The Best Of…Many Opting to Pre-Plan, Pre-Pay for Funerals

            Published on February 1, 2003

             For me, it was stressful attempting to get my elderly father and my mother with dementia to enter into a pre-need agreement funeral arrangement.  After all, my three siblings and I were only trying to give our parents the opportunity to have a say in their minute details of their final arrangements.

            With my confused mother at his side, my father choose their caskets like he was purchasing a new car.  He checked under the lid, throughly examined the lining and the wood.  Ultimately, he would not buy the cheaper model, but he chose a nice one, a little higher on the price list.

            Of course, my father told the funeral director their services would be held at Temple Emanuel  with the family Rabbi presiding.  But what type of music, vocal or instrumental did they want played?  Or did they want a visitation or to name their  pallbearers.  Closed or open casket?  All these decisions might have been made right there on the spot, but in the end my father backed out.

           A little technicality over paper work derailed the process, causing my father to not sign on the dotted line and walking out of the funeral home in a huff.

           My father’s experience was not the norm because most aging baby boomers make it through the most stressful process of pre-planning and pre-paying in advance.

           According to a 1998 AARP survey, two in five people age 50 and older reported that they were contacted about the advance purchase of funerals.

           About one-third of those responding said that they had prepaid, or were in the process of prepaying, for funerals or burials.  Of this group, 86 percent had prepaid for cemetery plots, mausoleums, or niches, 58 percent had paid for other burial goods or services and 40 percent had prepaid for funeral services.

          For those prepaying for funerals, 30 percent had funds in trust and 30 percent had funds in life insurance policies.  Sixty percent held title to a cemetery plot, and 15 percent said they had that money in a life insurance policy.

         Ted Wynne, funeral director of Pawtucket-based Manning-Heffern Funeral Home, sees a transient society where children are living in different states, fueling the demand for pre-planning and prepayment.  “Seniors want to take the pressure off their children who live thousands of miles away from making the burial arrangement,” Wynne says.  “Thus, they pay up front or set aside money for future funeral and burial payments.”

        Bradford Bellows, funeral director of D.W. Bellows & Sons, Pawtucket and Bellows-Falso Funeral Chapel in Lincoln, says the seniors in nursing  homes are also good candidates for prepaying a funeral.

        “The family watches their parents’ funds dwindle to a point where they are forced to go on Medicaid.”  Prior to being eligible for Medicaid, the senior or their children should prepay the funeral costs.  Assets given the funeral home are allowed under Medicaid eligibility guidelines prior to going on Medicaid.

           “Consumers must understand that pre-arranging a funeral is not the same as pre-paying one,” Bellows adds.

            By pre-paying a funeral you are actually paying  for a funeral at today’s prices, not tomorrow’s, Bellow says.  “If the funeral occurs in the future, the funds will earn interest which will be used to pay for the cost of the funeral at the time of the death.”

           Bellows offers these tips when pre-paying your funeral.

           1.  Make sure that your social security number is indicated on your savings account or insurance policy where the monies are placed to prepay your funeral.  If the funeral home ever goes out of business or goes bankrupt, the funds are still yours and are safe, and can be easily be transferred to another funeral home.

          2.  When you enroll in the Medicaid program, all the funds in your prepayment account must be used.  Any excess funds will be returned by the  funeral home to the State of Rhode Island, to defray health costs incurred by the state of Rhode Island’s Medicaid program.

         3.  Once the funeral home opens the account or insurance policy, don’t forget to get a copy of the Irrevocable Funeral Trust Agreement, showing the bank or credit union account or the original insurance policy that was issued.  This will give you proof that your advance payment has been set up for your funeral needs.

          Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers, aging, health care and medical issues.

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