Did you, or someone you know, lose a loved one to COVID-19? If so, you may be able to apply for assistance with the funeral expenses, even retroactively.
Under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is providing financial assistance for COVID-19 related funeral expenses incurred after January 20, 2020. And on June 29, 2021, the funeral assistance policy was amended to also assist with COVID-19 related deaths that occurred in the early months of the pandemic, from January 20, 2020 to May 16, 2020. COVID-19 must be listed on the death certificate as having been a cause or contributing factor to the death.
An applicant who paid funeral costs of a COVID-19 decedent is eligible to receive assistance. Eligible applicants can qualify for up to $9,000 for each deceased individual per application, with a maximum of $35,000 for families who may have multiple funeral expenses due to COVID-19. The average amount of assistance awarded has been $6,500 since the assistance began on April 12, 2021. To be eligible, the applicant must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien. There is, however, no requirement that the decedent be a U.S. citizen or national.
Additionally, the program does not reimburse an applicant for costs that are otherwise paid by funds set aside for death expenses. As a result, reimbursement is not available for funeral costs that can be paid through a funeral or burial insurance policy, pre-paid funeral contract, or irrevocable Medicaid trust.
As of March 15, 2022, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell stated that “FEMA’s COVID-19 Funeral Assistance program has helped provide over 300,000 people with critical financial relief during a time of such unexpected, unimaginable and widespread loss.” FEMA has provided over $2 billion in COVID-19 funeral assistance. Currently, there is no deadline for applications, or any cap established on available funds.
It is important to note that, in Pennsylvania, if a decedent’s estate receives this assistance, then the funeral costs up to the amount of FEMA assistance cannot be deducted on the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Return (ITR).
For example, if the funeral costs you or the decedent’s estate $9,000 and your FEMA application is approved for the full $9,000 assistance, then you cannot report the funeral costs on the Pennsylvania ITR. However, if the funeral costs you or the decedent’s estate $12,000 and your FEMA application is approved for the full $9,000 assistance, then you can deduct the $3,000 difference in the cost and assistance on the Pennsylvania ITR. Conversely, if the funeral costs you or the decedent’s estate only $6,000 and your FEMA application is approved for the full $9,000 assistance, then you must report the $3,000 difference as an asset to estate on the Pennsylvania ITR, although this scenario is unlikely to occur given the parameters of the assistance.
How to Apply?
You must begin the process by calling the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Helpline at 844-684-6333. Their hours of operation are Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Time. There is currently no online or paper application process available. For more information, visit FEMA's website. If you have questions or concerns, or need assistance regarding estate planning or administration, contact a member of the Bowles Rice Estate and Trust Administration team.