Giving Money at a Funeral?

Updated on March 08, 2018
M.6. asks from Woodbridge, NJ
25 answers

I am just curious as to what folks feel is "tradition" regarding giving money at a funeral. Obviously, there is no right or wrong answer, but I ran into this recently was surprised and kind of wondered if it was a generational thing, a Midwest thing, or what.

My wonderful, beautiful, amazing aunt passed away not that long ago. She was a widow with 2 grown children, both married. I was somewhat aware of the financial side of things - my aunt had the funds to pay for her own final arrangements and while her kids took some time off of work, it wasn't a burden to them. My aunt didn't linger or need much in the way of care from her children prior to her dying.

My mom did a large flower arrangement with a "sister" banner, and also took care of a few of the actual arrangements for the funeral pertaining to the ashes and such. Myself/hubby and kids did a small flower arrangement and made a contribution in her name to the local shelter where she adopted her cat 17 years ago (who died just shortly before my aunt).

Interestingly, my mom's twin sister and her family all did checks/cash in cards that they gave to my aunt's sons. They were aghast that we didn't do cards and money. I was like "wait, why would I be giving them money? They are grown men (in their 50s) and Auntie had a funeral/burial plan." Their response was, "that's just what a person does when someone dies."

Maybe it is? Maybe money is an expectation that I am not aware of? My aunt didn't have a memorial specified to send money to or anything like that. I could totally see giving a monetary contribution to a family with young children whose loss would have a large monetary impact, or even if the funeral was a burden on a family of any age (man, funerals are expensive!!!). I also certainly don't begrudge those who did give money to my Aunt's boys. Really, I was just surprised by the whole money thing.

So, what are your thoughts on this?

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So What Happened?

Very interesting! It sounds like it really depends on what you grew up with or what family expectations were kind of in place. It also sounds like it may have to do with religion and/or cultural beliefs, too. As I figured, there is no "right or wrong" answer - only what people feel they want to do based on their own experiences.

Here is the kind of funny part. So my mom did the flowers/helped thing, and her TWIN is the one that was like "you HAVE to give money." So, both exposed to the same family ideals and both geographically from the same location growing up (and still today). In fact, my mom's twin (obviously my aunt, but not the one that passed) - husband passed away in 2016 and she swears that EVERYONE gave her money at the funeral. I was like "well, I didn't." She said well everyone else. I said well my mom didn't, my brother didn't (I listed like 5 people I knew hadn't). She still insists that everyone else did. So strange . . .

Thanks for answering! It is so interesting to hear about things that you just kind of assume are a certain way or not a certain way!

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J.C.

answers from Anchorage on

Giving money is usually sometime people would do for the widow because back in the day the woman usually did not work and sometimes lost the mans pension payment with his death. It could also be given to help cover funeral costs. There is no reason do give money to an adult child when he did not even pay for the funeral. In fact, that seems like a strange thing to do.

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S.B.

answers from Houston on

I have never heard of this. My mom died at the end of 2014 and we didn't have anyone give us money. We asked in lieu of flowers to please give to FTD (Frontotemporal Dementia)

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M.D.

answers from Pittsburgh on

I have only heard of this in circumstances where the cost of the funeral service was a hardship. Sending flowers or donations to charity in lieu of flowers, and bringing food for the funeral luncheon are all more common, in my experience.

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D.N.

answers from Chicago on

For my family, the whole point of the money/check is to help with the cost of the funeral and related or to help the family. As far as I can see, you did give money--the donation to the shelter in her name. My grandmother had a friend that was well off and her funeral was covered completely, with inheritance for all the grandkids. Her kids did not need money. My grandma made a donation to the church. So it is not just generational thing.

