As funeral poverty grows, more of us are planning for our own farewell

The cost of the average funeral in Scotland now stands at �3716 and is set to rise. Picture: Sandy Young

The cost of the average funeral in Scotland now stands at �3716 and is set to rise. Picture: Sandy Young

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W e’ have all experienced that moment, when an older relative exclaims that they won’t be here for long and the profound discomfort that moment affords.

Death is an uncomfortable subject, and rightly so. To be supported by the ones we love is a profound human need and to contemplate a time without them is something many of us choose not to do.

Few of us would relish the chance to hold an open conversation about what is yet to pass, yet ‘funeral poverty’ is of increasing concern to policy makers as rising costs push more and more people into debt.

With burial charges alone rising by on average 8% since last year, it’s a matter that we simply can’t afford to ignore.

At Age Scotland Enterprises we’re starting to see a shift in attitudes with more people willing to confront the practicalities of taking matters into their own hands and planning ahead. While a sensitive matter, taking steps to plan ahead can be a very positive and life-affirming process.

In 2016 the average cost of a funeral in Scotland is £3716 - this number still surprises many people. This cost is set to rise year-on-year.

In addition to this, many people are unaware of the other costs associated with the moment a family member passes away. Research has shown that the largest increases in costs are found in the basic, unavoidable fees linked to holding a funeral in Scotland. These include funeral directors’ costs, doctors’ fees, ministers’ fees and burial or cremation costs.

It is heart-breaking to hear stories of families who are already struggling financially and unable to pay these costs, consequently accruing large debts to meet this expenditure.

Age Scotland offers the following guidance on what to consider when buying a funeral plan:

1. First of all, make sure you understand what is included in the funeral plan, and, especially, what costs are and are not covered. If you intend a cremation funeral, it makes sense to find a plan that guarantees to cover the costs of a cremation, including the funeral director’s costs, the cremation fee and any minister’s’ fees. A plan that only provides a contribution to these fees – rather than a guarantee to pay them all – will in all likelihood leave a shortfall.

2. If you prefer a plan or provider that makes just a contribution to costs – rather than guaranteeing to cover them all – make sure you check that the contribution increases each year at least in line with general inflation or again there may be a short-fall.

3. Hopefully, a funeral plan will not be needed until many years after it is taken out and over the long term, of course, commercial companies, such as funeral plan providers, can grow or decline. Therefore, it’s crucial to make sure the money you have paid in is maintained securely.

4. It’s also worth finding out what will happen if the Funeral Director you select isn’t around at the time the funeral is needed; for example if they retire or cease trading.

5. Don’t forget to compare the costs of different providers. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds but it’s important to consider any costs that the contributions specified will not cover. In general, the fewer the guarantees, the more the next of kin are likely to have to pay at the time of the funeral.

6. Check that the funeral plan you are considering is an actual pre-paid funeral plan. Of course, there are other ways to pay for a funeral, such as from savings or the value of an estate. But there are also some other financial products that are sometimes described as funeral plans, for example in their advertising, but which are not as defined in law.

At Age Scotland, our goal is to create a Scotland where everyone can love later life and this includes how we talk about the end of life. To give families the financial security with funeral-planning allows them to focus on what matters most, celebrating the life of our loved ones.

Logan Steele, is general manager of Age Scotland Enterprises, operating as a social enterprise

For more information on planning ahead visit www.agescotland.org.uk

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