INFORMATION PROVIDED BY PANAMA CITY, FL ESTATES & TRUSTS ATTORNEY, MAX W. MCCORD III
What do I need to know before I finalize an agreement with a funeral home?
Funerals are among the most expensive purchases a consumer will ever make. Many funeral directors are polished and effective salespeople who work on commission (or who own the business) and who will encourage their customers to maximize the purchase of goods and services. The following is a list of things to consider before you finalize any burial arrangements.
- You can save thousands of dollars by shopping around for funeral services.
- Funeral homes are in business to make money, and many make tons of it. Everything the sales person tells you is not implicitly trustworthy. Some are better than others, but it is not uncommon for people to be preyed upon at a particularly vulnerable time in their life. Keep your guard up!
- If you’re going to bury the deceased within a couple of days, embalming is rarely required.
- The embalming process is not terribly pleasant, and many people would consider it to be something that should be avoided absent compelling circumstances. Losing a loved one is difficult, but the opportunity to view embalmed remains is unlikely to provide the “closure” a funeral director might suggest.
- Sealed caskets do not preserve remains and they are generally unnecessary.
- It is my understanding that funeral homes are not permitted to reject caskets purchased elsewhere, and that they are also forbidden from charging additional costs/fees for using a casket provided by the customer.
- A modest casket should cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $650. If you are unable to shop around, it may be worth delegating that job.
- Funeral homes are competing for your business. Don't be led to believe that a "package" is an all or nothing deal. Choose the services you want and reject the portions you do not want.
- You can plan services for your loved one on your own, and you don’t necessarily need a funeral home's venue. In fact, most people like the idea of having their loved ones gather at a special place in their memory.
- Memorial societies such as the Funeral Consumers Alliance, can help you find discounted services and ethical funeral homes.
- Tombstones, caskets, flowers, etc. are not investments. All can be perfectly appropriate and setting a budget for these items is a very personal decision. Let it be your decision, and do not succumb to the pressure your salesman may be applying. Remember that your salesman probably has a substantial financial interest in your decision.
- Funeral homes sometimes name their products in ways that give their customers an impression/complex about what they are buying. For example, I lost a family member overseas and the funeral director pushed hard for a casket costing thousands of dollars despite the fact that the remains were to be cremated upon arrival. (There was no local crematorium.) The casket was rejected, and the decision was made to purchase what the funeral home called the "tray". The tray was a modest fully enclosed shipping container.
- No matter what, you should reject any suggestion that you are being cheap, or that you are not sufficiently honoring the memory of your loved one. There is no limit to what can be spent on a funeral (much like a wedding). The more you spend, the less that will remain for other worthy causes. To name a few: educating youngsters, providing for the less fortunate, securing your own retirement, etc. There are countless ways to ensure that your loved one’s name and lifetime accomplishments will be remembered for generations, but the dollar amount spent at the funeral is not one of them.
Where should I look for answers to frequently asked questions about probate and/or the estate administration process?I considered having an entire section on this website addressing these kinds of questions, but I feel like the Florida Bar has done an excellent job providing the information. You can find these questions and answers at the following link -Florida Bar Link.
What is the best type of business entity?These decisions are made on a case by case basis. Every business is unique and each will have its own individual needs. Options (such as limited liability companies, corporations, and limited partnerships) all have advantages and disadvantages that must be taken into consideration.
How can I be protected from liability claims that arise from my business?
Generally speaking, business owners doing business as limited liability companies, corporations, or limited partnerships do not have personal liability for the obligations or debts of the business. This assumes that no personal guarantees have been executed. If the business has been properly created, it is a separate legal entity. The details of formation are important, and the filing fees must be paid. If properly created and maintained, the assets owned by the business should be the only ones that are subject to debt or other liability considerations.
What are some of the mistakes people make when going into business?There are always risks involved in going into business. As most people know, a majority of small businesses do not succeed in the long run. Mistakes of new business owners may include the lack of a realistic business plan, underestimating costs and tax liabilities, and unfavorable business contracts/agreements. Even more problematic is a failure to understand the business or the marketplace, underestimating the competition, and/or not being effective at managing a business. Responsibility for these latter areas ultimately falls to the owners, but sound legal advice can substantially improve the chances of success.
What are some of the benefits of conducting business through a legal entity?
One of the most important benefits is the protection of your personal assets against the claims of creditors. Generally speaking, directors, officers, managers, members, and stockholders (the interested parties) are not held personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business entity. The interested parties should be limited in their personal liability to the amount invested in the company. Another legal benefit is the transferability of ownership, which can be done either in whole or in part. Also, some estate tax planning options are only available to business entities. Retirement funds, such as 401ks may be established more easily. Also, a business entity can acquire and establish its own credit rating.