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T.S.

answers from San Francisco on

I'm from Iowa, now in CA. I'm white and of Christian upbringing, my ex husband's family is large, second/third generation immigrant and Catholic (just establishing my ethnic background/experience.)
I have NEVER heard of the expectation of giving $ at a memorial/burial. It's always been "in lieu of flowers please donate to..." If there was money to be raised to pay for final costs is was done quietly among family and friends.
I will say that last year I put $100 in a sympathy card to an old friend whose husband very suddenly died, but that was because I knew he didn't have life insurance or savings and I wanted to give her something to help.

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J.B.

answers from Boston on

I've been to a lot of funerals (some for immediate/close family members where I was privy to the planning and details) and never, ever, ever has money been exchanged that I'm aware of. By anyone. Ever. Sure, there's the "in lieu of flowers please donate to..." thing but those funds are sent directly to the charity and then the family is informed of the donation and can send a thank-you note later. And yes, there are situations where someone will set up a fund for the benefit of a deceased person's family to cover expenses, etc. But to slip cash or a check into a card like it's a gift? To me, that's really weird.

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T.H.

answers from Kansas City on

Okay, yeah that's odd. I've never heard of that either. I agree that if the family was in a serious financial burden because of the death and she DIDN'T have a burial plan that was already covered, then sure I guess I could see the exchange of money being okay, but in this situation it sounds super weird to me.

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B.C.

answers from Norfolk on

Giving money is not unheard of - however the expectation that anyone should or must give money is very unheard of.
You made a contribution in aunts name to a shelter - and you sent them a note informing them of this, right?
Also - at least in my family - if you send flowers or a fruit basket - you don't also send money.
So you did give something - just not to who they thought you should.
A death in the family can often bring out a lot of unexpected general weirdness from family members - it could be part of their grieving.

Since they are so into doing what's 'proper' - what they need to do is to send you a thank you note and acknowledge your contribution to the shelter in your aunts name and the flowers - because failing to do so is a social faux pas on their part.

Additional:
It's interesting when family makes things up on the fly and insists it's 'always been that way'.
My sister and I both were raised under the same roof and we both remember our childhood so very differently.
My sister's a legend in her own mind - but no where else.

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L.U.

answers from Seattle on

I live in Washington state. I have NEVER heard of giving people money when their loved one dies.

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T.F.

answers from Dallas on

I am not familiar with that tradition.

When my husband died in 2015, we did say in lieu of flowers, donations to the Texas Scottish Rite Children's Hospital which is heavily funded by the Masonic and Scottish Rite organization and he was a Mason.

A lot of people donate to an organization instead of sending flowers. I don't like flowers because they die.

I would have felt incredibly uncomfortable if people gave us money personally. I likely would have returned those funds or donated them to the Hospital in the donors name if that happened to me.

No one should feel obligated to provide arrangements, money, food or anything to the family who lost a loved one. We simply appreciated kind gestures of people letting us know we were in thoughts and prayers.

We had not preplanned funeral expenses since my husband was only 60 but as far as I'm concerned, those expenses were my responsibility.

I've also had aunts and uncles pass and no one ever gave money to the family.

This is pretty unheard of to me and my history of funerals.

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B.A.

answers from Columbus on

I vaguely remember my parents putting money in a cards when they'd go to funerals. And when my mother died last year, almost every card had money in it, even though my father had ample resources to pay for the funeral.

Here's what I think it stems from: In previous generations, when a Catholic person died it was very common for people to give them a Mass card saying that they had donated money to the church to have a special Mass card said in that persons name. Sometimes they would give the money (usually only a few dollars) to the bereaved so that they could request a special Mass. The donations ultimately supported the church. If the deceased was Protestant, people would still support that persons church by making a donation.

As time went on, the tradition of giving money continued in many communities, even though the original meaning was lost.

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D.B.

answers from Boston on

I've never heard of this, except in very rare circumstances where there is nothing available, there are young kids, or a long legacy of medical expenses. Even so, there is usually a fund with a ban as one of the trustees.

I'm Jewish, and we don't even give flowers. They're never seen at the funeral home or the mourning family's home. Ever. Very occasionally, family members will each place a single flower on the coffin as it's lowered into the grave, but even that is rare.

