Buy now, bury later: exploring pre-paid funerals - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Buy now, bury later: exploring pre-paid funerals

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - It's a haunting figure for consumers in Ohio; new information from the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors claims at least $1.25 million meant for funeral expenses are missing statewide.

Three Trumbull County funeral directors are accused of failing to fund pre-need contracts for their clients and a state investigation is following the money to determine how much has disappeared.

"Most funeral directors, the overwhelming majority of funeral directors, are good people, they want to give you a service, they're honest people, but there's a few bad apples and those really stick out," says Linda Betzer, trustee of the Cleveland Memorial Society.

Robert McDermott in Niles and Robert and Patrick McClurkin in Girard are all under scrutiny by the board of embalmers. The state board accuses McDermott of ripping off $150,000 from pre-paid clients. McDermott's state licenses were revoked by the board in July. 

The McClurkins face allegations from the board of stealing about $400,000 from pre-paid customers. 

At the request of the Trumbull County Prosecutor's Office, the Ohio Attorney General's Office has brought in forensic accountants to help both Girard and Niles police review the books of both funeral homes.

The state's investigation is in its third week and there's no estimate on how long it could take.

Thousands in Ohio pre-pay each year with no problems. One local funeral director says it's safe and can be comforting.

"The money-making decisions are really tough at a time of death and people aren't always clear," says Lane Family Funeral Home president and CEO Joseph Lane. "This way, families can look and say, this is exactly what I feel is a reasonable expense for me and for my family."

Experts say you need to do your homework before you write a check toward future funeral expenses.

"If you walk into a funeral home, speak to the employee, ask for a general price list, you can take it home, go to three different funeral homes," Betzer recommends.

You can comparison shop online and with a few clicks, download planning guides. 

Unless you're spending down your assets to qualify for Medicaid, Betzer agrees you should pre-plan but thinks pre-pay is unsafe because if your money gets into the wrong hands, there's no guarantee you'll get it back.

"Pre-plan, do not pre-pay," Betzer says.

Instead, Betzer recommends using different methods of paying ahead:
  • Obtain a life insurance policy or pre-pay an insurance policy and list your funeral home of choice as the beneficiary.
  • Put money into a payable upon death account.
  • Set up a trust and leave instructions with a trustee.
  • Write a payable check to the insurance company your funeral home contracts with. 
Safety, security, and solace are guaranteed if you plan and compare before you pay the bill.

To determine if a funeral home is reputable, Betzer says you can call the state board to see if any complaints are filed against the funeral home you're considering.
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