Little is depicted about the financial chain reaction which inevitably follows a homicide (or suicide). You won’t find much information in research, podcasts, movies, books, from professional certified public accountants, or even on Google. It seems we’re all in the dark, learning on the fly and re-creating the wheel. This is yet another example of the fragmentation of services that homicide (and suicide) survivors are confronted with. We face a steep learning curve everywhere we turn.
Unexpected death comes with unexpected price tags. What’s important to know?
Life insurance. Don’t count on it helping. Only 10% of homicide victims carry life insurance. Why? Most victims are young. And, even in the unusual circumstance when a victim does have it, there’s a two-year “contestable period” during which time a claim is ineligible. Should that hurdle be passed, the claims agent is likely to deny benefits if can be shown that the murder occurred in the commission of a crime. Furthermore, benefits are withheld until the investigation is complete. This does not bode well for cold case homicides (which have risen to 50% of suspicious death investigations post-COVID).
Victim compensation. Public funds may help. Much is made of governmental assistance in the form of crime scene cleanup or funeral expenses benefits. States differ in their programs of victim compensation benefits. (Details can be obtained from the prosecutor’s office or victim advocate.) However, the awards never match expenses and often only reimburse the family (not pay in advance or when the bill comes due).
Some survivors tell us that it’s taken them up to two years to be reimbursed.
It goes without saying, save all your paid receipts associated with the homicide. Every. Single. One. They will be needed for Victim’s Compensation Programs and in the rare event that a convicted murderer is required to pay restitution. (The total amount you pay out could also become useful when writing the Victim Impact Statement at the time of trial or parole.)
Lost income. This is a sure thing. Sometimes the chief breadwinner in the family is the one who was killed. Even if that’s not the case, the surviving adult must take time off work which may not be compensated.
Time off work is needed to meet with funeral planners, and detectives, greet out-of-town relatives who attend the funeral, for court hearings, and sometimes to be at the bedside of their hospitalized loved one prior to death. If small children are impacted, they may refuse daycare or school due to the trauma and simply need their mom or dad home during this stressful time. Many co-victims need to meet with certified public accountants because they simply are at a loss to figure out their finances under their current load of fatigue and grief. Legal questions often arise about probate and wills which will require attorney appointments. Let’s not forget medical issues that will need addressing. And if relocating is planned, it will be necessary to take time off work to prepare.
Employers are not required to extend bereavement leave with pay but many offer three days. This isn’t nearly enough but it’s better than self-employed survivors (who get nothing) or those not employed.
Funeral expenses. Not cheap. If a traditional funeral is desired, most funeral homes do not offer payment plans. The cost will range between $8,000 – $15,000. This does not cover the cost of a cemetery plot. Single, public plots are cheaper than private, double, or family plots.
A trend on the rise involves so-called “green funerals.” These do not involve embalming and often use bio-degradable coffins (such as ones made of wood or woven willow branches). Costs are somewhat lower. Some states allow burials of this type on private property.
Cremation. More families are turning to cremation. This is not only less expensive but gives a much more flexible timeline for service planning. This is important in violent death. The medical examiner will not release the body until the investigation is complete. It could take weeks.
At the time of this printing, the average national cost of a direct cremation is about $1500 but will increase considerably if a formal service is wanted and an (optional) burial in a cemetery. If a cemetery burial is preferred, there will be additional costs for the cemetery plot, the vault, and (optional) Columbarium.
(See the post from August 28, 2023, which discusses the financial exploitation of homicide grievers by the funeral industry.)
Commercial airlines and urns. Can passengers fly commercially with human ashes in an urn? Yes, so long as the contents can be viewed through an X-ray. So the material used to make the urn is key. Wood is a good choice. Or, Amazon sells “TSA-compliant urns” for this purpose for around $30. It is illegal for a TSA agent to peer inside the container. If they cannot see what’s inside by X-ray, it will be denied passage. Most major domestic airlines allow urns to be in carry-on luggage. Check with your own airline and reduce stress by arriving early. International airlines are likely to have different policies.
Many cremation urns are in the $175 range but can explode into the thousands for custom-made works of art. The price of the urn depends a lot on the material, size, and lid.
