to the XYZ Society”, but never to the actual family.

I wonder if this would be considered a faux pas? I may be over-thinking it, but it seems that the family may be playing on the sympathies of the mourners to round up some cash. It does not state that the family needs help paying for the funeral cost so I wonder why they would request people to send money, to the mother, rather than flowers. Personally, I don’t think an obituary would be the place to ask for donation of any kind, much less to the family of the deceased.

I would appreciate your thoughts and the thoughts of your readers.

Yes, I’ve seen it before.   Expectations that others will fund the milestone events of one’s life is becoming a cradle to grave phenomenon.   Others are expected to financially  help us get married, enjoy a great honeymoon, warm your new house up with goodies,  have babies, host birthday parties, go on missions/volunteer trips, pay for education, and pay for a funeral.   I’m sure I missed a few in there.

The mother of the deceased is soliciting money from the community to mitigate the costs of a funeral and burial.   Granted, embalming, caskets, vaults,funeral director fees, chapel rental,  etc are very costly but there are other alternatives.   Cremation is often a fraction the cost of embalming and burial, usually between $300.00 and $1,000.00.  For those opposed to cremation, the onus is on you to prepare for your eventual death with enough life insurance or savings to cover the funeral costs so that your family is not tempted to humiliate themselves with public begging in order to properly bury you.

Addendum: To those already commenting that life insurance for minor-aged children may not be affordable, please note that Gerberlife.com offers $5,000.00 of life insurance (enough to cover funeral costs) for $3.14 a month.   Similar life insurance companies offer comparable prices.   For a 50-year old non-smoking female, burial life insurance can be as low as $10.00/month and increase each decade of age to $35.00/month at age 80.     Even young adults can acquire $5,000.00 in burial insurance for about $3.50/month.   (Good heavens, I’m beginning to sound like a life insurance commercial.)    So, for the cost of one mocha latte or a Happy Meal or 2 3-liter bottles of soda or a gallon of milk each month, burial insurance is quite affordable.    The problem is that a lack of planning creates the emergency others must bail a person or family out of.   Just like people who intuitively know there are statistically high odds of getting married yet never bother to put money aside into savings to pay for that eventuality and either go into debt or go looking to friends and family to cover the expenses.    Sadly, death is even more certain than a wedding.

{ 74 comments… read them below or add one }

MellowedOne March 20, 2012 at 8:02 am

admin, I most certainly agree that the death of a loved one brings out the true character in people. When my mother died I was primarily responsible for handling the details, including the arrangements on how my father, disabled and with Alzheimers, was going to be cared for. I saw mostly the good in people, but I also saw an ‘entitlement’ attitude emerge in some. What made it all the more shocking was that these individuals were very comfortable financially, compared with my parents meager possessions. I think ‘vultures hovering over a stripped carcass’ would be an apt description. :(

As a side note, when she died, she was cremated, and her boxed remains were buried in a plot at a National Cemetary. The plot and headstone cost nothing, as my Father is a WWII vet so he and her can be buried there for free. Still the cremation, obit, and extra copies of death certificates brought the total to about $2,000. She had life insurance..in that amount. Of course, funeral homes want payment up front, so we had to ‘pony up’ and then wait for the insurance to reimburse us.

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Elizabeth March 20, 2012 at 9:34 am

Cat, I take personal offense to your comment “You don’t need to worry about the cost of being buried. The county will see that you are buried.”

What you are saying is that I, and my neighbor, and the little old lady down the street, and the couple struggling with their student loans, will pay for the funeral, because this is exactly what happens. The ‘county’ doesn’t manufacture money – the ‘county’ takes my tax dollars to pay for those who are irresponsible in not providing for themselves or their loved ones.

Admin, please put Cat’s comment in the Gimme Pig section.

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Katie March 20, 2012 at 11:47 am

I really don’t think it’s right to judge unless we know the particular circumstances. Presumably, those people reading (and responding to) this obituary *will* know, though, and can base their decision upon that. Personally, if I was planning on sending flowers (which I would only do if it was a very close friend/relative), I would much rather know what the family wanted. Some families really appreciate flowers, others might actually need the money. Ultimately, it’s the individual’s choice whether they *want* to send money: nobody is forcing them!

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Calli Arcale March 20, 2012 at 11:56 am

Noodle — life insurance indeed does not pay for funerals (unless it’s a memorial held long after the death; that’s common in my husband’s family, which is widely distributed across the country, allowing them to gather at a time convenient to many) but it can help pay off the loans taken out to cover the expenses.

I agree that I would not put a request for funds into an obit, unless it is a request for charitable memorials, although even then I might be hesitant — it has too much of the flavor of asking for something on behalf of someone you may not know as well as you think, and you cannot clarify on account of being dead. And it has happened where families have requested donations to a charity which the deceased either didn’t care about or actively opposed. A better thing might be for some member of the family to act as spokesman and agree to answer calls from people wanting to know how they can help or wanting details or to help coordinate things, and to place this information into the obit. Sometimes funeral homes will act in this function for the family, or lay members of the deceased’s religious community. This is probably a better way of doing it. After all, people wishing to pay their respects will likely have questions even if they aren’t interested in lending assistance, even if all they want is directions to the cemetery.

