I often recommend pre-paid funerals for many of my clients. Pre-planning and paying can save money, it can save the family the stress of decisions at a hard time, and it can save a family member from having to pay for a funeral. However, there are some problems and issues with pre-paid funerals, and consumers need to understand the issues and the risks.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a scathing article on the industry. When Prepaid Funeral Plans Are Wealth Killers It appears there are dishonest sellers of certain plans that cost too much and don’t make sense. But, just because there are bad people in the industry doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea all together.

The key to planning ahead is knowing what you want, understanding what you are offered, and dealing with a reputable and known merchant. I don’t know anything about the national companies mentioned in the WSJ article, but I do know that our local funeral directors are good members of the business community who count on repeat business from families and depend on their good names. I doubt they are out to cheat or trick anyone. That would only doom their business.

The WSJ article also decries the lack of laws or regulations. It is true that New Hampshire has few laws designed to protect people from the issues associated with pre-need funeral plans, but Massachusetts has recently enacted strict new laws and rules that protect consumers’ deposits with funeral homes in the state.

Keep in mind that you need to understand your own wishes and requirements. If you plan to retire and move to Florida (and thus die there), then it makes little sense to buy a pre-paid funeral with a local funeral home in Massachusetts. But, if you plan to live (and die) here, then your local funeral home is the right place to start. If you have any questions or issues, before you sign any contracts or pay any money, see your local Elder Law Attorney for advice.