Funeral costs overwhelm widower
A grieving widower is being forced to leave his rented flat after spending nearly all his savings on his beloved wife's funeral.
Ken Allen, 81, of Waikanae, looked after his sick wife Rona, 81, for 12 years before she died in November. Their only asset was $8716 in a joint account, saved for both their funerals so they would not be a burden on their family when they died.
But Mr Allen soon discovered that was barely enough for one funeral.
Even the modest version he chose amounted to $7367, which included the casket, service at the cemetery and a burial plot.
So he paid Kapiti Coast Funeral Homes $5396 up front, and applied to Work & Income for a funeral grant to cover the rest.
But his application was declined on the ground his savings were well above the asset limit for the grant.
At April 1 last year, the grant was available only to those with savings below about $1720.
The average price of a funeral on the Kapiti Coast is about $9000 to $10,000.
Mr Allen was left struggling to pay for the funeral, plus his phone, medical and power bills, and $500 rent, out of his pension, so "something had to give", he said.
His son found cheaper rental accommodation further north.
"There is nothing cheaper in this area, so I have to go . . . leaving a grandson, two beautiful granddaughters, my poor wife down in the graveyard, who I try and get to every week," he said.
He claimed Work & Income had "treated me like dirt", and said: "Because they would not pay me, I had to pay the extra $1900 because there was no way I could see my wife lying down there with her funeral not being paid.
"The poorer people, like myself, who came through the Depression, worked hard all our lives, had years we were unable to save, are not being looked after today."
Otaki MP Nathan Guy and Labour MP Annette King both wrote to Social Development Minister Paula Bennett on his behalf to ask if there were plans to review eligibility for the funeral grant. Mrs Bennett wrote back stating the asset limits and saying: "If the surviving partner has assets above this amount, there is no entitlement to a funeral grant."
Funeral Directors' Association president Eion McKinnon said last year that the maximum funeral grant of $1959 was well short of the cost of many burial plots.
Additional costs included a casket, perpetual maintenance and interment fees, funeral directors' fees and headstones.
Lindsay Meehan, the Ministry of Social Development's general manager of senior services, said: "I empathise with Mr Allen's loss and how tough it is to lose a loved one.
"Funeral grants are available to people if they don't have the means to pay for a funeral themselves . . . When we assessed Mr Allen's entitlement, [his] savings meant he was well above the asset limit.
"Mr Allen approached us about this decision.
"We had another look and determined that the original decision was correct.
"We are arranging to meet with Mr Allen to talk through whether he is eligible for other types of financial assistance from us."
The Dominion Post