Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Latest CDC Report Shows Positive Trend in Life Expenctancy

You might want to go ahead and add that extra something to your "Bucket List." Why? Well, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics’ preliminary death statistics for 2009, your life expectancy has increased by one tenth of a percent! That might not seem like a lot, but it just may be one more visit with the grandkids or that last cruise to the Caribbean. It’s also indicative of a very positive trend of declining death rates in the United States that has been continuing for the last ten years.

The study, the results of which were released on March 16th 2011, shows that one tenth of a percent equates to two-tenths of a year for males (75.7 years) and one tenth of a year for females (80.6 years). That’s right–women are still expected to outlive their sweethearts by an average of 4.9 years.

The study also found that age-adjusted death rates have declined significantly for the top 5 of the 15 leading causes of death:
* heart disease (down by 3.7 %)
* cancer (1.1 %)
* chronic lower respiratory diseases (4.1 %)
* stroke (4.2 %)
* accident/unintentional injuries (4.1 %)

Things are looking bright for the next generation, too: life expectancy at birth increased from 78.0 years to 78.2 years in 2009, says

So it looks as if with a bit of luck and a lot of preparation and good decisions, you can be looking forward to many sunset years ahead. But what will you do if in fact you do fall into the statistical range, and outlive your spouse? Do you have a plan in place for those extra 5 (or sometimes more) years? If you don’t yet, we can help! Our Estate Planning services can provide you with all of the necessary documents you need. Call us at 1-800-399-FARR to schedule your free initial consultation.

You can view the original full-length study here, on the CDC website.

Photo by Ambro.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Film Raises Awareness of Adults with Disabilities

April is Autism Awareness Month, and on April 2, 2011 you’ll have the opportunity to see Wretches and Jabberers at the AMC Lowes Georgetown 14 Theatre in Washington, DC. If you're not located in DC, click here to see if this inspiring documentary is coming your way. 

Wretches and Jabberers is a ground-breaking documentary about two autistic men (Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette) on a mission to change the global perception of people with disabilities. Presumed to have intellectual delays because of their challenges in communication, both men were excluded from classic schooling opportunities and relegated to institutions and adult disability centers. When they later learned to communicate by typing, it dramatically changed their lives and inspired them to teach others that intelligence can express itself in different ways.

Show your support for these two courageous men by purchasing presale tickets here.
AMC has also generously offered to donate 10% of the ticket proceeds to the Autism Society in honor of Autism Awareness month.

You can find out more about this independent documentary at

Photographer: Salvatore Vuono

New Elder Care Technologies Make Aging-in-Place a Possibility for Many Seniors

"Getting old is not for sissies" goes the quote, and many of my clients and their families find this to be true. One of the biggest challenges with growing older is the upheaval of changing your living situation, whether due to health reasons, financial circumstances or both. Generally, long term elder care is categorized into three main categories: In-Home Care, Assisted Living and Nursing Homes. As you can imagine, In-Home Care is the most expensive, even if you don’t have a 24-hour hired care giver. Assisted Living requires that you move out of your home and into other community housing, where you still may retain limited independence, but also be under monitoring by medical staff. For many people, Nursing Homes are a last resort, since they are financially draining (averaging upwards of $83,000 a year according to the MetLife statistics from October 2010) and don’t allow for any lifestyle independence in a hospital-like atmosphere.

But now, a fourth option is becoming popular and gaining recognition in elder care: Aging-in-Place. Aging-in-place is a care option that allows you to continue living independently in your own home without the need for a live-in care giver. For many seniors suffering from memory issues or a high fall risk, this option might be impossible–if not for the these latest developments in elder care technology.

Drug compliance is the most common issue for those living alone, and can have far-reaching health consequences if not monitored correctly. For those with memory issues, there are several pill-reminder services and gadgets that can help you stay on track with taking the right medication at the right times. One of them is TabSafe, a small electric powered box of drawers that sits on your countertop and issues daily visual and audio reminder alerts to take your medication, dispenses the correct pills at the right times, and can even send a confirmation message to a caregiver once the medication has been dispensed and taken. If a dosage is missed, an alert is sent to the caregiver via phone and action can then be taken. This alternative will save caregivers from having to call their loved ones several times a day to confirm that they’ve taken their medication, and can also alleviate medication worries of the patient themselves. TabSafe retails for $1099, plus a monthly fee.

