A new way of funding public funerals
A basic funeral will cost roughly £3,700. Even a ‘no-frills’ funeral – transportation of the body, private committal at a crematorium without a minister and the return of the ashes in an urn – will cost roughly £1,000.
Our work as heir hunters brings us into contact with many people who die alone. Our job as probate genealogists is to find their next of kin, the individuals who are the rightful beneficiaries of their estate. Most of the time we are working with people who have enough money in their estate to cover funeral costs, but that isn’t always the case.
Public health funerals budget
Following a conversation I had with a council official last year, I decided to set up a fund councils and health boards could access to help them with the costs of public health funerals. Without naming names, the official told me that although it was only half-way through the year, the council had already spent its budget for public health funerals.
I asked what the next step would be, as I know how strapped for cash most local authorities are with the growing burden of social care for the elderly population. The official said to me that the council would need to ask the Government for the funds.
There is no-one else who can help, and there is tremendous pressure on local authorities to pay for the funerals. It was one of those “Aha!” moments. We had been trying to decide in which direction we should go with our corporate social responsibility policies, and we had been looking for something that related to our primary business.
When we trace the heirs to an estate, we charge the beneficiaries we find with a commission. They can choose whether they want our help or not, and if they decide to work with us, the money comes out of the estate. An heir will not end up out of pocket as a result.
We already do a lot of work with the public sector free of charge. When someone dies in their care, they often refer cases to us so the next of kin can be found. The idea of setting up a funeral fund to help with the costs of public health funerals was a natural fit with the work we do.
What the Finders International Funeral Fund offers is subsidy payments towards funeral costs.
When someone passes away with no known next of kin, councils, hospitals and others can refer these cases to Finders International, and we will trace next of kin, free of charge to the council or hospital or the referring party in all cases. As we have access to records, and years of experience of finding people very quickly we can usually find relatives within 24 hours.
These will be cases where there genuinely are no known next of kin – rather than next of kin simply refusing to pay – and Finders International will have done the research to confirm this. When we get an application for a subsidy, we will assess each case on its merits and decide whether or not to grant a payment, which could be enough to fund the funeral entirely or partially.
Where there is less than £5,000 in the deceased’s estate, we won’t seek any payment from anyone. If the estate is worth more than £5,000, we agree on a simple commission fee with the nearest relatives we trace. We receive payment from their net entitlement at the same time as they receive their money.
We transfer some of the commission we earn on these cases to our funeral fund. We also plan to raise money through various fundraising events and donate some of the proceeds to the fund. We have pledged to donate a minimum of £10,000 a year to the fund.
It is an unfortunate part of modern-day life that increasing numbers of people are dying alone. Public health funerals used to be the preserve of the homeless, but are now much more widespread. People don’t have as much disposable income, and they are living longer.
The Funeral Fund can help significantly with finance. As part of the service, we tell the deceased’s neighbours and friends about the funeral in advance in case they want to attend.
We worked on a free case for one council recently, where the person who had died was a well-respected war veteran who had no-one in touch with him at the time of his death.
When we started to publicise the case and got in touch with people, we ended up with about 150 people attending the funeral, going to an event which might otherwise have gone unmarked.
Our involvement in cases might not mean that we actually get paid for everything, but it does mean we can attract publicity and additional attendees to a funeral. It can also save the council or NHS trust involved a lot of time and, of course, provides access to our professional tracing resources.
A simple application form can be downloaded or completed online, and certain terms and conditions will apply of course, but we look forward to helping councils, hospitals and others in the future.
Daniel Curran is managing director of probate genealogists Finders International. For more information visit: www.findersinternational.co.uk
This article first featured in http://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/care/