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February 8, 2022

FEMA Funeral Assistance for COVID-19-Related Deaths

As part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been providing financial assistance to individuals for funeral expenses for deaths related to COVID-19. This assistance has been available since April 2021, but many people who might otherwise benefit from this program are unaware of it.

Individuals can apply for financial assistance for funeral expenses of up to $9,000 per person (and $35,500 per application) for deaths related to COVID-19 that occurred after January 20, 2020. There are no income or asset limitations to be eligible for this assistance.

To apply for this assistance, an applicant must provide an official death certificate stating that the death occurred in the United States. For deaths occurring between January 20, 2020, and May 16, 2020, the death certificate must attribute the death directly or indirectly to COVID-19. If the death certificate does not attribute the death to COVID-19, it must be accompanied by a signed statement from the original certifier or the local medical examiner where the death occurred, stating that COVID-19 was the cause or was a contributing cause of the death. 

According to FEMA, after consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the greatest number of undiagnosed COVID-19 deaths occurred early in the pandemic, prior to CDC guidance on the death certificate designation. Therefore, death certificates for deaths occurring prior to May 16, 2020, may not have initially attributed the cause to COVID-19. For deaths occurring after May 17, 2020, the death certificate must state that the death was caused directly or indirectly by COVID-19; there is no option to supplement a death certificate that does not list COVID-19 as a cause or contributing cause for deaths occurring after May 17, 2020.

In addition to the death certificate, the applicant must submit proof of funeral expenses incurred. Individuals must call the FEMA COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Helpline at (844) 684¬-6333 to start the application process; applications are not accepted online. Individuals who may have had a prepaid funeral fund are not eligible for repayment or reimbursement from this fund, as that is considered a duplication of payment. If an individual had life insurance, that does not preclude an application for funeral assistance under this program. Funeral homes may not apply for or on behalf of individuals, although they may assist them in gathering the needed documents. The funeral assistance funds go directly to the individual applicant and not to the funeral home. Currently, there is no deadline to submit an application to this program.

We recommend that anyone who lost family or friends to COVID-19 reach out to a FEMA representative via the FEMA COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Helpline to determine if they qualify for this assistance. Although this assistance has been available since April 2021, many are unaware of its existence or how to access these funds. Attorneys in Barclay Damon’s Trusts & Estates Practice Area and Elder Law & Medicaid Planning Team can assist with all aspects of estate planning and estate administration as COVID-19 continues to impact our lives.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Bridget Dehmler, associate, at bdehmler@barclaydamon.com, or another member of the firm’s Trusts & Estates Practice Area or Elder Law & Medicaid Planning Team. 

We also have a specific team of Barclay Damon attorneys who are actively working on assessing regulatory, legislative, and other governmental updates related to COVID-19 and who are prepared to assist clients. Please contact Yvonne Hennessey, COVID-19 Response Team leader, at yhennessey@barclaydamon.com, or any member of the COVID-19 Response Team, at COVID-19ResponseTeam@barclaydamon.com.

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