"Falling is the most common cause of hospital admissions for trauma and the leading cause of injury and death among those ages 65 and older, the CDC reports" says For those with a high fall risk, there’s the eNeighbor Remote Monitoring System from HealthSense that "uses a series of small, unobtrusive sensors that work together to monitor a resident's daily routine. The system looks for basic activities, and establishes a normal range for these activities." If the resident were to fall and not be able to get up or reach the phone for help, eNeighbor would notice the change in activity patten and trigger a phone call to a list of contacts (and the HealthSense 24-hour call center) that could come in to check on the resident. This way, a senior citizen can retain their independence in their own home without ever running the risk of being truly "alone" in a crisis. eNeighbor is quoted as being "about $100 a month" by the New York Times but costs can vary greatly between private health care companies.

Another offering from the world of technology is the HomMed Genesis™ DM Remote PatientCare Monitor,  useful on its own or paired with one of the first two gadgets. When you wake in the morning, you are greeted by a friendly voice saying "Good morning. It is now time to record your vital signs." But you’re not at a clinic or doctor’s office–you’re sitting at your kitchen table in the comfort of your own home. This device measures heart rate, weight, blood pressure and oxygen level, and blood glucose levels–making it useful to patients with a variety of health concerns, from cardiovascular disease to diabetes. It also asks a series of additional relevant questions such as "Are you having more difficulty breathing today than a normal day?" that can help pinpoint a potential problem. The results are then sent to a monitoring clinic where a nurse can take action if the readings are out of the ordinary. Prices for this service vary between different private health care services, but it can save you and your loved ones hours of hassle and stress each week of shuttling around from one doctor’s office to another. Daily readings can also help you stay abreast of your own health by increasing self-monitoring.

Putting some of the responsibility of daily care for loved ones who live alone in the hands of technology can alleviate much of the worry and stress that caregivers feel. It allows you both to focus more on the things you enjoy in your life, and your relationship can be given the opportunity to flourish when every conversation is not centered on how you are doing each day.

BUT–such advanced technology comes at a price, and for some of these systems (and many others) it is a high one. But you CAN afford it! At the Farr Law Firm, we specialize in a branch of Elder Law that focuses on protecting your assets so that we can apply for Medicaid and Veteran’s Benefits (if applicable) for you. Our goal for that Level 4 Planning is to protect your assets from the disastrous expenses of long term care, so that some of those assets can be used to enhance your standard of living with goods and services not covered by government financial assistance, such as the ones I've described. And if the aging-in-place option is not for you, we can help you prepare for and decide on your other long-term care options.

If you have a family with seniors who are contemplating their long-term care options, we can provide the solutions that you may be looking for. Achieving long term peace of mind is an invaluable asset that we are honored to assist you with. Please do not hesitate to call us at 1-800-399-FARR to schedule a free, initial consultation.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Fish Reduce Risk of Macular Degeneration in Women, Study Finds

A Women’s Health Study conducted by William G. Christen, Sc.D. of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston and colleagues has concluded that the regular consumption of fish and omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in women by 42%!

AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in senior citizens, primarily affecting "central vision." Your central vision allows you to see objects clearly in fine detail and do such tasks as driving, reading and writing. Sometimes, AMD will creep up slowly–so slowly that you won’t even notice your eyesight beginning to falter. Other times, it can happen quickly and ultimately result in the loss of vision in both eyes. But you can take steps right now to stop AMD in its tracks, and reduce your risk.

The study reported that women who ate fish once or more per week had a 42% lower risk of age-related macular degeneration than those who ate fish less than once per month. I know you men are probably saying "Hey! What about me?" and I have good news for you, too. Fish (and the omega-3 fatty acids it provides) has also been proven to be very beneficial for cardiovascular health and to lower triglycerides for men AND women over 50. A healthy heart, better cholesterol and clear vision is a winning combination for this superfood.

