Article Title

Funeral Poverty


This Article makes a unique contribution to the literature by drawing attention to the financial burden of death service being shouldered by those who are “relatively poor,” or those for whom everyday life may be a financial struggle. The thesis is equal parts positive, normative, descriptive, and prescriptive: it is imperative that options be made available to transition human remains in a way that does not exacerbate cycles of poverty and allows for the living to preserve dignity. This need calls for important changes to existing legal structures, including modernization of consumer protection regulation, change to laws regulating the death service industry, and recharacterization of expenses for tax purposes. An overview of the death industry in the United States is explored in Part I, as a discussion of casket versus cremation as the path most followed. Part II traces the underlying economics of “shuff[ling] off this mortal coil” in the United States, and the limited options (beg, borrow, surrender) that are available to assist the struggling consumer. The structure of any marketplace influences consumption, and Part III considers gaps in marketplace regulation that highlight or exacerbate structural features such as uncertainty of need, information asymmetry, vulnerability of the consumer, and inelasticity of the marketplace. Part IV considers the multifaceted issue of funeral poverty and the potential long-term implication of these extraordinary expenses upon families. The Article concludes with a cohesive framework of solutions responsive to the unique structural features of the death services marketplace, by which funeral poverty issues may be comprehensively addressed in the United States.