The Best of…Preplanning Your Funeral Helpful to Survivors

           Published May 23, 2008, All Pawtucket All The Time

           For this aging baby it was stressful attempting to get my elderly parents to preplan and prepay their funerals  After all, my siblings and I were only trying to give them the final say on the little details of their last wishes.  

            In 2001, my father with my mother with early-stage dementia sat together in a Dallas-based funeral home, to prearrange and prepay their funerals.  My eighty-seven year old father checked out the selection of caskets like he would have shopping for a new car in his earlier years.  He lifted the casket’s lid, thoroughly examining the cloth lining and the quality of the workmanship for each casket on display.  Ultimately, he would not choose the less expensive casket, but a nicer one, a little higher up on the funeral home’s price list. All the minute details of their funeral were also hammered out that day but in the end my father backed out of the deal.  A legal technicality over how his name would be listed on the death certificate resulted in my father leaving the funeral home without signing on the dotted line. 

           It seems that my late father’s experience was not the norm because many aging baby boomers and their elderly parents make it through the stressful process of preplanning and prepaying for their funeral goods and services, memorials, burials and cremations.

           According to a 2007 AARP survey 34 percent have engaged in some preplanning for a funeral or burial, and just under a quarter of individuals over age 54  have prepaid at least a portion or burial expenses for themselves or someone else.

         Ted Wynne, funeral director of Pawtucket-based Manning-Heffern Funeral Home, sees a transient society where children are living away from their parents, fueling the increasing demand for preplanning and paying for funerals. “Elderly parents want to take pressure off their children who in some cases live thousands of miles away from making burial arrangements,” says Wynne, who is a former president of the Rhode Island Funeral Directors Association.        

         Without the extras, a basic, traditional, funeral may end up costing around $6,500. The final price increases when you add on the other non-guaranteed price items like cost of flowers, obituary notices, limousines, clergy honoraria, cemetery plots and burial liners or vaults. 

         You can also comparison shop to find the best prices, recommends Wynne.  He notes that the Federal trade commission requires funeral directors to give you an itemized price list (includes all products and services provided by the funeral home) in writing and over the phone.  Wynne adds, when prepaying a funeral that includes non-guaranteed price items, funeral homes can only give the current prices. When death occurs, the survivor will be responsible for paying the price increases.       

            While the right price (identified through comparative shopping) might influence your choice of funeral home, for many older people it’s by reputation and word of mouth recommendations that influence them in making their choice, Wynne adds.

          Wynne, who has worked 24 years as a funeral director at his family’s 130 year old Pawtucket funeral home, says you don’t have to prepay the total price in “one fell swoop.”  Some come in and put a $1,000 down and just continue making smaller payments, he says.

            According to Wynne, preplanned funeral payments can be placed into either insurance or trust-funded plans.  He recommends creating a separate interest bearing trust account in lump-sum or payments held at a local bank. Both the person’s name and funeral home are listed on the account.   On death, access to the account is through a certified death certificate and an itemized funeral bill.  

           For those close to Medicaid-eligible, putting money into an “irrevocable” preneed funeral plan can be a way of legitimately spending down your assets, too.   

.         Before signing on the dotted line find out how your money will be kept, ask about refund, change or cancellation policies, recommends Wynne.  Legal counsel can go over the paperwork details, he says.

         Preplanning and prepaying for your funeral eliminates the stress to survivors, Wynne says, when death occurs.  “Everything is in writing and it is all paid for,” he says. “Now, all the family member has to do is give the funeral home a ring.” 

        Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. This article was published in May 23, 2008 in All Pawtucket All The Time.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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