Fatty fish like albacore tuna, canned light tuna, sardines, lake trout, mackerel, salmon and herring are the most beneficial and also carry a lower risk of mercury poisoning. These fish also have the added benefit of being a great, clean source of protein without a lot of saturated fats. Fresh fish it always best, but you can find delicious frozen fish entrees in the freezer section of your grocery store too. Keep it healthy by broiling or grilling instead of deep frying, and use low-sodium seasonings, lemon juice and fresh herbs for fantastic flavor.

Here are some delicious, healthy recipes to get you started:
Soy Glazed Salmon with Watercress Salad
Grilled Tuna with Cherry-Tomato Salad and Herbed Bulghur
Smoked Mackerel, Cucumber and Potato Salad with Mustard Dressing

But of course, remember that it’s always important to stay current on all of your health check-ups, and that includes your eye doctor. Regular check ups can help to detect age-related macular degeneration before it leads to vision loss.

For more information on the study, click here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lawyers Sweating it Out to Raise Funds for Children with Muscular Dystrophy

The Farr Law Firm is making progress raising funds for the April 2nd Muscular Dystrophy walk being held in Fairfax, Virginia, but we still have a long way to go.  Below is our current barometer reading.  To make a donation, please click here.  We will post all contributors by first name and last initial on our heavily viewed Virginia Elder Law blog here (unless you would prefer to stay anonymous, of course).  Thank you in advance for your generosity!

 And if you are a parent of a Special Needs Child (or know someone who is), you may be interested in reading about Special Needs Estate Planning

Potentially Groundbreaking Alzheimer's Study: Liver, Not Brain Source of Plaque?

Alzheimer's disease has perplexed scientists and researchers for years due to its complex and debilitatitng nature.  Not only is it difficult to diagnose, but symptoms of the disease are similar of many other forms of dementia.  A new study suggests the liver -- not the brain -- may be the organ for medical professionals to focus upon.

Read this excerpt from the article, here:  
"Unexpected results . . . could completely alter scientists' ideas about Alzheimer's disease—pointing to the liver instead of the brain as the source of the "amyloid" that deposits as brain plaques associated with this devastating condition. The findings could offer a relatively simple approach for Alzheimer's prevention and treatment."
For more on Alzheimer's Disease, see our recent blog post here; we discuss the unlikely cast of characters uniting to fight the disease. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Considering Home Care? Read this First!

Making the decision to hire a home care service to provide care for your loved one is an important decision and can, at the same time, be very difficult. If an illness or recovery from surgery requires nursing care or physical therapy, a physician may order skilled home care services that provide both skilled providers and personal aides. Your decision is then based on the obvious medical determinations made by the doctor. But what if you as the family caregiver must determine the extent of care needed without the help of a doctor?

Each home care situation is unique. In the beginning, family or friends step in to help with simple tasks and support for aging seniors who want to stay in their homes. As long term care needs progress, more time is required to manage those needs. Physical and mental conditions change with aging making usually routine hygiene and daily living activities difficult for an aging individual. Even with the healthiest of seniors, the ability to drive a car, shop for groceries or do general housekeeping eventually needs to be relinquished to the responsibility of another person.

In one example, Karen, would stop by her parents' home on her way to work every morning and again on her way home from work in the evening. She checked in the morning to see that they were up and ready for the day and Karen would take a shopping list for things they needed. In the evening she delivered the needed items she had purchased during her lunch break and sometimes she fixed a meal when one was not prepared by her mother. This worked well until Karen began to notice her father did not shave or dress during the day and both parents were forgetting their medications. Karen felt more time and supervision was needed in their care but with her own family and job, she could not do it. Non-medical or personal home care services would be a good option for Karen to consider.

Before starting your search for a non-medical or personal home care company, determine what the care needs are and how much time each week will be required for assistance from the company. You may want to consult with the family physician and other family members as well as experienced social workers or care managers to determine needs. Most home care companies, as well, will help you do an assessment at no charge. With your care needs in hand, you are ready to begin your search.

