Funeral Funding Using Insurance Assignments Made Easy – Funeral Homes Should Not Be Banks!

May 21, 2009

While the focus of Funeral News is to report on death-care related events, we consider our sponsor to be an important asset in the advancement of our cause.  As such, we have asked American Funeral Financial to provide this guest article to our readers.  The following was provided by the fine folks at American Funeral Financial, LLC.

afflogoYou just received a first call.  The family is facing something that, for them, is unusual and, in many cases, unexpected – the death of a loved one.   Not only are they dealing with the emotion of their loss, but are soon to be faced with the costs associated with paying for – what for most is one of the most expensive single purchases of their life.

As funeral directors and/or death care providers the family comes to expect, especially in this day and age, expert service.  What the family may be unprepared for is the immediate need for payment for the goods and services that funeral professionals provide.  On the other hand, unless the family can pay with cash, a valid check or major credit card – you, the funeral service provider, are relegated to becoming a bank.

Times have changed and so have expectations.  Assume for a moment that you were to receive your paycheck on Friday and today is Tuesday.  Could you go to Walmart and purchase groceries with the promise of payment from your check on Friday?  Could secure a cell phone from Verizon with the promise of payment in the future?  The obvious answer to these, or similar questions, is a resounding – NO!  It is no longer reasonable to assume that funeral service providers should be forced to wait for their funds considering the difficulty that many face with insurance assignments today.

Due to the rising costs of goods and services, more and more funeral homes and cemeteries are requiring payment in full prior to providing funeral services getcashnow-newor making the interment.  With the economy today, we find more and more families are relying on insurance as the funding vehicle to pay for those services.  Unfortunately, it can take weeks or even months for the insurance company to pay the claim to the beneficiary or funeral home.  In addition, the paperwork associated with funeral financing via an insurance assignment is becoming more complicated and time consuming, taking valuable time away from doing what you do best – serving families.

American Funeral Financial has created an industry leading proprietary system that takes the burden off of you and your staff and makes the process of funeral funding through insurance assignments easy.

  • No longer do you have to verify the insurance assignment with the insurance company – American Funeral Financial does that for you.
  • No longer do you have to due the burdensome paperwork – American Funeral Financial does that for you.
  • No longer do you have to have experience waiting for your funds – American Funeral Financial pays you the next day following verification.

The process is simple.  Once you have signed on with American Funeral Financial – Your Funeral Funding Experts – you’ll have access to our simple web-based entry system.  Working with the American Funeral Financial web system is easy.  Sign in and in less than 10 minutes you will have the paperwork done and the verification process begun.  American Funeral Financial does the verification for you.  Once you have been notified that the assignment can be done, you will have the beneficiary sign the paperwork (that we prepared for you on the web) and we will fund your services.  It is that simple!  Fees to AFF are competitive and come directly from the policy assignment proceeds so funeral homes and cemeteries are paid their full fee for services rendered.  There is no cost to the funeral home or cemetery.

No waiting for your funds, no hassle, no problems!  American Funeral Financial is a full service firm that is run by professionals with years of experience in the death-care industry.  AFF knows what you need when you need it.

But there’s more!  American Funeral Financial knows that you need your money for services rendered.  You do not need to be the bank!  Likewise, so do the beneficiaries.  Therefore, as part of the process – when your firm has signed up with American Funeral Financial – the funeral funding experts – the beneficiaries of the life insurance policies being assigned are eligible to have advanced to them the remainder of the policy to take care of any short term funding needs that they may have personally.  That’s right – you are paid and they get the funds advanced to them for the remaining part of the policy (assuming they want a personal cash advance).

Our team working for your team when you need it the most – because the cash you have today can have a profound effect on the success of your business tomorrow!

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Funerals – High Costs, Add-On’s and Your Last Chance To Be A Big Spender! Is The New York Times Article Accurate?

April 21, 2009

It’s always interesting to read about funeral perceptions and where the industry / profession is headed.  A New York Times article written by Gabrielle Glaser addresses that very issue.  The question is – based on what we are hearing – how much truth is there to the idea that folks are spending the same or more for their funerals – since it’s the last thing they can do for their loved one?nytlogo152x23

Let’s take a look at sections from the article and perhaps you can comment with your thoughts.

EVEN in these hard times, Peter Moloney, a funeral director, believes that people should have what they want.

The funeral industry is offering customized products — including urns with a theme.

