As of the year 2000, approximately five million Americans had prearranged their funerals. In New York State, these arrangements must be completed by a licensed funeral director.
There are many elements that make-up a funeral contract and only your funeral director will have all the information you'll need to complete your arrangements. I have had a number of people tell me, "I have given my attorney my wishes and you are named as my funeral home, so I won't need to sit down with you." WRONG, Your attorney may have drawn up the best will or trust ever written, but the majority of wills are read after the funeral. As good as trusts are they need certified death certificates only obtainable after the funeral. Furthermore how accessible is that will or trust information on a weekend, holiday or during the attorney's vacation? Safe deposit boxes are sealed upon a death so even there, you aren't protected. Funeral homes are not allowed to close -ever- like a police or fire service we and our records are accessible 24 hours a day.
During the prearrangement consultation, vital statistics and biographical information will be obtained for the death certificate and obituary. Decisions such as the selection of a casket, vault, cemetery, and service selections are also made at this time. When you have made your selections, you will be given an Itemized Statement, which, for most funeral arrangements, will include contractual language which legally obligates you to pay the cost of the funeral. You will also be given the General Price List. Store these documents in a safe place and advise your family where they can be found. Again, a safe deposit box is not recommended, since it is normally frozen at the time of ones death.
Though there are no obligations, many people decide to set funds aside when preplanning a funeral. Pre-funding is another way to lessen the future burden on family members. It not only avoids later expenses at a time when family finances are often unstable, but it also often allows an individual to arrange a service at todays prices.
Pre-arrangement plans are regulated by the Pre-Need Funeral Consumer Protection Act. For more information, read the New York State Health Department's publication "Before Prepaying Your Funeral, Know Your Rights."
The legalities (briefly stated) surrounding pre-payment require:
1. All moneys paid to a funeral firm shall be held in trust for such person by the funeral firm.
2. Those moneys shall be deposited in an interest bearing account in a bank or savings & loan.
3. The funeral home shall annually provide the person who made such payment with a statement identifying the location and annual interest earned by the account.
4. Transfer of moneys to the funeral home only occurs at the time of death of the beneficiary.
5. The beneficiary can withdraw all funds and change funeral homes at any time.
6. Moneys paid for such an agreement for an applicant or recipient of supplemental security income benefits under section two hundred nine of the social services law shall be placed into a trust which shall be irrevocable.
7. In the above case if any money is left over after the funeral and burial expenses have been paid, those funds will go to the county in which the beneficiary resided. The funeral home can be changed at any time.
This has been a brief overview of pre-need law in New York State, and does not necessarily apply to other states or jurisdictions. Complete information may be obtained by contacting us at Fergerson Funeral Home, 215 South Main Street, North Syracuse, N.Y. or calling us at 315-458-1970.
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