The National Association for Home Care & Hospice ( gives the following guidelines and checklist in searching for a home care company.
  • How long has this provider been serving the community?
  • Does this provider supply literature explaining its services, eligibility requirements, fees, and funding sources? Many providers furnish their home care clients with a detailed "Patient Bill of Rights" that outlines the rights and responsibilities of the providers, clients, and family caregivers alike.
  • How does this provider select and train its employees? Does it protect its workers with written personnel policies and malpractice insurance? Does it protect clients from theft or abuse by bonding its employees?
  • Does this provider assign supervisors to oversee the quality of care clients are receiving in their homes? If so, how often do these individuals make visits? Who can the client and his or her family members call with questions or complaints? How does the company follow up on and resolve problems?
  • What are the financial procedures of this provider? Does the provider furnish written statements explaining all of the costs and payment plan options associated with home care?
  • What procedures does this provider have in place to handle emergencies? Are its caregivers available on notice?
  • How does this provider ensure client confidentiality?
If a home care company has not previously been recommended to you, ask for a list of previous clients and call for their experience with this provider.

Following up on these guidelines can help you determine the quality of personal care that is given. Many states license non-medical home care companies and require both legal and health standards to be maintained.
Read about individual home care companies in your area on the National Care Planning Council's website Photographer: photostock

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Do this 3 days a week and you may increase the size of your brain

If you are a senior citizen and intent on improving your memory, you may be interested in the results of a recent study that associated improvements in memory with moderate exercise.

The study – led by Dr. Kirk Erickson from the University of Pittsburgh and Dr. Arthur Kramer from the University of Illinois, and supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) – revealed that walking (at a brisk pace) can increase the size of the brain.  Specifically, the hippocampus, an area linked to mammalian memory development.

What causes us to lose our memory as we age?  The hippocampus is a “major component of the brain . . . and plays important roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory and spatial navigation. “ You can read the Wikipedia article on the hippocampus here; it is actually quite detailed.
The study examined 120 inactive older adults.  Half of the participants were asked to walk for a period of 40 minutes a day, 3 days a week.  The second half of participants were instructed to in weight train and stretch.
One year later, each participant was analyzed via MRI.  The group that engaged in the brisk walk for 3 days per week showed an average 2% increase in hippocampus volume, whereas the other group averaged a 1.4% decrease in volume.

What does this mean? "We think of the atrophy of the hippocampus in later life as almost inevitable . . . [but] we've shown that even moderate exercise for one year can increase the size of that structure,” explained one of the researchers behind the study.   For the article in its entirety, view it here
Photographer: Idea go

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Please Help Us Raise Money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA)

The Farr Law Firm would like to extend a special thanks on behalf of the Muscular Dystrophy Association to our first two donors!  Thank You Ana A. and Mark R!

Please consider making a small donation by visiting our Firm's MDA Fundraiser page.

We still have a long way to go, as you can see from our "Barometer"

Muscular Dystrophy is a group of genetic disorders that weakens muscles, makes it difficult to perform routine tasks like climbing stairs or playing with friends, and seriously limits what many children can do to enjoy life.  The Greater Washington Muscular Dystrophy Association funds research, cares for patients, and even sponsors summer camps for children with the disease.

Alito: VA Should Not Enforce “Rigid” Jurisdictional Requirements Against Veterans

While it may be true that the Supreme Court is often tasked with the daunting assignment of deciding the most controversial and divisive of issues, last Tuesday’s unanimous ruling was a little different.

Most who are familiar with the facts of Henderson v. Shinseki would probably agree that the decision “felt right;” especially to the elder law attorneys and senior-serving professionals who help U.S. Veterans on a daily basis.

