Funeral choices ease costs

HEATHER SIMPSON
Last updated 08:05 27/02/2014

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Budgeting checks by Blenheim funeral directors ensure a deceased's family do not feel the burden of escalating funeral costs.

Funeral directors set out a clear financial plan to allow families to live within their means, a Blenheim funeral director said.

A lawyer dealing with family estates said the guidance meant there had not been reports of people in Marlborough being caught with unmanagable funeral costs.

The Express inquired about the issue after the Dominion Post reported that a widower in Waikanae is being forced to leave his rented flat after spending nearly all his savings on his beloved wife's funeral.

Ken Allen, 81, 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.

He paid Kapiti Coast Funeral Homes $5396 up-front, and applied to Work and Income for a funeral grant to cover the rest.

But his application was declined on the ground that his savings were above the asset limit for the grant.

Lloyd Bush, a funeral director at Geoffrey T Sowman Funeral Directors in Blenheim, said Blenheim funeral directors were careful and clear when setting a funeral budget with a client.

"We explain to families approved costs for the funeral," he said. "If people have financial issues we can work within a budget."

It was not common in Marlborough that a deceased's family paid for pricey funerals they could not afford, he said.

"Some people have difficulty paying for funerals, but there is a Work and Income grant of a maximum $1,971. Anyone who thinks they qualify for the grant will be asset-tested by Work and Income."

If a person died as a result of an accident the Accident Compensation Corporation would award up to $5879, he said.

Funeral costs range from $2,000 for a cremation-only funeral, with the deceased's ashes returned in an urn.

Costs can increase to as much as $8000 depending on the choice of casket, transport and associated costs of food and flowers.

Marlborough had the highest per-capita increase in the over-65 population in New Zealand, latest census figures show.

Alison Weaver, a partner at Gascoigne Wicks law firm who works in estate planning and family law, said funeral costs were a hot topic in Blenheim because of its increasing elderly population.

People did not always talk about death and their first experience of the cost of death was often when it happened to someone close to them, she said.

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Funeral directors had checks in place to ensure a family member or the deceased's estate could cover funeral costs, she said.

"Dying is very expensive. Funeral directors are conscious of the costs and want people to be able to afford to pay for it. They have very clear discussions with the family about what is affordable and what is not."

She did not know of any cases of anyone being unable to pay for a funeral.

"As a business, funeral directors don't want debt they can't recover. I think, many people may start with the assertion that money is no object but they end up being realistic because a funeral director's guidance is clear on what is affordable to them."

Funeral directors in Blenheim offer pre-pay funeral options where money is paid into a secure trust. For those in financial distress, sometimes a funeral director will agree to allow payment over time, she said.

There was a lot of information available in Marlborough on the subject, from services such as Community Law and budget advice services, due to the percentage of over 65s here, she said.

- The Marlborough Express

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