Although not all of his customers can fully express their wishes, Mr. Moloney and his brothers, who own six funeral homes on Long Island, have worked hard to arrange customized send-offs. And the touches are as varied as the customers themselves.

Bike lovers pay an extra $200 or so to take their last ride in a special hearse towed by a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Gardeners select  19death4-190wildflower seed packets to include with their funeral programs. One gentleman wanted to be remembered for comforting his grandchildren with ice cream, so, after the funeral, mourners were greeted by a man in a Good Humor truck, handing out frozen treats.

“You have to give people something special,” says Mr. Moloney, who is 44 and a fourth-generation funeral director. “If you’re not, someone else will be. That means adjusting to what people want today.”

Now it is true that Long Island may not be main street America, but it is interesting to ponder if those who live outside of the more affluent areas of our country feel the same when it comes to add-on’s and personalization with added costs.  Prior to the economic downturn, there was evidence that personalization and memorial add-on’s were helpful in increasing the average traditional funeral.  The effect of which was, for most firms, a way to stabilize their revenue loss from increasing cremation.  The NY Times article goes on to say:

Even in a tough economy, of course, people in the funeral business have something that executives in many other industries don’t: a guaranteed, and expanding, pool of customers.

“The honest-to-goodness truth of the matter is that everybody does die,” says Arvin Starrett, a spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association and the owner of Starrett Funeral Home in Paris, Tex.

Revenue in the American funeral industry will grow 1.2 percent this year, to $20.7 billion, estimates Toon van Beeck, a senior industry analyst at IBISWorld, the research firm. That’s down from a 2 percent gain last year — but, hey, it’s still growth when companies in other industries are reporting double-digit losses.

Americans may be living longer than ever, but the reality of a graying nation is stark. The annual death rate of about 2.5 million has been rising about 1 percent a year, and is expected to spike in the early 2020s as older baby boomers reach their mid-70s.

A NEW DIRECTION?

Many firms are reporting an increase in cremation that placing accelerating pressure on their traditional revenue stream making it harder to support the large facility required for traditional funerals and the debt load associated with those buildings.  On average cremation is one-third or less the cost of a traditional funeral and is becoming increasing popular as evidenced by the inclusion of popular movies like the “Bucket List.”

“It’s rather amazing the death care references made in that movie,” states American Funeral Financial VP Chuck Gallagher – formerally a sales VP with Stewart Enterprises.  “Not only was cremation embraced with ease, but both characters romanced the idea that their remains could be placed on a mountain far from where any family member could visit or remember.  For that matter, their remains were placed in a ‘Chock Full of Nuts’ container.”

The Times article goes on to state:

Some insiders suggest that the business could be headed for a restructuring as radical as that sweeping through the music or newspaper industries, especially as baby boomers approach their final act.

The same generation that questioned convention in sex, birth and marriage will probably do the same in death care, says Char Barrett, 48, a funeral director in Seattle and the owner of A Sacred Moment, a business that helps families prepare the bodies of loved ones at home. For a home funeral, she charges $1,450 to $2,595.

“It’s your funeral, your choice — and the industry needs to recognize that,” Ms. Barrett says. “Or it can stay in the box, and drive itself out of business.”

A PREFERENCE for cremation is already transforming the funeral industry in the United States. Cremations will account for a projected 38 percent of all deaths this year, compared with 26 percent in 2000, according to the Cremation Association of North America, an industry group based in Chicago.

And if you care a little bit less about ceremony, and are ready to allow your body to go up in smoke, then all of the trappings of traditional funerals matter less as well — like fancy caskets, says Jerry Sullivan, a second-generation funeral director in Chicago.

“Back in the day, families might spend $10,000, $12,000 on a solid African mahogany casket, have an all-out wake and such,” he says. “Those days are over.”

Today, many funeral directors offer hardwood or metal rental coffins for a short period before cremation, Mr. Sullivan says. He charges roughly $1,000 to rent a hardwood casket for a daylong viewing; a body is placed in a combustible container of cardboard or soft wood, and inserted into the rental coffin lined with fabric.

“We were early adapters,” says Mr. Sullivan, who has rented coffins since 1976. “You want to stay alive in this business, you anticipate your customer’s needs.”

For those who are budget-minded, but don’t want to rent, they can buy coffins at Costco, which offers a selection from $924.99 to $2,999.99.

