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 they (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 cost of a funeral 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, basic service costs and merchandise such as flowers.
In addition, cemetery expenses could be another $500, and often are handled separately with the cemetery, he said.
Cremation will save about $1,500 over a full burial, Yost said.
Pre-planning a funeral also includes payment, either in one lump sum or over a period of time. The longest payment 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 agreement. 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 and any remaining balance goes back 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.
About every two years, when they renew their licenses with the Mortuary Arts Board, Kansas funeral homes must report the amount of money consumers invest in pre-planning funerals with insurance policies and trusts.
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.
- Next Sunday: Adult children who care for aging parents.