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Preneed vs. Last Minute Shopping-Comparing
I’ve read a lot of discussions regarding Preneed versus At-time Purchase. My mother passed away Friday, March 5. Approximately 10 years ago, I purchased a Preneed package for both of my parents. My mother chose “Simple Cremation” and my father chose a regular funeral with burial at the Veteran’s Cemetery. My father was known in the community so I added rental of one of their large rooms for the after-funeral gathering of family and friends.
The reason I chose Preneed arrangements was because I was sure I would not be able to function well enough at the time of their death to make proper arrangements. I felt prior arrangements would allow it to be taken care of for me by someone else. I now know that is not necessarily true. At time of death, I was still inundated with many decisions and a lot of discussion about details and such. So choosing Preneed did not alleviate the one thing I wanted taken care of – the bother while grieving.
After reading many negatives about Preneed purchases, I was more than nervous about both purchases. A prior experience of burying my father’s housekeeper gave me insights into the pricing and bargaining of such things. The housekeeper was a terrible, crabby old woman whom my father had promised a burial near her own father. At that time, over ten years ago, I was working as a reporter and had just finished a series about funeral costs, so I had a good idea about pricing on many items that could be purchased for one’s self like caskets (which some people made into coffee tables until used), or cremations where people were placed in shotgun shells for after-life hunting. My father is a very honest man and wanted to honor his promise to the housekeeper, while I am a very frugal person who does not believe in wasting a great deal of money on a funeral. I went prepared with cash in hand, $2200. Our first quote for a straight burial, casket, eternal maintenance and plot with no service or extras was $10,000. I asked the casket price. I was told $2000 for the simplest. I told him, I had no feelings for the woman at all and was burying her as a simply courtesy because her family would not, so $10,000 total was not even feasible. I suggested a wood box or even cardboard box would suffice, plus we had no need for upkeep or maintenance on the site because we had no plans to visit afterwards. I’m sure the salesperson thought I was ghoul. We dickered every option and got down to the final promise, my father told the housekeeper he would get her a plot by her father. The salesman quoted $2500 for the plot. I pulled out my cash and laid the hundred dollar bills across the desk and said, “I have $2200 cash, total, tax and everything, can you do it for that? If not, we’ll go to Forest Lawn down the street where the plots are only $800. As far as I’m concerned, she’s dead and won’t know the difference.” The salesman explained that was way too little for what I was requesting. I gathered the money up and started to leave, when he said, “Wait, I’ll ask the director.” A few minutes later, he was back and accepted my payment as total. We signed the papers and paid. Several days later, my father called to check on the arrangements and they tried to convince him that what he wanted was a cremation. I called them back and explained that what they wanted was to do as the contract stated or become the center of my next piece in my funeral series. Everything then went as planned and paid. I received a $10,000 simple burial with casket and plot for $2200. I also learned there was a lot of leeway in the pricing of funerals.
I mention this experience first because I could not imagine the horror of doing this same negotiating in regards to my mother and father while I was grieving. So I talked to both parents about what they expected for a funeral and went shopping for Preneed Packages for both.
Both Preneed Packages were purchased and completely paid for several years ago. I was very leery of the purchases after continued reading about problems with Preneed Packages. Recently, I went to Davis Funeral Home, where the purchases were made to update my father’s package with included the works: body transport, embalming, service, viewing, programs and cards, burial clothing, casket, after service gathering room, procession to cemetery, etc. It supposedly covers everything except opening and closing the grave at the Veteran’s Cemetery ($250) and headstone. At the time of purchase, my father had quite a few political friends who would want to come and pay respects. The friends have predeceased him, so some of the extras were no longer needed like a gathering room and procession, plus I decided to do the programs myself and provide his western wear as burial clothing. We paid a total of $4000 for my father’s Preneed Package of which $1500 was the gathering room rental. When I spoke with the saleswoman, I found her to be cold and acting like we were wasting her time and being cheap with the changes we were looking into. She gave us their new package prices showing a “Simple Burial” at $7,500 and the package we purchased currently at over $15,000. Plus, we were told we would be unable to receive a full refund as there was a $2200 fee for services they provided so far. Needless to say, we kept the package we had as it was stated and I left with a bad taste in my mouth.
