Treating death as taboo risks bills stress

18:07, Feb 12 2014
Kevin Moyle with one of the inexpensive home made coffins he was selling on the side of the road in 2013.

Benjamin Franklin famously said nothing in this world was certain except death and taxes.

But death seems to be a topic of conversation that most Kiwis avoid, according to the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand.

Pre-paid funerals was a topic of discussion at the association's annual conference in Blenheim, attended by 80 delegates from around New Zealand.

The association's Blenheim members - Cloudy Bay Funeral Services and Geoffrey T Sowman Funeral Directors - were in attendance at the three-day conference which started on Tuesday. Seminars will be held to discuss education and upskilling staff.

Research shows that only 4 per cent of families in New Zealand have a pre-paid funeral and the remainder stump up the cash.

The association's chief executive, Katrina Shanks, says it wants people in Marlborough to have a "conversation" about saving for their funeral and easing the financial burden faced by their families.


A decrease in financial literacy and a lack of discussion about dignity after death is being blamed for insufficient debate on the subject, according to Ms Shanks.

Pre-paid plans allow people to specify in advance the details of their funeral and pay the costs either as a lump sum or by monthly instalments. The advantage is that the funeral costs - including minister's fees, cremation service fees and the burial plot - are included in the price guarantee.

Ms Shanks said pre-paid funerals relieve monetary stress on a family at a time of grief and ensure the deceased's wishes are respected. Current government policy excludes pre-paid funerals up to $10,000 from asset-testing when the elderly apply for subsidised long-term residential care.

An average funeral in Marlborough costs $6500. The Marlborough District Council charges $1000 for a burial plot or $500 for a plot of interned ashes, in addition to $700 to pay for diggers.

The cheapest funeral is around $2500 for a cremation with the deceased's ashes returned to the family in an urn.

Ms Shanks said health and life insurance were priorities for families and funeral planning was the last thing on their mind. "We want a conversation, we don't want to prey on people," she said.

Cloudy Bay Funeral Services Partner Alan Walker said education to make "good choices" was needed.

He acknowledged that a prepaid funeral would not be the best option for everyone, but he would like to see it discussed.

"There are poignant times when all our lives change, such as a health incident. I have met people who wish they had started to save for a funeral five years ago. These are professional people who plan life but don't grasp they need to see their own mortality."

The Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand has set up a national trust which is independently managed.

Money deposited in the account accrues interest. It is available following a death and any money not spent goes to the deceased's estate.

"The money is there for a purpose of peace of mind so that the bill is not left for others to pick up," Mr Walker said.

"We want people to have a discussion to make the right decision."

The Marlborough Express