Putting life into the funeral business
Pre-arranged funerals can cost less, and save loved ones big headaches

When Dorothy McCullogh's aunt died recently, she and her niece were forced to handle the funeral arrangements. But coordinating the details while dealing with the time-pressure and stress of a recent loss, meant there was little maneuver room to make the best decisions.

"When you get older, you attend funerals more often, and last minute arrangements are always harder," said McCullogh. "After our last experience, my husband Bruce and I decided to plan our funerals in advance."

The McCulloghs lived and raised their three kids in NDG. But like many Quebec Anglo families, two were tempted by better opportunities outside the province. This left the parents wondering who would take care of things if the worst happened.

So they bought themselves basic, pre-arranged funeral packages from Mount Royal Commemorative Services, consisting of a plot, cremation and chapel services with an organist. Although they could have also booked a reception afterwards, they left that option open.

"My daughter works in New York, one of my sons is in Nova Scotia, and we don't know how long our other son will be in Montreal, said Mrs. McCullogh. " So it would be hard for them to handle a funeral from out of town. I wouldn't want anyone to go through that."

The McCulloghs are not alone in pre-planning their funerals. According to Suzanne Scott of the Funeral Services Association of Canada, although statistics aren't kept, from her discussions with association members, there are indications that pre-arrangement sales are growing at double-digit rates.

For example Guaranteed Funeral Deposits of Canada, -- which manages the pre-arrangement deposits people to funeral companies, so buyers can be sure their burial money doesn't end up in a Casino till - reported that deposits under management, jumped from $16.2 million in 1999, to $24.5 million last year.

Mount Royal Commemorative Services, has also seen a big increase in business. Pre-arrangement sales have quadrupled in the past three years, jumping from 100 packages in 1999, to close to 400 last year.

Much of this has to do with its considerable marketing efforts, which make the complex highly visible relative to its size. Last year's campaigns include targeted mail-campaigns, infomercials, direct selling, and most notably its non-stop radio commercials.

According to Tim Thompson, the company's director of sales and marketing, the reduced hassles are only one of many benefits that pre-arranged funerals offer. Most notably, they can also save you a heck of a lot of money.

"The average funeral in Canada last year ran at about $5,000, and costs are doubling every ten years," said Thompson. "But the average pre-arranged package we sold cost only $3,000. And buyers are protected from future price increases."

According to Thompson, people pay less for pre-arranged packages because they are able to assess their situations more objectively when they don't have to deal with the grief and time pressures of an abrupt death. Perhaps more important, clients also typically negotiate a better deals when there is no stress involved, and they have time to shop around.

Ironically, people seem to be more willing to spend money on loved one's funerals than they would on their own.

"There is such a thing as emotional over-spending," said Thompson, a former radioman, who does the firm's radio commercials, and the voice-overs for its television spots. "When people are grieving over the loss of someone close, they much less likely to quibble over details and extras."

According to Thompson, the average pre-arrangement customer is 65 years old, with most between 55 and 75. The former is an important number, since the first post-war baby-boomers turned 55 last year. Which means the heart of that generation is marching straight into Thompson's target age group.

But why would anyone want to think about, let alone deal with dying before they had to? "I don't look on my death as anything exceptionally unpleasant," said Dorothy McCullogh. "Dying is a natural event, just as much as living is."

McCullogh is not alone in her beliefs. Management consultants - notably best-selling author Steven Covey -- typically advise people undertaking any task, -- including one's own life -- to plan for its by "beginning with the end in mind." You'd have to think he'd approve of pre-arranged funerals.


Photo caption: After Bruce and Dorothy McCullogh (shown here with Paul Delaney, a family services counselor at Mount Royal Commemorative Services), saw several acquaintances experience the headache of last minute funeral arrangements, they decided to take care of theirs in advance.

E-mail can be sent to Diekmeyer at: peter@peterdiekmeyer.com


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