Read This Before You Die

November 29th, 2006 by Bob Bly

Think a “perpetual care” contract on a loved one’s grave means they will be taken care of forever?

Think again.

My American Heritage Dictionary defines “perpetual” as “lasting for eternity.”

But the U.S. cemetery industry has a different definition: “until the money runs out.”

When I signed an agreement for perpetual care of my father’s grave, I thought it would be maintained — well, forever.

But according to the NY State Cemetery Board, the cemetery may ask you for more money — or refuse to continue upkeep on the grave.

They can do so when the yield on your original fee for the service (the money is deposited in a special fund) does not generate enough income to provide adequate care.

Is this merely a matter of contractual fine print?

Or is the term “perpetual care” false advertising?

P.S. I was once called by a cemetery who wanted me to write an ad for them.

This headline immediately popped into my mind:

“DEAD?”

Of course it was not the one we used….

Source: NY Daily News, 11/28/06, p. 45.

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11 responses about “Read This Before You Die”

  1. Sean Woodruff said:

    There is a pervasive debasing of the meaning of words in the world. My personal opinion is that it is directly proportional to the number of attorneys that write the word. But, that depends on what your definition of is, is.

    I just heard an ad that described the new 2007 Chevy truck as the most dependable, most durable truck ever. The first thing that came to mind was I wonder how they already know that with a 2007 model year truck. My understanding is it takes some time to determine dependability and durability. Evidently, the copywriter of that ad has a different definition of what those words describe.

  2. swanie said:

    Is this on the same lines of chewing gum advertisers claiming “long-lasting flavor” that lasts an “extra, extra long time?”

  3. Bob Bly said:

    Swanie: I think not, because “long time” is at least somewhat subjective. But “perpetual” has a clear, specific definition.

  4. leslie ungar said:

    Obviously, you have never purchased eye shadow that was supposed to last all day,
    or lipstick that was long lasting!
    Here is another one for you: bereavement fare.
    What is the definition of a bereavement fare?
    I say that you will be bereaved when you find out what it will cost
    to get to the funeral. Should a bereavement fare make a person bereaved or more bereaved?

  5. Lisa Taylor Huff said:

    I’ve got a similar situation on my hands, potentially, with my 94-year-old grandmother. Years ago, she entered into a contract with a local funeral home where she “prepaid” for her entire funeral including a service at the funeral home, cremation and the cost of a small cemetery plot for her ashes. (No casket included.) A few months ago I was speaking to someone at the funeral home after taking over my grandmother’s financial affairs (she’s in Assisted Living now) to update them on the situaiton and I asked about that very thing because there’s a little over $5,000 in this account (we get annual statements) but as we all know you can’t throw a decent funeral anymore for under about $10K. I let the funeral home know that there would be no one coming to the rescue with extra money and that I was expecting the full services my grandmother paid for regardless of whether or not the funeral home loses money on it. We’ll see what happens when the time comes but I’m prepared for them to try and weasel more money out of us. The funeral industry does provide necessary services of course, and they have a right to be fairly compensated, but they really play on the emotions of the family members in their grief. I think if they enter into a contract to provide a service at a certain price, they should be forced to honor it regardless of whether their costs have increased over time, or not.

  6. Pam Gitta said:

    That “unused headline” really made my day. Thanks.

    I wonder if anyone has ever tried to put together a book of “copywriting humor.” Would it be one of those really thin ones, like “Ethical Politics,” by Richard M. Nixon?

    And on the subject at hand, I think the operative word is in Diana’s post: if the company her grandmother contracted with has any “honor,” they will honor that contract.

  7. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    Bob–You can use that headline for these guys: DeathSwitch.com (see http://wordrider.blogspot.com/2006/11/knock-em-dead.html)

  8. SpongeBob Fan said:

    Lisa – I was thinking about your grandmother’s situation and was wondering – if she paid $5000, say, 10 years ago and if that $5000 earned 5% a year, that would be $250 a year in interest or another $2500+ in her account, no? So, presumably, the interest on her prepayment is going toward the ultimate cost of her funeral and it sounds like it’ll be pretty close.

    (My mother-in-law just passed away and her extremely simple funeral & burial were about $6000, including everything local state regs require.)

    Talk about industries that are going to go through a huge change as the information-demanding (rightfully) baby boomers start dealing with them! (The funeral director my mother-in-law chose prided himself on not having a computer … good sweet God!)

  9. Vaughn Balchunas said:

    Speaking of industry practices, there are numerous books and even a software program to help us plan funerals; lookup ‘funeral planning’ or ‘care of the dead’ on Amazon.

    My wife and I read the funeral industry trades regularly, and you can tell they’re frightened at the changes they see. Businesses like ours on the internet, Boomers planning their own funerals using software! The old timers must be rolling in their graves! Sorry… couldn’t pass one that up.

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