Now you can buy a funeral plan before you die

Retiree Steven Yee, 65, bought a pre-paid funeral package for himself last month and sales merchandiser Jenny Lim (above), 47, bought the funeral package for her 72-year-old father this week. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Retiree Steven Yee, 65, bought a pre-paid funeral package for himself last month and sales merchandiser Jenny Lim (above), 47, bought the funeral package for her 72-year-old father this week. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Retiree Steven Yee (above), 65, bought a pre-paid funeral package for himself last month and sales merchandiser Jenny Lim, 47, bought the funeral package for her 72-year-old father this week. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Retiree Steven Yee (above), 65, bought a pre-paid funeral package for himself last month and sales merchandiser Jenny Lim, 47, bought the funeral package for her 72-year-old father this week. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
The team from Life Corporation, which includes (from left) executive directors Kenneth Lim and Victor Hoo, chief executive officer Simon Hoo and business development manager Dennis Wong. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
The team from Life Corporation, which includes (from left) executive directors Kenneth Lim and Victor Hoo, chief executive officer Simon Hoo and business development manager Dennis Wong. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

The monthly instalment package is believed to be the first such pre-paid plan in Singapore

You can now pay for your own funeral before you kick the bucket.

SFS Care, a funeral company here, launched a monthly instalment package last month that is believed to be the first such pre-paid plan in Singapore for funeral services. The objective is to reduce the financial burden on family members, it says.

More than 40 people, aged mostly in their 50s and above, have signed up for it.

Customers pay $138 a month for 10 years for the funeral package, called Legacy, which the company says is worth $13,888. The three-day, two-night service includes the setting up of a void deck enclosure with tables, flowers, a wooden coffin, a Mercedes-Benz to ferry the coffin to the crematorium after the funeral and an air-conditioned bus to transport about 45mourners, among other services.

The company introduced the package after witnessing family disputes over funeral expenses.

Mr Simon Hoo, 38, chief executive of Life Corporation, SFS Care's parent company, says: "Some siblings call us separately to verify the funeral's cost.

"When a death occurs, families already suffer an emotional blow. We want to prevent unnecessary disputes. We also want to let customers save by paying at today's prices."

For those who already know the music, food and type of prayers they want at their funerals, the plan allows SFS Care to keep a record of these preferences. Customers can buy the package for others.

None of the other six funeral companies SundayLife! contacted offers pre-paid instalment packages, but some let customers pay for services in advance.

Life Celebrant, for example, has a customer who paid in full for a funeral package - worth more than $15,000 - two years ago. The customer is still alive.

Says the funeral company's director Ang Jolie, 34: "Nowadays, people are more open to planning their own funerals. Pre-paying allows them to personalise their funeral and gives them peace of mind that their affairs are taken care of."

Some funeral directors, however, wonder if pre-payment funeral plans are feasible.

Mr Lee Kwee Meng, 55, a director of Lee Teoh Heng Undertaker, says: "It's good to plan but pre-paying is a very new concept. Nobody knows how exactly it will work out."

Adds Mr Freddie Choo, 60, managing director of Trinity Casket: "How do you assure people that you'll be there to provide the service when they die many years later?"

SFS Care, which has provided funeral services for more than 15 years, says that should the business wind up before a customer dies, a comparable service will be provided by other companies under the parent company, such as New Heaven, another funeral provider.

Mr Hoo says: "Even if the parent company closes down, the money paid by customers will be locked in fixed deposits and other financial instruments and can be made available when necessary."

The Consumers Association of Singapore advises consumers to consider such plans carefully before committing to them. Mr Seah Seng Choon, its executive director, says: "There is definitely a risk for consumers as the company might close down before the consumer's funeral, change hands or even misuse the funds trusted to them, and the consumer or his relatives would be left in the lurch."

Instead, he suggests that consumers consider taking up an insurance savings plan and specify in a will that the payout be used for their funeral service.

He adds: "This would be a better guarantee as the money is paid to the insurance company instead of the funeral company. The savings plan would attract returns as well."

Customers of the Legacy plan pay through Giro and get monthly receipts as well as a statement every quarter. If the beneficiary dies before $6,500 - about half the package's value - has been paid, his family or friends will have to top up the difference of up to $6,500 to get the full package.

If more than $6,500 had been paid when the beneficiary dies, the balance is waived.

SFS can terminate the agreement for those who default on payments for more than six months. Customers can pull out at any time, but payments made will not be refunded.

Retiree Steven Yee, 65, bought the package last month. The former shipping executive, who has four children aged 26 to 38 and six grandchildren, says he is not superstitious. "Since I'm alive, why shouldn't I pay for my own funeral in advance? After all, I'm the best person to know what I want."

His daughter Marilyn, 35, an administrative executive, supports his decision. She says: "It can be hard to talk to our parents about issues concerning death. We don't know exactly what our father wants, so it's good he made the decision himself."

Sales merchandiser Jenny Lim, 47, bought the package for her 72-year-old father, who had a stroke two years ago. He is now bedridden and suffers from diabetes, high-blood pressure and Alzheimer's disease.

Ms Lim, who has two sisters aged 45 and 43, says the family is preparing for the worst.

Her mother's funeral in 2000 cost them more than $10,000, she says. "It was quite a blow to our savings.

"We hope that if we start paying for our father's funeral now, we won't have to scramble when the time comes. Instead, we can focus on giving him a proper send-off."

bang@sph.com.sg