My mother passed away last Friday. Her passing was after a long illness under Home Hospice Care. I provided that care with the assistance of her insurance, and she died peacefully at home. I was very worried about the Preneed arrangements and whether I would have to endure an “upsell” while grieving. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the results and had reservations regarding only a small part of it. Here was my experience:
Since my mother died as part of Home Hospice Care, they make sure there is no police or coroner called to the home, which was a great relief. Once my mother was pronounced dead, the Hospice Care contacted the funeral home and they arrived in a plain, unmarked white van. The only complaint I would issue is the way they removed my mother from the home. I have worked as a nurse in the cancer wards so I have experience with the dead and dying, and some experience with body removals and after death handing. I made my father step into another room while my mother’s removal was made, and I’m glad I did. Two funeral home workers were sent for the body. They brought in a gurney but my parents have a very old home and it could not make the corner into the bedroom. This necessitated carrying the body from the bedroom to the hallway. My mother weighed about 125 pounds. Watching the workers labor while carrying her, and then waht appeared to me as roughly tossing her on the gurney, then straightening her legs to place in plastic wrap, was quite disturbing to me. I could only imagine what it would be like if my father witnessed it. Other than that, the workers were very professional. The gurney was covered with a white bag, open on top. My mother was placed on the bag, which was then wrapped around her from both sides, and then her entire body with bag was covered by a colored cloth drape. The rest of the process from the house to the van was simple yet elegantly handled. I was called later that day to schedule an appointment for the paperwork.
I don’t know why I thought there would be no paperwork. It was not a logically premise on my part. But I was surprised, because in my heart, I wanted Preneed to mean no work on my part at this time. I dreaded the appointment the very next day, but stepped up and dragged my husband with me so my father would not have to be part of it. Another thing I was surprised by, I paid for the Preneed Packages, and yet I was told my father would have to sign the paperwork for my mother’s burial because he was the spouse. Part of purchasing these Preneed Packages was to prevent my parents from having to deal with it. I told the funeral representative that I had my mother and father’s power-of-attorney and his presence for arrangements was “NOT” going to happen so how would they like to deal with it. I was told my mother’s power-of-attorney obviously had ended with her passing, but my father’s would be fine. Thankfully, I obtained both and kept them renewed every five years.
As for my mother’s Preneed Simple Cremation, we arrived at Davis Funeral Home to sign papers. I brought the paid contract, power-of-attorney, $100 for death certificates, and my mother’s obituary which was written according to her wishes. I had already ordered my mother’s urn and some memorial jewelry online. I was ready for the “upsell.” As soon as the representative sat down with a thick pricing packet in his hand, I braced for the fight. But the fight didn’t happen. I was so surprised (and relieved). He looked over my contract, asked me if we would like to look at their urns, and began filling out the paperwork. I told him my mother’s urn was already purchased. He told me we were in good hands with the Preneed Package. Two sheets of paperwork were filled out, I signed both, he asked how many on the death certificates at $20 each, I said five, and he went off to make copies of the signed papers. The whole thing took about 20 minutes from start to finish. He was very compassionate as well as consoling. There was no upsell at all. He simply gave me copies of the pricing and said if I needed anything else to let them know. He took the obituary and explained that he would fax it in for us, but we should know that obituaries are no longer free and the newspaper would call us for a credit card payment. As he completed his part and left, another woman entered and offered her services as a bereavement counselor (at no charge) should we need it. I was amazed, pleased and felt no pressure whatsoever. I would certainly recommend them.
One thing I found just a touch tacky, but others may not, was a comparison sheet showing what we saved by making Preneed arrangements. Before I tell you that pricing, let me say that we purchased a “Simple Cremation” for my step-father about ten years ago, and it cost $600. My mother pre-paid $327 for hers. The papers we signed showed the same service for “Simple Cremation” that cost my mother $327 ten years ago would have cost $1450 today. I must say, I am quite pleased that we preplanned. Honestly, $1400 would have been a burden.
I learned a lot this week about funerals and packages. I learned there will be work and negotiations and other decisions to make regardless of the Preneed arrangements. I learned that a standard obituary of less than 300 words cost $300 in our local paper (ouch!). I think I’ll be better prepared when my father passes. I’m still worried about my father’s package though. There is a big difference between cremation and a burial. I can’t help wondering whether my father’s burial will be as simple and relieving, or whether I will endure a fight over receiving the full benefits of the package rather than a scaled down version. But for today, Kudos to Davis Funeral Home for making this experience so easy for me and for fulfilling their obligations as stated in the contract without pressure or “upsell.”
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