We always give donations to a charity specified by the family or to something that we think would have meaning to the family (as you did with the shelter). In our tradition, we always take food to the family home when they sit shiva, so that they are not responsible (either financially or in terms of time/organization) for providing refreshments for visitors.

A beloved secretary from my school died after a battle with ALS. The obituary requested funds to cover her medical expenses, but so many of the teachers who had been her colleagues had grave concerns due to one of the adult kids and her history with very seedy characters. She had previously manipulated her father financially in many ways, and no one wanted to fund that. Most people gave to either the hospice agency or one of the major hospitals working on ALS. That can happen in any family and it's definitely wrenching. What I think is odd and rude is this group of people in your situation who took you to task for not turning over cash to the adult children. Maybe it's their grief talking, and maybe it's their complete lack of exposure to other people's traditions and religions and practices.

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M.G.

answers from Portland on

Have never heard of this.

When our family members have passed away, no one ever did this.

Seems odd to me - because I've never heard this mentioned. When we've attended funerals - we've never given money. Nor did I ever hear others (who we went with i.e. family members or friends) give any either.

We certainly have made contributions to organizations, etc. where they said donations could be made in their honor etc.

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S.T.

answers from Washington DC on

wow, i find this bizarre and very distasteful.

obviously i've seen 'in lieu of flowers please donate to xyz' but never just giving money to the next of kin.....

when my ex SIL died she left no instructions or requests, and a ton of physical and legal complications for her kids to paw through. in that case my niece DID ask for money to give her mom the huge silly funeral she felt her mother 'deserved' (but didn't plan or budget for.) we sent her a little because we love her but we felt it was ridiculous and inappropriate to ask.

in a case like this where it's all taken care of it and it's just handing money to the survivors, it's almost surreal. like the Godfather or something.

ew.
khairete
S.

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T.D.

answers from New York on

every funeral i have ever been to has had a memorial fund set up with a charity or church. all monetary gifts were sent to the charity or choice of the one who passed.
i have never hear anyone say that you HAVE to give money at a funeral. i just figured it was optional if you had the funds and felt the need

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G.♣.

answers from Springfield on

Often times the family doesn't designate a charity, or at least doesn't mention it or decide on which one until after the obituary is published. People still send money, thinking that a charity will be designated at a later time.

When my FIL passed away, a charity had not been mentioned. My MIL wrote thank you letters to everyone who sent a card and made a special mention of her designated charity in the thank you notes.

Honestly, I think most people don't necessarily "read" all of the obituary and may not even notice whether it says who the money will go to. They just know that it's customary to designate and organization or charity and assume the family has chosen something dear to their hearts. One of my grandfathers was a life-long smoker, and we chose the American Lung Association. My grandmother (his wife) had Dementia, and who chose to give to Alzheimer's research.

People want to "do" something for the family. Some people prefer to help with the funeral or luncheon or provide flowers. Other's prefer to give to a charity. I like to feed the family in some way - bring over a casserole or give them a gift card to a local restaurant. I like to do something to lighten the burden as they grieve.

There's really no right or wrong way to give. It's just so amazing when others want to do something to lighten a grieving person's burden.

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M.P.

answers from Portland on

Years ago, on mam apedia, someone asked a similar question. I remember a couple of people saying giving money is a tradition in parts of the South.

In our family, the immediate family all go together to buy the flowers that sit on top the casket. The extended family contribute to a meal for a get together after the funeral. When we've been regulars at church, members bring food.

I suggest the person who said everyone should give money was rude. I like that you helped making arrangements and provided flowers. In our family, doing so would be much more appreciated than money. You were giving of yourself which is much more personal.

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W.W.

answers from Washington DC on

When my mom died 4 years ago? People gave money to the wildlife organization that my mom loved. They also sent my dad money - which I felt was odd - all the monies he received we donated to the wildlife foundation that my mom loved.