Crime scene cleanup. Buyer beware. Thankfully, this expense does not apply to every family of a murder victim but when it does, time is of the essence. Few regulations govern “biohazard remediation companies.” So, a word to the wise. ONLY seek a company endorsed by the American Bio Recovery Association. They can assist even with international referrals. (See a later post on this topic for more detail.)
Some biohazard remediation companies have been known to financially exploit survivors with unnecessary expenses and poor service. Some unscrupulous companies charge in excess of $600 per hour. (Make sure your contract with them forbids unauthorized videotaping of the crime scene to avoid additional exploitation when they are uploaded onto social media and used as entertainment.)
Probate. A postponed expense. If a home is to be sold, it will likely go through probate. The fees are not paid upfront. Instead, they’re deducted from the proceeds of the sale.
Stigmatized Property. Be aware that if the house is deemed a “stigmatized property” by realtors the value declines. At the time of this printing, the average devaluation is 13% and lasts three years. It can take twice as long to sell a property due to so-called “death tourists” who parade by and take photos. (In my case, these unwanted “tourists” also pried up paving bricks from my driveway. Because of the intense media exposure of my husband’s murder, my home was devalued by 23%). Probate costs vary considerably depending on the size, contents and geographic region of the house to be sold.
Medical costs. Likely to occur. Not infrequently the primary person impacted by the death has increased medical expenses from worsening of preexisting conditions (like diabetes or hypertension). Other times medical costs come from new conditions (like insomnia, headaches, teeth grinding, or nausea).
Sometimes health expenses involve mental health consultation. This may or may not be covered by health insurance. If it is, be sure to ask how many sessions it pays for and if the therapist in question is on their panel of providers. Know that most therapists will offer a sliding scale payment but it’s not unusual to be placed on a waiting list for up to a year – longer in rural areas.
Increased child care expenses. Likely to occur. If one’s partner was murdered all parental responsibilities fall on the living parent. In addition, the parent is less available in the early months following the death. They are called away for funeral planning, to meet with law enforcement, to attend court hearings, and so forth. All of this can increase the need and the cost of daycare.
Moving. It is not unusual for murder to motivate a family to move. This may be to downsize, or to get a “fresh start.” Perhaps the family will feel safer near relatives or they choose to relocate to escape unwanted media exposure and community and school stigma. Regardless, the cost of moving will need to be met. Moving costs vary widely by region, distance, and dates chosen.
A labor-only company (no packing) will run about $50 – $75 per mover per hour for a local move. A typical two-bedroom apartment will run about $1000 whereas a 3-bedroom home will average $1600. Long-distance movers charge by miles because companies will factor in fuel, tolls, and drivers. A two-bedroom apartment moving 250 miles will average $3000. A three-bedroom home moving the same distance will run $4300.
Ask about additional fees for elevators, and stairs, a shuttle fee to transport items to and from the moving truck, and specialty fees for items needing individualized handling (like a grandfather clock, piano, or valuable artwork). Estimates can be obtained over the phone via Facetime, video chat, or in person and should be free. Get more than one quote. “Binding” estimates prevent surprises.
Storage. Somewhat related to the expense of moving is the occasional need for temporary storage. Murder catches families off guard. Consequently, they may need storage to make a transitional move before a more permanent solution can be found. Or, they may need it as they sort out the household belongings prior to relocating.
Community Property State?
Know your rights. Widows and widowers living in a community property state should be aware they are considered joint owners of all assets and debts acquired during the marriage. This can be significant if the homicide victim was a spouse with outstanding loans or who was first airlifted and then hospitalized prior to death.
The average copay (after insurance) for an ICU hospitalization per day is $1,300. The average cost for an air ambulance (seldom covered by insurance) ranges from $12,000 – $55,000. Several factors go into the fee – such as distance, number of onboard personnel needed, and type of air transport craft used for the rescue (fixed-wing jet or turboprop). Nowadays air ambulance companies require full payment prior to dispatch.
A similar situation happens with third-party ambulance and paramedic providers.
It is possible to pay an annual fee of $75 – $100 to become a subscriber to an air ambulance company to avoid the high cost. It covers everyone in the household. But patients don’t typically get to choose which provider comes to the rescue, so if a different company arrives at the emergency, the membership would not help.
Facing the violent death of a loved one is painful in and of itself. The financial fallout catches nearly everyone by surprise and is not widely discussed. Since families are already under great stress it’s a good idea to get help from a trusted professional or knowledgeable friend.