The Times article (you can read the full article here) is full of ideas that are catching on in various markets and circles.  The following questions remain:

  1. Are families spending the same amount or more for funerals today as compared to two years ago?
  2. How significantly is cremation rising in your market?
  3. Are low cost alternative – Costco – affecting your business?
  4. Do you think as Baby Boomers age and die their generation will radically change the market place for funeral goods and services.

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME.


Green Burial – News Coming Out of Texas. Land Conservation and Burial Combined – A Novel Idea!

April 15, 2009

The Parks and Wildlife Department in Texas plans to become the first government agency in the U.S. to let families lay cremated remains in protected forests for a fee to help the state buy more land for conservation.

Texas will cater to people concerned about environmental impacts of the “death-care industry,” Ted Hollingsworth, the agency’s director of land lens1295546_mountain_springs_sunsetconservation, said in an interview.

“If tens of thousands of people want to take advantage of this opportunity annually, it could easily double the rate at which we’re adding lands to state parks,” Hollingsworth said.

In a Bloomberg article Joe Sehee, Executive Director of the Green Burial Council, had comments that the $12 billion-a-year U.S. funeral industry will need a makeover to meet new demand for back-to-Earth burials and low- energy, low-emission cremations. Customers are now curious about products from biodegradable embalming fluid to caskets made of recycled cardboard.

Consumers are forcing changes on the industry, Sehee said. He expects to have advised cemetery and funeral associations on eco-burials in more than half of the 50 U.S. states by year-end.

“A year ago we had a dozen providers in our network,” Sehee said in an interview. “We have more than 300 now. What’s changed in a year is people see this as an opportunity.”

Champion Company of Springfield, Ohio, will introduce a non-toxic biodegradable embalming fluid this month that provides “reasonable temporary preservation,” said James Bedino, head of research and development. The product, Enigma, challenges the industry’s use of toxic formaldehyde, steel caskets and concrete vaults, all meant to prevent decay.

Cremation, already seen as a more environmental option than a traditional burial, is getting even greener, said Paul Rahill, president of the cremation 00000581division of Matthews International Corp., a casket supplier. Pittsburgh-based Matthews this summer will introduce its newest model of a recycled cardboard casket. The product avoids the use of virgin hardwood, weighs half as much as a wood casket and costs 75 percent less. Cremations in the U.S., which account for 37 percent of burials, are rising by 1 percent a year, Rahill said.

“Their choices have been pretty limited in the past,” Rahill said in an interview. “I can do a cherry paper veneer that looks almost like a cherry hardwood casket.”

Matthews has also developed computer-controlled heat sensors that make cremation furnaces up to 40 percent more energy-efficient. The company later this year plans to install the first bio-cremation system in the U.S. that will use hot water, pressure and an alkali chemical instead of combustion.

“One of our biggest markets is what we call ‘mantle people,’” Ziadie said in an interview. “Cremated remains that are sitting on the mantle with loved ones. They may be there for years. The family may be looking for closure.”

Texas officials are completing a contract with the Green Burial Council to let funeral directors charge a fee for scattering cremated remains in state parks. Part of the revenue will help Texas buy land for conservation.

Green burials represent a small but growing portion of the $12 billion spent annually in the U.S. on funeral and burial services, said Jessica Koth, spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association. In a 2007 survey by AARP, the Washington-based advocacy group for people 50 and older, 21 percent said they were interested in green burials. That number jumped to 43 percent in a 2008 survey, Sehee said.

Given a choice would you prefer a “Green Burial” for a deceased family member of yours?

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!

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Green Burials or Green Funerals – How Green is Green?

April 8, 2009

Everything these days seems to be going “green.”  I recall last spring a nationwide supplier of flowers and plants ran an add campaign that promoted the “pot” the plants were placed in.  They weren’t saying how beautiful their plants were or how wonderful your yard would look when adorned with an assortment of their plants.  Rather, they were touting that the containers the plants were placed in could be buried right there in your yard and that they Printwere biodegradable.

Well, it seems that the “Green” movement has taken root in the funeral and cemetery industry.  Recently the National Funeral Directors Association released a question and answer series on “Green Funeral Service Questions and Answers.” While it needs to be stated that there is no licensing organization that has defined a “Green Funeral or Burial” – the NFDA is taking the lead in addressing questions about how funeral service professionals deal with the growing demand for “Green” products and services.

