Friday, October 16, 2009

Tough Questions Part III - Advantages and disadvantages of prepaying your funeral & other options

From my CBC Radioactive column with Peter Brown - October 15, 2009:

For the last few weeks, as Radioactive's personal finance columnist, we've been talking about the tough conversations you NEED to have with your loved ones and some of the tough financial decisions you have to make.

Last week we looked at the cost of funerals. Today, we're looking at the "how" you pay for a funeral and what your options exist.

Let's say you're relying on CPP to pay for a funeral. How much will it cover?

What we need to keep in mind is that if a person didn't pay into CPP (the Canada Pension Plan) their entire working career, the might receive less than the $2,500 maximum death benefit. From last week, we know that a funeral can average around $4,000 - 10,000, so even with the max benefit, there's a possible shortage.

Can you talk to the funeral home about a payment plan?

With many, yes, you can talk to the funeral home about a payment plan. They don't advertise it, but most will wait to receive the $2,500 after all the final tax returns and probate's been done if it is a matter of just not having liquid funds (i.e. there's a house left but it takes time to get the money from assets).

A lot of people look at pre-paid and pre-arranged funerals. First of all, what are the important differences between pre-paid and pre-arranged?

Prearranged is just that - you've met with a home and documented what you'd like but not necessarily paid for it. Pre-paid is where you've made the arrangements and pre-paid via life insurance, other payment forms, etc.

What are the advantages of a Prepaid Funeral?

1. Growth isn't taxable - As long as the expenses incurred are for eligible funeral expenses as defined by section 148.1 of the Canada Tax Act, the growth is non-taxable.

2. It's obviously much easier to think rationally when not grieving. It's difficult to think clearly while making so many decisions within days of losing someone. Being frugal is often the furthest thing on someones mind in the aftermath of death. It's simply easier to make those difficult decisions while not under so much stress.

3. Your wishes are honoured.

4. It's easy to get. Buying life insurance for someone in their 80s for example with major health issues is a challenge. Prepaid funerals, either as an insurance vehicle or as a trust fund don't require a health screening or age limit to qualify.

What are the drawbacks of a Prepaid Funeral?

1. They aren't a good investment. The interest they generate is minimal. The plan contributor has little control over where or how the money is invested.

2. There are scams out there. You will need to:

- Ensure the funds are held either in an income trust or as a part of an insurance policy at a recognized Canadian Financial Institution covered under the CDIC (Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation).
- Ensure the funeral home is a licensed funeral provider and is licensed under the Prearranged Funeral Act. In Alberta, check out www.afsrb.ab.ca/PrearrangingaFuneral.htm
- Confirm with the funeral home that you can transfer your prepaid arrangement anywhere in Canada.
- Keep track of the policy and let your family know where it is.

Overall, is prepaying a good idea?

I don't think so. If you're looking for tax free growth and think you have a few years, the money would best be put in a TFSA (Tax Free Savings Account). At least that way, you still have the control over how the money is invested and it's there when needed. You can still prearrange your funeral so that your wishes are carried out how you'd like.

Before we leave the difficult, but important subject of funerals.. anything else we should bear in mind?

Lastly, if you have a loved one in assisted living of any type, you need to let that facility know your wishes well in advance. You must be aware that these facilities do NOT have a morgue, so if you were out of town or unreachable during a death, obviously the costs would go up for transportation to a storage facility.

Next week, we'll tackle the dollars and cents of long-term care, the financial issues of when a spouse has to move out, OAS, AB seniors benefit and more.

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