All that aside, though, the one time I try to avoid judging people is when they are grieving. People are not at their best when they’ve lost a loved one, especially a child or spouse; we have to expect they will make faux pas and give them a pass. Now, if we later find out that they were misappropriating money or somesuch, then you can judge away. But wait to see what their motives were. Grieving people don’t always think straight. Some of us do; I’m one of those who can compartmentalize well, so I tend to put it all aside for a while, and then have a breakdown later. But I’ve seen others who were a complete wreck. It happens. We’re not all stoics.

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Ginger G March 20, 2012 at 12:02 pm

“I never understood the “Life Insurance to Cover a Funeral” thing. When my parents died, the life insurance didn’t pay out until death certificates were sent in. In my mother’s case, she died in August and I didn’t have the death certificate until November. Both times, the life insurance didn’t pay out until the funeral was long over with.”

I used to work for a life insurance company and was often contacted by funeral homes to see if the deceased’s life insurance benefits were “assignable”. If benefits are assignable, many funeral homes will have the policy’s beneficiary assign a portion of the benefits to be paid directly to them to cover the funeral expenses. I agree that the most considerate thing someone can do is to pre-pay for their own funeral so those left behind don’t have to deal with those issues at all.

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CDM March 20, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Unfortunately, many children and young adults cannot get any life insurance coverage at any cost. I have (well, had) two children with congenital heart defects – it’s an ongoing issue on our support groups. Gerber won’t cover them (unless you send in the forms immediately upon birth and the defects aren’t diagnosed until later), no life insurer will write an individual life insurance policy for a person with a diagnosed congenital heart defect even if they have never had surgery and don’t anticipate surgery. The same is true for children and adults with many other birth defects and medical issues.

The only time they can get coverage is as an employee with employer-sponsored group life insurance coverage, or rarely when an employer-sponsored life insurance plan allows employees to buy coverage for spouses and children.

There was never any opportunity to get life insurance for my son before his death at age 11, the only reason my daughter is now covered for a minimal $10k is due to my husband’s current employer offering that benefit. His previous two employers had no such benefits for families.

“Everyone should buy life insurance” sounds good in theory, but reality is that for many, it’s not an option. Not due to lack of willingness to buy the insurance.

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Catmorland March 20, 2012 at 9:34 pm

My father died when I was 21. The onus fell on me to pay for his funeral. He didn’t have insurance and, silly me, I hadn’t insured him for his funeral, either. The upshot was that, as a poor student, I could only afford a cremation (and that was borrowed money). His three brothers and nephew turned up at the funeral and complained about me having him cremated. They hadn’t offered to contribute beforehand and didn’t reach into their pockets to help me out then.
I don’t really know what my point is here. I think I take issue with being told that people ‘should’ budget for funeral costs. Sometimes people are caught on the hop.
I do agree that asking anyone other than close family for help is a major etiquette fail.

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Kimberly March 21, 2012 at 5:20 am

Yes, I have seen this many times now. “In lieu of flowers, please send donations to ” ” in care of “. Sometimes it will say for funeral expenses, but most times now, I just see a family name.

When my dad died, my mom took his life insurance policy and they did all the paperwork. They contacted the insurance company, received their share of cremation costs and my mom was sent the difference. I think this is how most funeral homes are doing things now so that they know they are paid.

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B March 22, 2012 at 9:57 pm

I don’t see an obituary as really an ad in the newspaper begging for cash. Strangers aren’t going to give. The people that are going to give money want to honor the dead in the best way possible and maybe that’s alleviating the burden of a mourning family.

Maybe I’m sensitive because recently, my friend’s mother passed away. She fought brain cancer including removal of a tumor for the last 3 years. She actually miraculously came out of a coma but ended up passing away from another health issue that had her hospitalized. Her husband, my friend’s father, died 6 years ago after being hospitalized several times My friend is 28 with a younger and older sister. The older one was born severely mentally and physically handicapped and requires 24 hour care that her parents provided. My friend never got to finish college due to all of this although her sister did.

So yes I begrudge two girls in their twenties with a disabled sister and parents that racked up extensive medical bills the what? Maybe two grand they’ll get in “public” donations. I’ll go back to my healthy, helpful, wonderful family and judge them for daring to be so greedy as to put a line in their mother’s obituary that those wishing to honor their mother donate to the family. How a woman who spent 6 years mourning a husband, paying his medical expenses, battling brain cancer, and caring for a handicap child wasn’t better prepared is mind-boggling.

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B March 22, 2012 at 10:04 pm

I will say that although I think the admin was extremely harsh, I saw the most insane request. When I was 27, a former high school classmate’s dad died. In the obit, people were encouraged to donate to Classmate’s college fund. She was 27 and had even attended college at one point (not sure if she dropped out or failed out but it was not due to financial issues to my knowledge). That was beyond the pale to me.