The Court reversed a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals that ruled Veterans Court judges could not extend the deadline to appeal, even when a Veteran’s mental illness procured the delay.
Justice Samuel Alito explained the Courts’ rationale in reversing the decision of the Court of Appeals;
The (Dep’t of Veterans Affairs) is charged with the responsibility of assisting veterans in developing evidence that supports their claims, and in evaluating that evidence, the VA must give the veteran the benefit of any doubt. … Rigid jurisdictional treatment of the 120-day period for filing a notice of appeal in the Veterans Court would clash sharply with this scheme.
For an interesting look at how the case developed in the headlines over the course of the past several months, read the first Washington Post article I referenced late last year, Court hears appeal from veteran who missed deadline, here.  Then, read Supreme Court eases benefit deadline for vets, the recent article from USA Today, available here.  The latter link also includes a photo of the late Mr. Henderson.

Last year I called attention to Henderson on my National Elder Law News Blog, in the article, Veteran Misses Filing Deadline Due to Mental Illness: Fair? a case about a Veteran with Schizophrenia, whose illness prevented him from meeting a deadline imposed by the government.

Mr. Henderson’s lawyer argued in front of the Court that his client’s disability – which developed as a result of years in the service – prevented him (Mr. Henderson) from meeting a deadline to appeal the government’s denial of his request for home care by the Veteran’s Administration.  The argument was that it would be an injustice to strictly enforce the deadline against Mr. Henderson.

Veterans’ disability compensation is paid to Veterans who are injured as a result of their service to the country.  If denied a request for benefits, there are 120 days to file a notice of intent to appeal.  Mr. Henderson was denied home care by the Veteran’s Administration, after which he filed his notice of appeal 15 days late. 

The case really boiled down to inquiries of fairness and Congressional intent.  Henderson argued that Congress intended for Veterans to be treated fairly, and that the 120-day time limit was meant to be flexible; a permeable deadline, should the interests of justice require an extension.

The loser in this case (The Secretary of Veterans Affairs) argued that the time period was meant to be strictly applied and that any change to the deadline must come from Congress itself and not from the discretion of the bench (a judge).

Various veterans groups followed this case from its inception.  With the traumatic stress and psychological scars evident in many soldiers who have returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, groups like the National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates, the National Veterans Foundation, and Paralyzed Veterans of America are undoubtedly happy with how Henderson turned out.
For information on Aid & Attendance benefits, you can check out our Firm’s links to frequently asked questions below:

What Is the Amount of the Aid and Attendance Benefit?
Who Is Eligible for the Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit?

Is Aid and Attendance Only for Low Income Veterans?

How is the Aid and Attendance Benefit Calculated?

Filing a Claim

The Asset Test

Image Credits: Photograph uploaded by Admin

Monday, March 7, 2011

"Largest Legislative Victory in Years" for Alzheimer Cause

The National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA) is being touted as the “largest legislative victory in many years for the Alzheimer cause.” 
The Alzheimer’s Association persisted in its battle to pass the critical legislation. Congress unanimously approved the legislation, and President Obama has signed off.  According to this celebratory article, the victory was the result of a concerted effort by many individuals orginizations, and reportedly included about 50,000 emails, 10,000 telephone calls, and 1,000 meetings!

Once NAPA is in full-swing, our nation will have what Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius refers to as an “aggressive and coordinated national strategy” to combat the Alzheimer’s Disease crisis.

To celebrate this legislation, we've consolidated some of our most popular articles over the years on the Alzheimer cause. 

Excerpt: "[D]espite the disease’s prevalence, there are already two positive developments in 2011.  First, researchers seem excited about a new means to predict — and perhaps one day to diagnose — the disease with certainty in the living.  Second, an unlikely team of players  has unified on the front lines…"
Excerpt: "This grant funding to Virginia’s Medicaid system comes with high hopes and great expectations. The over $2 million in funding will be used to bolster services for two key underprivileged groups – the elderly and the disabled . . . [one such service is] in-home support services for sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease."

Excerpt: "Although most of the conditions on the revised list are rare, of tremendous importance for the aging population is the fact that the SSA has now included Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Mixed Dementia, and Primary Progressive Aphasia among the new fast-track conditions, meaning that people who are diagnosed with any of these conditions can now receive disability benefits very quickly."

Excerpt: "'[The use of] biomarkers to identify elderly persons at risk of developing dementia could be useful for early prevention, if and when such interventions are available, and treatment,' the author of the study explained."

