Benefits of Preplanning and Prepaying Your Funeral

 Published October 19, 2012, Pawtucket Times          

            For the past six months, City registrar Kenneth McGill juggled his increased work load preparing for the September primary and upcoming Presidential elections while taking on the role of caregiver to his elder parents.  Dividing his time between his ailing father who was afflicted with lung cancer and a blood clot in his heart, and his frail mother who has COPD, this new role added up to countless hours per day,  taking care of both parents who were recently placed in nursing facilities.   

             With the passing of his 76-year-old father just a little over a week ago, McGill, age 51, who had never planned a funeral, was now forced into an uncomfortable role of making final arrangements.  “Dad had been seriously ill for the past 6 months, and we knew what he wanted but it was never put down in writing,” noted the aging baby boomer, who acknowledged the stress of attempting to balance the cost of the funeral while ensuring that his father’s wishes were being carried out.

             Like many, McGill and his 48-year-old wife Kristen, an employee of Memorial Hospital of Pawtucket, had never made pre-paid funeral plans for their parents.  While he had heard about pre-need funeral agreements, he just never thought about doing it “probably because of denial,” he said.  “You just never think your parents are going to die.”  

             As a result of his father’s recent death, McGill will go next week to Cheetham Funeral Home to now preplan his mother’s funeral.  “This makes a lot of sense because it will ultimately take the stress off my family,” he says.

 Preplanning a Parent’s Funeral

             While my background is in the field of aging, I will admit that I also found it stressful attempting to get my elderly parents to enter pre-need funeral arrangements.  After all, my three siblings and I were only trying to give our parents the opportunity to have a say in the minute details of their final arrangements.

             For years my elderly father took care of my mother with dementia – and after numerous conversations with him about the “what if’s…”, more importantly what if mother outlives him… the day finally came that my father was willing to visit the local Dallas funeral home.   With my confused mother at his side, my father, chose their caskets like he was purchasing a new car. He checked under the lid, thoroughly examined the lining and the wood, trying to make the best decision.    Ultimately, he would not buy the cheaper model, but chose the ‘nicer one’, a littler higher up on the price list.

            Of course, my father instructed the funeral director where their services should be held and who should be presiding over the ceremony. But what type of music, vocal, or instrumental did they want played?  Or would they like a visitation service or would they like to name their pallbearers?  All good questions asked by the director that all needed answers.   These decisions might have been made right then and there on the spot, without the added stress of a loved ones’ death setting the tone, but rather ‘pre-planned’ with careful thought.  But in the end, and unfortunately for us, my father backed out. 

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

Transient Society Creates Need for Preplanning Funerals

            Ted Wynne, whose family has owned the Pawtucket-based Manning Heffern Funeral Home since 1868, sees a transient society where children are living in different states, fueling the demand for preplanning and prepayment.  “Parents 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”.

            With an aging population, one or both spouses will end up in a nursing or assisted living facility, noted Wynne, a fifth generation funeral director.  Initially, the social worker will educate the prospective residents to the importance of getting an “irrevocable trust contract”, to pay for the funeral in advance.  .

            “It is pretty black and white,” adds Wynne.  “You figure out what you want, the cost, and then determine what you want to put in the contract.” For others, it may take sitting down with the funeral director to help crystallize their funeral plans, he adds. 

Prepaying a Funeral at Today’s Prices

           Bradford Bellows, Funeral director of Bellows Chapel in Lincoln, agrees with Wynne that seniors in nursing facilities 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 older parent or their children should prepay the funeral costs.  Assets given to the funeral home are allowed to be given under Medicaid eligibility guidelines prior to going on Medicaid.

            “Consumers must understand that prearranging a funeral is not the same as prepaying for one,” Bellows adds, whose family has been in the funeral business in the BlackstoneValley for 191 years.

            “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 death.”

            Bellows, a funeral director for 40 years, offers these tips when pre-paying your funeral:

            First, make sure that your Social Security number is indicated on our 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 easily be transferred to another funeral home.

            Second, 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 the State of Rhode Island, to defray health costs incurred by the OceanState’s Medicaid program.

            Finally, 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 number 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..

Make an Educated Decision

            Life Insurance agent Christine Miller, a preplanning funding specialist at Pawtucket-based Lachapelle Funeral Home and a grief counselor at Beacon Hospice, notes that preplanning and prepayment for a funeral can reduce family stress. “Knowing your loved ones final wishes and not having the financial burden of a funeral can provide relief during a very difficult time, she added.

            According to Miller, it is not uncommon to have individuals to call weekly to preplan their funerals. “Many people are surprised that at Lachapelle Funeral Home they can make small monthly payments rather than one lump sum and still have their funeral guaranteed,” she noted.

            Miller stresses the importance of doing your home work in determining which prepayment option is best for you. “There use to be a loyalty to funeral homes but in these times people should shop around, talk to people with the goal of making an educated decision.”

            For consumer tips on planning and prepaying a funeral, go to http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/products/pro19.shtm.

            Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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.