Below is a reprint of the NFDA Questions and Answers:

What is a green funeral?

A green funeral incorporates environmentally-friendly options to meet the needs of a family requesting a green service. A green funeral may include any or all of the following basic options: no embalming or embalming with formaldehyde-free products; the use of sustainable biodegradable clothing, shroud or casket; using recycled paper products, locally-grown organic flowers, organic food; carpooling; arranging a small memorial gathering in a natural setting; natural or green burial.

What is natural or green burial?

In a “purist” natural or green burial, the body is buried, without embalming, in a natural setting. Any shroud or casket that is used must be biodegradable, nontoxic, and of sustainable material. Traditional standing headstones are not permitted. Instead, flat rocks, plants or trees may serve as grave markers; some cemeteries use GPS to mark the locations of gravesites. A “natural or green burial” may also simply mean burial without embalming, in a biodegradable casket without a vault, when permitted by a cemetery.

What is a green cemetery?

A green cemetery is a burial site that does not permit vaults, non-biodegradable caskets or embalming chemicals. It uses no herbicides, pesticides or irrigation for maintenance of the cemetery grounds. Any material used at a green cemetery must meet the goal of replenishing the earth. There are cemeteries in the U.S. that accommodate both conventional burial practices and vaultless burial on their premises; others incorporate some features of a green cemetery such as sustainable landscape design and natural memorialization.

The first green burial in the modern sense took place in England in 1993; in the ensuing 15 years, the number of green burial grounds in the UK has grown to nearly 40. In the United States, one of the first natural burial grounds was opened in 1996 in western South Carolina. Some green cemeteries are established as conservation areas in accordance with specific state laws. There are now green cemeteries in 10 states – California, Florida, Georgia, Maine, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, and Utah – with more under development. The resource section at the end of this Q&A provides a link to U.S. green burial information.

When a cemetery does require a vault, do I have “green” alternatives?

Check first with the cemetery to determine what is allowed, such as:

  1. Casket protectors or grave liners that are open on the bottom, such as those used in Orthodox Jewish funerals, so that the body comes into contact with the earth.
  1. Using a regular vault that is turned upside-down.

What about cremation? Is it considered “green”?

In general, cremation is not considered “green” because the cremation process uses nonrenewable fossil fuels, even though cremation does use fewer resources than conventional forms of disposition. Cremation also produces airborne emissions. However, cremated remains do not need to be interred in a cemetery, which reduces land use.

What is a green funeral home?

A green funeral home is a business that operates in an environmentally-responsible manner. Owners and staff comply with environmental protection, health, and safety laws and regulations, and follow NFDA’s environmental, health, and safety best practices. Green funeral homes are energy-efficient and follow resource-saving practices, operating in a manner that is sustainable. Sustainable in this sense means business practices that do not deplete resources and that only will have minimal impact on the environment.

It is interesting that when one searches for Green Burial one of the first sites that arises is the title “Carolina Green Burials” which is the site for cremation-sc.com.  As pointed out by the NFDA cremation is not “green”.  By some accounts it takes between 9 to 19 gallons of gas to properly cremate a body.  Hence the use of petrocarbons and the emissions released do not meet the standard of “Green” funeral or burial.  The argument in favor of cremation is it does not require the use of embalming fluid (although many bodies are embalmed before cremation takes place) and the lack of need for a specific burial space.  “Green” however, provides the natural return to the earth and hence the use of space is insignificant as, over time, it can be reused.

While there are many sources for information -for more information about “Green” burial contact Joe Sehee, who is the founder/executive director of the Green Burial Council.  He has worked in the green burial field since 2002 and the deathcare industry since 1999.  A senior fellow with Environmental Leadership Program Fellow and a PERC “enviropreneur,” Joe also consults land trusts, park service agencies, and private landowners interested in developing burial grounds as a strategy for protecting natural areas.  He can be reached at 888-966-3330.

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Funeral Business Declines During Recession – A Report By the Washington Post and Other Media

April 7, 2009

No matter where you look, it seems that there are reports from every angle that discuss the effects of the current recession.  Now the popular HBO show and Washington Post seem to have collaborated with their new article entitled:  Funeral Business Feeling Six Feet Under

ph2007090901823Dana Milbank, author of the article, reported that at their annual meeting, funeral directors asked for a federal bailout.  His report states:

“We recognized that there may be a situation where a lot of folks who were displaced or unemployed might need some help in paying for their funerals,” John Fitch Jr., lobbyist for the National Funeral Directors Association, explained yesterday at the group’s annual gathering, at the Mayflower Hotel. “We had some preliminary discussions about providing some stimulus payments to the states” for funerals, he added.