I don't know about the giving money at all funerals. I personally haven't seen that - other than my mom's funeral. I've seen a ton of go-fund-me's for funerals.

When my best friends dad died in January, no one gave money. Lots of plants and flowers (it was like a flower shop!!).

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S.H.

answers from Santa Barbara on

I have not heard of giving money in the situation you mention to the next of kin. Normally I have been told to give money to the favorite charity in lieu of flowers via the obituary.

I have also read about donations being set up via go-fund-me type accounts. In this case you (or one) would be aware there is a financial strain. In your aunts case, she sounds like she had enough to pay for her funeral and possibly give an inheritance to her sons. Even more reason not to give them more money.

It is odd that you and your relative are not on the same page since you are the same family. Is this the first funeral in your family?

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J.G.

answers from Chicago on

Almost every funeral I have attended has had a memorial fund set up for a charity. The only one that didn't was for the husband of my beautician. We were 30 at the time. We all gave her $ -she needed it.

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M.S.

answers from Washington DC on

Catholic Midwesterner here. Yes, it is tradition here to put a check in the envelope with "family's wishes" in the memo line. This way they can put it toward funeral expenses, a memorial fund or anything they would like. But in no way is it expected or mandatory. Some people give flowers, some give to memorial funds, some do all of the above and others send a nice note. When my parents died we bought memorial items we put in their favorite park and the rest went to their favorite charity and funeral expenses. I think what you and your Mom did was wonderful .

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N.B.

answers from Oklahoma City on

I ran into this when my mom died. She had paid for all her arrangements and we didn't have much family that came. But we used the money to buy paper plates and toilet paper and things like that for all those extra people who came through the week before and the days of the funeral. It really did help.

The money is to help the survivors take care of any extras they come across, such as hotel bills, or having to eat out, maybe even to put towards her flowers from the survivors, anything you want.

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N.Z.

answers from Los Angeles on

In some cultures, it is tradition regardless of religious beliefs. When I go to funerals where tradition dictates giving money, I do. I give money in an envelope (if I didn't know the person well) or with a sympathy card to the family (if I knew the person well). I don't think the families ever expected me to know or follow their tradition, but I do it.

When I go do funerals where tradition does not dictate giving money, then I don't unless I knew the family needed it for funeral expenses and such.

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H.M.

answers from Dallas on

When my dad passes away we got both. Flowers and money. And we didn't care who gave what or didn't give at all. We where just thankful for the ones that came to celebrate his life and that the rest of my immediate family was all together. The money for my mom was nice because it helped pay bills and for part of the funeral. And to feed everyone if there was a day no one brought food. We had a house full for 2 weeks before he passed away to two weeks after. I would never have wanted someone to think they had to do anything.
So sorry for your lose by the way.

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N.K.

answers from Miami on

I have never heard of that. My sister and I paid for my dad's cremation, no one ever gave us a penny, though one of my half-sisters sent a wreath for the burial ceremony at the veteran's cemetery. When one of my closest friends died, no one gave anything to his family, other than hugs and condolences, maybe a card, and some people close to the family sent wreaths. When my uncle's mother died, again, no one gave anything. Then again, none of these people had obituaries, and then again, maybe traditional American people tend to do things differently (I am a first generation American, so I wouldn't know).

I, for instance, had never heard of funeral parties where people bring food, laugh, and celebrate, so that concept was bizarre to me, same with celebrations of life, because my family mourns death heavily (though we're also very private people, with few close friends and we don't really do parties, ever). I first experienced a celebration of life a couple of years ago when my ex's nephew died tragically in his mid-20s and they had rented a huge banquet hall in a golf course and catered food, had some of his friends coming up on a stage singing, sharing photos, and jokes. I didn't know what to make of it. I guess we're all just different...I don't see why they had to be so snarky with you for not reading their minds and knowing what you were expected to do at the funeral. Maybe this is something the whole family should have discussed prior to the services, if it was so important to them?

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