How to Use Burial Insurance to Pay for Final Expenses

A burial policy can ease the financial stress on your family when you die, but it can be pricey.
Katia Iervasi
By Katia Iervasi 
Edited by Lisa Green

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It’s not something we like to think about, but funerals can put a financial strain on families. If you're in your 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s and don’t have life insurance, a burial policy can step in to take care of that cost. A recent NerdWallet report found that covering final expenses is the most commonly selected reason Americans buy life insurance coverage.

Burial insurance is a small life insurance policy that’s meant to cover funeral and burial costs, as well as end-of-life expenses such as medical bills. Typically, these policies start at $1,000 and max out at $25,000, though a handful of insurers offer up to $50,000 in coverage. When you die, your beneficiaries can spend the money however they want.

Also known as final expense insurance, burial policies are usually open to people 50 and older. In most cases, you won’t need to take a life insurance medical exam to get coverage.

🤓Nerdy Tip

If other people rely on you financially, you may want to consider buying life insurance to replace your income before you think about covering final expenses.

Types of burial insurance

Burial insurance isn’t actually a policy — it’s a marketing term. Essentially, it’s a small whole life insurance policy that’s often sold to older customers.

There are two main types of policies: simplified issue and guaranteed issue.

Simplified issue policies provide life insurance without a medical exam, but you’ll need to fill out a health questionnaire. There are a few questions that can disqualify you, so if you use a wheelchair, reside in a nursing home, or live with a serious health condition like cancer, diabetes or heart disease, you might be denied coverage. Otherwise, there’s a solid chance you’ll be approved, even as a senior.

Guaranteed issue policies skip the medical exam and health questionnaire, and offer coverage with no questions asked. But since the insurers don’t have any information about the person they’re insuring, guaranteed issue life insurance typically costs more to compensate for the extra risk.

While you can buy a term life insurance policy to cover final expenses, it may not be the right solution. It lasts only as long as the policy term, such as 10 or 20 years, and you may live longer than that. Term life insurance is ideal for covering specific financial obligations, like the length of a mortgage, the cost of raising children or the number of years until you plan to retire.

Pros and cons of burial insurance

A final expense policy can offer peace of mind and ease the financial burden on your family while they’re grieving. And since it usually doesn’t require a medical exam, it’s a good option if you have a pre-existing condition that prevents you from getting a traditional term or whole life policy.

But burial insurance is expensive, and many policies have a two-year waiting period in the fine print. This means that if you die of natural causes within the first two years of taking out the policy, your beneficiaries won’t receive the full payout. Instead, the insurer will reimburse your loved ones for the premiums you paid, or pay out a smaller amount.

If this concerns you, take the time to compare burial insurance policies and choose one that doesn’t have a waiting period. A few major insurers do away with the waiting period for some policies, which means you’re 100% covered as soon as the policy goes into effect.

How much does burial insurance cost?

Burial insurance tends to be on the pricey side because it’s sold to older people and typically doesn’t require a medical exam — which means insurers don’t have a complete picture of the person they’re covering.

The rates go up with age, so try to buy burial insurance as soon as you know you need it.

Average monthly premiums for guaranteed issue policies

These rates are based on $10,000 of coverage.

Age at purchase

Average monthly rate — male

Average monthly rate — female













Source: Quotacy. Lowest three rates for each age and policy type averaged, as of July 13, 2022.

Average monthly premiums for simplified issue policies

These rates are based on $10,000 of coverage.

Age at purchase

Average monthly rate — male

Average monthly rate — female













Source: Quotacy. Lowest three rates for each age and policy type averaged, as of July 13, 2022.

How much burial insurance do you need?

When you’re calculating how much burial insurance to buy, think about the specific costs you want the policy to cover.

The median cost of a funeral with viewing and burial is about $7,848, according to figures from the National Funeral Directors Association for 2021, the most recent year available

National Funeral Directors Association. Statistics. Accessed Jul 13, 2022.
. The median cost with cremation is about $6,971.

Ideally, your burial insurance policy will cover all the costs you have in mind — even if you envision a lavish production with flowers, limos and catered food — so your family doesn’t have to dip into savings to pay for them.

Burial insurance vs. funeral insurance

Although they sound similar, burial insurance and funeral insurance aren’t the same. In short, the payout from burial insurance goes to your beneficiary, while the payout from funeral insurance tends to go directly to the funeral home.

Burial insurance works similarly to a standard whole life policy. When your beneficiaries receive the payout from the life insurance claim, there are no restrictions on how they can use it. Of course, you can make your wishes known, but there’s nothing in the policy that specifies how the money is spent. These policies are useful if you want your beneficiaries to have the freedom and control over how to use the proceeds.

Funeral insurance (or "pre-need life insurance”), in contrast, has a payout that is directly linked to the costs of a prearranged funeral, burial or cremation.

You typically select a funeral home, choose the details of the funeral and purchase the policy from the funeral director. In some cases, the funeral home will lock in the price of the funeral so the policy is sure to cover the cost, no matter when you die. The life insurance payout from a pre-need policy typically goes directly to the funeral home.

Pre-need life insurance is useful if you want to make sure your final wishes are carried out and that your family isn’t burdened with funeral decisions. If this interests you, contact a funeral home of your choice to see if it offers pre-need plans.

What are the alternatives to burial insurance?

A burial insurance policy is a good fit if you need only a small amount of coverage or want to bypass the medical exam. But there are other ways to cover end-of-life expenses, especially if you’re relatively healthy:

  • Term life insurance offers temporary coverage and could be a cheaper option if you’re in your 50s or 60s, healthy and willing to take a medical exam. Compared with other types of coverage, term policies typically have lower average life insurance rates.

  • Funeral insurance allows you to prepay for funeral and burial costs, so it can be a good choice for those who don’t have any other debt or expenses to take care of when they die.

  • Allocate money for your funeral or burial in your will, but be aware the funds may not be paid out to your family in time.

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Covering final expenses is one reason people get life insurance. Here are other common reasons for purchasing coverage.

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