No doubt you've heard about "prepaid funerals." They sound neat and tidy. Just pay a small amount every month and when you die everything is taken care of.
But watch out. The National Senior Citizen Law Center says some of these prepaid funeral contracts "contain more than a whisper of deception."
Although you think everything will be paid for your family might be in for a shock when the final bill for the funeral is added up. Some contracts provide for a specific amount to be paid for the funeral and if costs have risen in the interim, your family pays the difference.
Of course you might end up paying more in monthly premiums than the coverage is actually worth. You pay so much a month until you die. But the policy agrees to pay only a specific amount, an amount that usually ends up too low.
The law center says "some contracts are written so the deceased must be buried at a specified place." Guess what happens if you move and want to be buried in a city miles away? All the money you put into the prepaid contract is lost unless your family wants to spend the money to ship your body to the specified place of burial.
Also, many prepaid funeral contracts pay little or no interest on the money you keep sending in for deposit. If you would simply put a small monthly, amount of money into a savings account, the law center says, "you would have much more flexibility and would earn an honest rate of interest."
While prepaid funeral contracts may be of dubious value, preplanning your funeral is an excellent idea. In this way, you can specify exactly what you want done.
"Most individuals choose a much simpler funeral than their bereaved relatives would choose after their death," says Betty Clemmer, executive director of the Continental Association of Memorial Societies.
By joining a consumer-oriented, non-profit memorial society, Clemmer says, "you're guaranteed to get the kind of funeral arrangements you want at the best possible price."
The memorial society helps you work out the arrangements you want and even indicates funeral homes that have agreed to give society members the best price. The society sells nothing and is therefore in a good position to be an objective adviser.
Memorial societies usually are organized by religious groups, labor unions or community-oriented associations. There are no demands to buy any specific funeral or use any specific services. Generally, they're open to all religions.
Normally there's a modest fee to join and your family must pay a little at the time of your death (to change the records). But mostly the societies are low-cost organizations run by volunteers.
A memorial society can show you how to select a simple but dignified funeral that will be well below the average cost for furnerals in your area.
For more information on how memorial societies help to save money on a funeral, you can get a free brochure. "Funeral and Memorial Societies," by sending a self-addressed, stamped, business size envelope to: Betty Clemmer, Continental Association of Funeral and Momorial Societies, 1828 L St. NW. Washington, D.C. 20036.
The brochure lists names, addresses and phone numbers of all local society chapters - state by state. There are also instructions on how to donate your body or body organs to local hospitals and universities.
Q: The Employees Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) does not include a portability provision. Consequently, thousands of people are being robbed of their earned pension benefits. This lack of portability (the right to take your pension benefits with you when you transfer jobs) is an open invitation for an unscrupulous employer to fire or lay off an employee just prior to the time he would become entitled to pension benefits. Would you shed some light on this subject?
A: You're right, the revised pension laws do not have any provision that protects the "mobile worker." As it stands now, the vast majority of employers require employees to work 10 years before they become entitied to their share of a pension fund. If you work for nine years and move to another job, or are fired, you lose all pension rights.
The law says no employer can fire or lay off any employe just prior to being entitled to pension benefits without due cause. The trouble is, the burden of proof is on the employe, and it's an expensive proposition trying to fight this kind of thing in court.
The Internal Revenue Service requires some smaller employers to give employes rights to 40 percent of their pension benefits after four years of service (it moves up progressively to 100 percent after 10 years). But this is the exception, not the rule.
What can be done? Get in touch with your congressmen. Congress can, and should, change this inequity in the law.
Meanwhile, for more information on your pension rights under the law, you can get a free pamphlet. "Pension Facts No. 1," by sending a self addressed, stamped envelope to Pension Rights Center. 1346 Connectedicut Avenue N.W. Room 1019. Washington, D.C. 20036