Image Credit: Photographer: renjith krishnan

Friday, March 4, 2011

Long Term Care for Senior Veterans

In the year 1919 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as Armistice Day to honor those Veterans who served during World War I. On November 11, 1954, Armistice Day was proclaimed a legal national holiday and the name was changed to "Veterans Day" to honor all veterans of all wars.

Every November 11, ceremonies are held throughout the United States honoring Veterans of wars. A National Ceremony is held at Arlington Cemetery at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where the laying of the presidential wreath and military playing of “Taps” is presented.

The Department of Veterans Affairs provides three types of long term care services for veterans.
The first are health care benefits provided to veterans who have service-connected disabilities, who are receiving VA Pension or who are considered low income. These services include free medical care, possible free prescription drugs, orthotics and prosthetics, home renovation grants for disabilities, home care, assisted living, domiciliary care, nursing home care, and a possible host of other services or benefits.

The second benefit is state veterans homes. The majority of these homes offer nursing care but some may offer assisted living or domiciliary care. The Department of Veterans Affairs in conjunction with the states helps build and support state veterans homes. These homes are generally available for most veterans and sometimes their spouses and in some cases for so-called "Goldstar parents." Veterans homes are run by the states, sometimes with the help of contract management. There may be waiting lists in some states.

The third benefit for veterans is disability income programs. The most familiar of these benefits is an income for service-connected disabled veterans called "Compensation." The least known of these is a program officially called "Pension" but popularly known as the "aid and attendance benefit."
  • All active-duty veterans who served at least 90 days during a period of war are eligible for Pension and the additional income from aid and attendance or housebound allowances. A single surviving spouse of such a veteran is also eligible.
  • All qualifying veteran applicants over the age of 65 are eligible for pension but must meet income and asset tests. Applicants under the age of 65 must in addition be totally disabled to qualify. Disability does not have to be service-connected.
  • A surviving spouse can be any age and there is no need for disability.
The aid and attendance benefit can pay additional income to provide for the costs associated with home care, assisted living, nursing homes, adult day care and other unreimbursed medical expenses. It can also pay for a family member other than a spouse to be the care giver. The amount of payment varies with the type of care, recipient income and the marital status of the recipient.
These types of claims require medical evidence in order to receive a rating for aid and attendance or housebound allowances. These ratings must be received or certain non-medical expenses associated with long term care are not deductible from income. Special rules also allow for deducting the annual anticipated cost of month-to-month long term care from household income in order to meet the income test. This special treatment requires special documentation and evidence. In addition, those households with substantial assets will be denied for a Pension income unless those assets are below a certain level determined for each case by VA. The personal residence, personal vehicles and personal property are exempted from this asset test. Finally, evidence must be supplied every year in January that the anticipated costs for the previous year were actually incurred or VA will likely demand for its money back.
The National Care Planning Council has compiled the necessary forms, rules and information about claims together in one book titled “How to Apply for the Veterans Aid & Attendance Pension Benefit.”

This book contains information about how a typical applicant receives a successful pension award. VA often tells callers to go ahead and fill out the application but generally provides no information on the special treatment of annualization of anticipated recurring medical costs. The claims form also contains no information on this important issue. One simply has to know how to do it. This crucial information can make the difference between a successful award and being declined. All necessary forms for filing a claim are in the book.
Veterans who have substantial assets may need to do some estate planning and realigning of assets to qualify. An expert in this area should be sought to help with the application in order to avoid lengthy delays in awarding a benefit or a possible denial of benefits.

For a list of individuals or companies in your area who understand how to get this benefit go to

To learn more about this benefit go to


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

PreNeed (Pre-Paid) Funeral and Burial Plans

Advantages and Disadvantages of Prepaid Plans

One way to plan in advance for the end of one's life is to sign a formal contract called a "preneed funeral plan." With this plan, money to pay for a funeral and/or burial is held in a trust, in an escrow account or paid through an insurance policy on the life of the person desiring the plan. Parts of or all of the funeral service and burial are designed in advance and pre-funded in advance and the family has little to do but show up.

