Archive for Sunday, October 28, 2001

Prearranged funerals grow in popularity

October 28, 2001


In 1993 Charles and Kathleen Suffron looked to the future and faced the inevitability of their deaths.

The Lawrence couple planned their own funerals right down to the last detail, from selecting caskets to selecting pallbearers.

"They did it all on their own and nothing was overlooked," said the Suffrons' daughter, Patsy Lankford, also of Lawrence.

Charles Suffron died in 1995 at the age of 73. His wife died last March at 86. The Suffrons are among a growing number of people nationwide who are deciding to do what the funeral industry calls funeral pre-planning.

Although funeral pre-planning has been possible for decades, it wasn't until the mid-1980s that interest in it began to increase in Kansas.

In 1986 the Kansas Attorney General's Office issued an opinion that basically approved funeral homes' marketing of funeral pre-planning options.

About 98 percent of funeral homes in the United States offer funeral pre-planning, according to the National Funeral Directors Assn. Included are Lawrence's two funeral homes, Rumsey-Yost Funeral Home, 601 Ind., and Warren-McElwain Mortuary, 120 W. 13th St.

Funeral pre-planning helps both consumers and the funeral homes, funeral directors say. Funeral homes use pre-planning as a marketing tool and to line up future business. Consumers save relatives the burden of having to attend to funeral details while grieving immediately after a death.

"It's a difficult thing to do, but it's so much better for the family," said Al Yost, owner of Rumsey-Yost Funeral Home, about pre-planning.

Ada Torneden, 80, Lawrence, agreed. About six years ago she and her husband, Elmer, planned their funerals. Elmer, 83, died in June. Ada Torneden said dealing with his loss was eased because she didn't have to worry about funeral details.

"We were all pretty worn out," Ada Torneden said. "He'd been pretty sick for six months. We were glad we didn't have all those decisions to make at the time. It went just like (the funeral home) presented it to us."

Locking in the cost

Pre-planning also locks in the price of a funeral against escalating costs. The American Association for Retired Persons says funerals are the most expensive purchases older people make.

In the Lawrence area, the average funeral cost ranges from $5,000 to $7,000, said Rick Christian, funeral director at Warren-McElwain. That includes the cost of the casket or urn, cremation, a basic service and items such as flowers.

Cemetery expenses could add another $500, and often are handled separately with the cemetery, he said.

Pre-planning includes payment, either in one lump sum or over a period of time. The longest plans cover five years, according to Warren-McElwain owner Larry McElwain.

Choosing how to pay

There are several ways to pay for a funeral. Among them, as listed by the Kansas Board of Mortuary Arts, are:

Prearranged funeral agreements. Money is placed in a bank or other financial institution and the buyer controls the account until death. Upon death the seller can withdraw the money; any remaining balance returns to the buyer's estate.

There are taxes on the earned interest. Interest earned on the money in the account helps funeral homes cover cost increases that have occurred since the plan was made.

Money deposited in a trust. Similar to financial institution agreements, except some trusts are tax-exempt.

Insurance. When using an insurance policy to prefinance a funeral, be sure that the price of the funeral is guaranteed. Many funeral homes sell such policies.

The latest information compiled by the Mortuary Arts Board in April showed that in Kansas $150 million in insurance policies and $70 million in trusts had been invested in funeral pre-planning.

Funeral homes will work with consumers on the right type of financial plan.

"Make sure you know where your money is going," Yost said.

"Get it all in writing," added McElwain.

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