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Call Collett: Planning a funeral before death, key questions to ask

It’s not so much a question of if, but when we are each going to die.

Millions of Americans sign contracts for their own funerals and even pre-pay some or all of the expenses.

But funeral planning scams have cost South Carolinians thousands of dollar.  There are key questions to ask while making those plans so you’re family isn’t stuck with cleaning up funeral fraud.

Josephine Gowdy grew up in North Charleston. It’s where she met her husband, Jerry.

“He was my high school sweetheart,” she told News 2’s Rebecca Collett.

The couple built a life together and raised a family.  But after nearly 50 years of marriage, the couple received devastating news.  Jerry had leukemia.

“He wasn’t talking about dying. He wasn’t planning on dying.  He was going to get well,” Josephine remembered with a smile.

But after two years of fighting, his body gave out.   It was time for Josephine to plan his funeral. The couple hadn’t made any arrangements.

“I wasn’t able to make a decision without agonizing over it,” she recalled.  “I was in shock. I couldn’t function very well.”

Josephine wished she pre-planned.  She’d been through the process before when her brother died years earlier.

Mark Smith owns McAlister-Smith Funeral Home. He encourages people to pre-plan even if they aren’t ready to pre-pay.  Decide if you want to be buried or cremated. Pick a casket. Write an obituary. There are many elements of the funeral people can determine for death.

“It’s important to understand all their options and do it right,” Smith explained.

In South Carolina, the Department of Consumer Affairs oversees the 300 funeral homes licensed to offer pre-planning in our state. Since 2014, the agency received dozens of complaints.  

“There have been issues in the past with funeral homes mismanaging the money,” Juliana Harris, spokesperson for the Department, explained.

Since December 2010, the Department paid $195,404.47 out of the Loss Reimbursement Fund for the services of 39 people whom had been scammed.

Harris cautions planners to check that the funeral home is actually licensed to manage pre-need contracts; get an itemized list of what you bought; and track any payments.

AARP recommends putting money aside for the expenses instead of pre-paying. If you do pre-pay, Smith warns to stay clear of non-guaranteed contracts.  A guaranteed contract locks in the price of your funeral at the time you pay.


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