This type of planning has become very popular in recent years. A survey conducted by the AARP in 1999, found that two out of five people over age 50 had been approached to pre-purchase funerals and burial goods and services. An AARP survey in 1998 indicates that 32% of all Americans over age 50, roughly 21 million people, have prepaid some or all of their funeral and or burial expenses (but not necessarily through a formal preneed plan). Breaking that down; about 25% of the over age 50 population have prepaid for their burials (cemetery plot, mausoleum or niche), 18% have prepaid for headstones, urns, caskets , grave liners or vaults, opening and closing of graves and so on and 13% have prepaid for goods or services from a funeral home or funeral director. The same survey indicates that over $25 billion is being held in preneed trust funds. Roughly another $25 billion is waiting to be paid out in life insurance benefits. Prepaid or preneed funerals and burials are big business.

Here are some advantages as to why one would want to buy a preneed plan for funeral and burial services and goods.
  • It provides peace of mind knowing these arrangements have been made in advance.
  • It avoids the burden on family members to make decisions when they are most vulnerable to manipulation.
  • It allows one to virtually control from the grave by determining in advance the funeral products, funeral services, burial products and burial services that one would prefer having for final arrangements.
  • It helps the family to avoid taking loans, arranging finance plans, raiding savings or selling assets to pay for a funeral and burial.
  • It guarantees (for many contracts) that if products and services currently purchased are not available in the future, equivalent substitutes will be provided at no additional cost.
  • It locks in guaranteed prices (available with some contracts) forever.
  • It allows for inflation in future costs (for those contracts that do not guarantee prices) by investing money in an interest-bearing account or buying life insurance that increases in value over time.
  • Depending on the contract, it may allow for transfer to another funeral home or for partial or full refund.

Unfortunately, there are also problems with prepaid, preplanned final arrangements.

  • With some trust fund and insurance funding options there may be no refund if someone wants to cancel the plan in the future.
  • If a purchaser moves to another state there may be no transfer options or there may be different rules governing the funding option.
  • In some contracts, interest earnings on investments resulting in excess money not needed for the plan may be retained by the funeral home or funeral director.
  • On installment plans interest may be charged but not credited to the account.
  • In certain insurance funded contracts, the ownership or death benefit may be irrevocably assigned to the contract holder (funeral home), preventing the purchaser from enjoying ownership rights in the policy.
  • In certain insurance funded contracts, a growth in the death benefit over time that exceeds the cost of the preneed plan services and goods may be pocketed by the contract holder (funeral home) instead of being refunded.
  • If the contract provider goes out of business or fails to secure 100% of the funds for future payment, there may be no recourse to get all of the money back that was put in.
  • If certain services or goods that were purchased initially are not available in the future, but more expensive versions might be, the family may be forced to pay extra for those items.
  • In certain insurance funded plans, if the insured dies too soon, there may have been a waiting period in which few or no benefits are paid at death, thus forcing the family to pay out of pocket for the funeral.
  • Certain unscrupulous providers may have failed to provide an itemized list of services and goods or failed to identify properly, specific services and goods, thus allowing the provider in the future to substitute less expensive items or to leave out services and goods that were originally anticipated in the agreement.
What Services and Goods Can Be Prepaid? 
All states allow for prepaid plans for funeral services and merchandise. This would include such things as picking up the body, embalming and restoration, rooms or chapel for viewing and funeral services, casket, vault or grave liner, transportation, permits, death certificates, obituaries and so forth. Almost all states allow for prepaid burial services and merchandise as well. Only about six states do not allow it. Burial services and merchandise might include opening and closing the grave, grave markers, vaults or grave liners, mausoleums or niches. Cemetery plots are excluded from prepaid plans in all states.
The AARP has excellent information for consumers on planning for funerals. Quoting from the AARP:
"Most states have a licensing board that regulates the funeral industry. You may contact the board in your state for information or help. If you want additional information about making funeral arrangements and the options available, you may want to contact interested business, professional and consumer groups."
To find a planner in your area you may also contact the National Care Planning Council at or call 800-989-8137

Photographer: luigi diamanti