The article was laced with quotes from a news conference that extolled the sad state of affairs that the funeral industry is experiencing as loved ones select lower prices funerals.  A quote from the article appeared as follows:

“Instead of feeding everybody dinner or lunch, we’ve been throwing little, for lack of a better word, cocktail-party type things, cheese and crackers,” added James Olson of Wisconsin. “Also,” he said, “my cremation rate has gone up in the last two years. . . . I’m at 42 percent.”

“People, rather than selecting a copper or a bronze casket, may choose a 20-gauge steel casket painted in a copper color,” he said. “Instead of choosing a mahogany casket made of real mahogany, they may choose a poplar casket stained with a mahogany stain, which to most observers looks the same. Perhaps they would chose a crepe interior as opposed to a velvet interior in a casket. Perhaps they would choose a sheet-metal urn as opposed to a solid-bronze urn.”

Funerals are recession proof.  Hum…that doesn’t seem to hold true.  Not only is there the report in the Washington Post, but other articles are appearing istock_000006922761xsmallthat suggest that there is a decrease in the amount and form of spending for funerals in today’s economy.

In an article in the OC Register, author Barbara Venezia, states:

Scott Momb of the Neptune Society in Newport Beach told me he’s seen about a 20 percent decrease in business as folks opt for cremations and forgo the traditional burials at sea which range from $850 to $1,300.

According to a recent KCAL news segment, more families are going the less expensive route of cremation verses traditional casket funerals. The casket industry is at an all-time low. Cremations are up 60 percent. But if you still insist on a casket, Costco now sells them online at Costco.com; wonder if they’re stamped with the Kirkland logo like their other products?

In addition to the reports above Minnesota Public Radio recently reported on the state of the funeral industry –

“What our members are telling us is that they’re most definitely feeling the effects of the economy,” said Jennifer Koth, a spokesperson for the National Funeral Directors Association.

Koth says a growing number of families are choosing less expensive caskets for their loved ones. They’re cutting back on flowers and shortening the length of visitation services, all as a way to save money.

There’s also a rise in the number of families who cannot pay funeral costs at all, especially in regions with high unemployment. That means burial costs are increasingly falling on local or state governments.

In 2007 in Minnesota, 42 percent of people who died were cremated. That number has doubled just since the mid-1990s.  For the funeral industry what  is startling is that Minnesota is not a hot bed of change.  We’ve seen cremation trends increase in Florida, California and New York, but when a state like Minnesota has a cremation rate that reaches almost 50% there is trouble on the horizon for traditional funerals.  The Minnesota Public Radio report goes on to say:

The cremation trend affects the livelihood of State Sen. Paul Koering. When Koering is not at the state Capitol, he runs a hearse business that serves several funeral homes in the Brainerd area.

“Obviously, if you have your loved one cremated, you don’t need a hearse,” Koering said. “I think that in these economic times, people are looking at the cremation option as a way to do the funeral at a lower cost.”

According to an article in the MetroWest Daily News a spokesperson for the National Funeral Director Association stated:

The average traditional funeral in 2000 cost $6,183. In 2008, that number increased to $7,323, meaning an 18 percent bump in price.

More and more we are seeing a reduction in the amount spent or selected especially when the family is left with paying the burden at the time of death.  Another trend that is emerging is the requirement that payment be made at the time of service.  One of our sponsors, American Funeral Financial – the funeral funding experts – reports that business is increasing.

“Funeral homes are coming to realize that they no longer can provide service and finance the funeral – hoping that the family will pay when insurance funds come in.   Funeral homes have reported to us that accept cash or credit cards, but the days of waiting for the money is over.  Chuck Gallagher, representative with American Funeral Financial, stated, “We have clearly seen an uptick in the business of funding funerals.  Now more than ever, funeral homes need a professional reliable way to obtain funding for their funerals.  That’s why business is up.”

WHERE FROM HERE?

If you are in the funeral business, drop us a comment and let us know whether you’re experiencing a decline the selections that your customers are making as a result of the recession.  Likewise, if you are seeing an increase in the rate of cremation, let us know that as well.

YOUR COMMENTS WELCOME!

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