Funeral Planning Assistance is a New Perk at Workplaces

August 27, 2009
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image Companies don’t roll out new employee benefits in recessions. But one exception to that rule can be found in some employer-provided group life insurance plans this year.Employees at a small but growing number of companies are gaining access to funeral planning services. With the help of a funeral concierge, they’re able to make arrangements years in advance or at a moment’s notice. Insurers such as The Hartford and ING have begun to offer the end-of-life services to employers as part of their group life insurance coverage. Both companies are partnering with Everest, a nationwide funeral planning and concierge service headquartered in Houston.

Everest’s funeral planners, who work out of 24-7 call centers, act as advocates for families. “We ask our clients about their funeral and burial wishes, and then we find those services at the best prices,” said Everest president and chief executive Mark Duffey.

“Our advisers will also negotiate prices and handle all the details if requested,” he said.

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One of the 50 Texas employers that have signed up for The Hartford’s funeral planning benefit is Lattimore Materials, a concrete maker in McKinney. Lattimore employees will have the option beginning July 1, said benefits manager Kelly Cassell.

“We hope our employees never have to use it,” she said, “but if there’s a death in their family, they’ll be able to pass off the burden of finding a funeral home and cemetery to an Everest planner so that they can focus on comforting the other members of their family.”

In recent years, life insurance has become more than just a lump sum paid upon death, as insurers have introduced services like bereavement counseling, estate guidance and will preparation.

Now, The Hartford is adding the funeral planning benefit to group policies, at no extra cost to companies or employees, to give itself an advantage in a competitive marketplace, said senior vice president Bob Reiff.

“We visited with agents and brokers during a pilot project in Texas and quickly learned that funeral planning would help us differentiate ourselves from other insurers,” he said. “It’s bringing us new clients.”

Cassell said the funeral planning benefit was one reason her company chose The Hartford as its life insurance provider this year.

“It’s new and not something usually associated with life insurance, so we’ll make a point of publicizing it among our employees,” she said.

ING says its new partnership with Everest will be a win-win for companies and their workers. “Employers will have a tangible way to show their employees how much they are valued on both a personal and professional level,” said ING spokesman Phil Margolis.

The insurers, which pay Everest a small fee for each covered employee, say they hope the new benefit will encourage more families to follow through with end-of-life preparations.

A survey for The Hartford found that 43 percent of respondents had talked about making funeral plans but that only 11 percent had actually done so.

Pairing funeral planning with life insurance will appeal particularly to baby boomers, predicted Joseph Coughlin, who tracks aging-related business trends as founder of the Age Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Baby boomers are increasingly taking advantage of financial planning services and products, and funeral planning represents the latest frontier,” he said.

Coughlin said he expects boomers will use a funeral concierge service not just for themselves but also for elderly parents and in-laws.

About 250,000 people are now covered by life insurance policies with Everest’s services, but Duffey said that number is likely to grow to more than 20 million as a result of the recent agreements with insurers.

“We hope that funeral planning eventually becomes a standard benefit throughout the life insurance industry,” he said.

Source: Dallas News

CDFuneralNews

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