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bopper March 26, 2012 at 12:48 pm

My SIL is in hospice care. She has had numerous health issues and may or may not have insurance.
At her funeral, people may send flowers. Her daughter will be the beneficiary of those flowers. But I suggested that they set up a education account for the daughter and suggest in Lieu of flowers that people could doneate to the education fund. Her duaghter will no longer have her mom to help pay for her college.

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Cat Whisperer March 31, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Admin, when my father passed away in 2009, one of his sisters took it upon herself to write an obituary that appeared in the local paper. While she did not put in anything like an appeal for donations, she did put in some things that were incorrect, but forgiveable because she didn’t know they were incorrect; and some things that were incorrect that she put in with malice aforethought, and which I am still dealing with three years on down the line. She also left out some things that I would have liked to have seen.

And she did all this without checking with me or any of my surviving siblings, and without our permission.

My point? I don’t think it’s compassionate to tar an entire family with the “gimme pig” brush for what may be the act of a single individual who acted without the knowledge or consent of other members of the family. While I could not agree with you more about death and funerals really bringing out some of the worst in people, I believe that unless there is absolute knowledge that the whole family saw and approved the obituary that started this discussion, it’s best to err on the side of compassion and assume that one member of the family did something that other members of the family might have stopped if they’d had a chance to.

When a death occurs suddenly and unexpectedly, people come together without a plan and usually with a relatively short time to put together a funeral service and burial/cremation/interral, memorial service, deal with the business side of death and everything else that happens. If you’re lucky, there’s someone who coordinates it all and nothing unrecoverable happens or fails to happen. If you’re not lucky, you have factions in the family that might take it upon themselves to act without knowledge or consent of other family members. Or people might unwittingly take bad advice from someone out in left field.

This is where I believe that compassion comes in: if a gaffe occurs, even if it’s a cringe-inducing whopper with consequences that resound for years, it’s best for all concerned to give benefit of the doubt and believe that the gaffe was forgiveable, or was at least not condoned by everyone associated with the family. Having been myself the object of some very judgemental comments from people who assumed that what my father’s sister published in the obituary was with my full knowledge and consent, I know what it’s like to receive censure for something I didn’t even know about until it was too late to stop or correct and that I had no part in enabling. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone. For that reason, I’d rather err on the side of compassion and not tar an entire family as “gimme-pigs” for what may have been the act of one, unauthorized person who overreached themselves and did something that other people are now taking heat for.

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Ladyn Godiva April 6, 2012 at 3:02 pm

I think it depends on the circumstances. When a local family of very limited means suffered a terrible tragedy, losing four children and all their worldly goods in a house fire, people in the community contributed to a fund to help with the funeral costs and to help sustain them through a terrible time. I think that’s neighborly and compassionate.
But I don’t think that a death is an occasion to collect funds for one’s own purposes.

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marcie April 6, 2012 at 8:28 pm

When my ex husband and I divorced the agreement in writing was that we each were to maintain a minimum $100,000 life insruance policy with each other as beneficiaries until both children turned 18. Well, he died unexpectedly of a heart attack three weeks ago. His parents were away for the winter which left his only brother to make his funeral arrangements. My kits asked me to go to the funeral home to help their uncle make the arrangements too. I felt it was my obligation to be there for them. I made my suggestions and helped with the obituary information as I knew more han he did. We had been married for 18 years and only divorced for a year and a half. I DID NOT sign anything at the funeral home as I was no longer married to him and had no right to. Payment was not discussed with me. Come to find out he only left a $52,000 policy!! His estate is completely insolvent!! He owed nearly $70,000 and all assets together add up to about $10,000 tops. By law the minors are allowed $30,000 off the top before creditors are paid. As I said, there is nowhere near that left. Needless to say I am now expected to use the life insurance for the funeral. This is the only thing I have to help raise ky kids!!! I am self insured for health insurance so needless to say insuring myself and two kids with a $6,000 a year deductible will cost me $12,000 a year!!!! How long do you think $52,000 is going to last?? Am I wrong to say “no” to paying for the funeral? I am sole beneficiary so legally I can’t be forced to pay. They can afford it but, they’ll expect me to do it. In essence their minor grandchildren who will get NOTHING from his estate, to pay. I just don’t know how to handle this without causing big problems!

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erica September 10, 2012 at 8:09 am

C DM – Gerber life and many other employer sponsored life insurance programs never ask any health questions at all. It is a popular misconception that those children with congenital health problems are uninsurable.
Well…not quite true. Health insurance often excludes them but the death benefit usually includes them. At least all that I have seen. This is usually only children. Not adults.

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Ash December 14, 2012 at 1:21 am

My mother did the same thing when my father passed. We called it “flower money” and it was set up in a trust fund for the three kids. Over the next ten years that money gathered a little interest and helped put me through 2 of my 4 years’ worth of university…perhaps a social faux pas at the time, but one I came to deeply appreciate when I came to the age where we needed the funds most.

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Devil's Advocate October 28, 2014 at 3:28 pm

I’m confused, there seems to be some sense here that I am responsible to budget ( or set aside) money for the chance that any of my relatives die? I see no problem (perhaps not in a newspaper) asking for a donation for funeral costs instead of flowers which don’t help the family at all.

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