WHEAT RIDGE, Colo (CBS4) – Prepaid funerals sound like a good idea. You take care of your final resting place long before you’re gone, but some consumers don’t end up with what they paid for. There are some federal and state laws that protect consumers, but many elderly advocates say prepaid funerals are not the way to go.

Bob Kelly’s stepmother prepaid for her funeral and cemetery services. She bought the plot and everything else she needed in 1979. When she died in 2011, everything went smoothly until it came time to for the grave marker.

“I have no idea where she’s buried here,” Kelly told CBS4.

Olinger Crown Hill Cemetery and Mortuary told the Kelly family the marker would be put down 3 weeks after Else Mae Kelly was buried. Eight months later they still didn’t have a marker on the grave.

“Terrible … very disrespectful,” Kelly said.

Industry experts call prepaid funerals a great deal. In Kelly’s case, his step mother paid $5,600 for all her arrangements for a funeral that would have cost thousands more if the family paid for it now. Funeral directors say locking in prices is a prime reason in favor of prepaying for a funeral. But when something goes wrong, like the cemetery doesn’t provide the marker, the family has little recourse.

“We started calling the funeral home and we got the runaround quite a bit,” Kelly explained.

Elderly advocates say not getting what you paid for is one of the biggest problems with prepaid funerals. When you buy something 30 years ago, it’s hard to make sure you get what you paid for. The funeral home could go out of business, they could spend your money on someone else, or lose the paperwork. That’s essentially what happened in the Kelly’s case, according to Olinger Crown Hill Cemetery and Mortuary.

“She purchased it back in the 1970s, that’s when she purchased it and unfortunately we did computer systems in about the 90s, and it just got left out of the computer system,” said Gil Giddens, the general manager of Olinger Crown Hill Mortuary & Cemetery.

Bob Kelly had all the proper paperwork, which should have been enough to get the marker placed in a timely manner. There are federal and state laws in place that help consumers with pre-paid funerals. They require an itemized contract so you know exactly what you’re paying for. The funeral home is required to put 75 percent of the money you pay into a trust specifically for your contract. If you do decide to prepay for your funeral services, make sure your family members know you did that and give them access to the paperwork so that they don’t pay twice.

Within a week of 4 On Your Side contacting Olinger Funeral Homes and Cemeteries, the marker was placed on Elsie Mae’s grave. Bob Kelly is pleased to have the marker and he says his father is particularly glad to have a place to visit his late wife.

Most elderly advocates encourage consumers to set up a “pay-on-death account”, also called a Totten Trust, which allows the family to control the money until it’s needed.

RELATED: More Reports By 4 On Your Side Consumer Investigator Jodi Brooks

– Written for the Web by CBS4 Special Projects Producer Libby Smith


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