WHAT IS FUNERAL INSURANCE?

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1 FUNERAL INSURANCE This fact sheet is for information only. It is recommended that you get legal advice about your situation. CASE STUDY CALL THE INSURANCE LAW SERVICE ON Financial Rights Legal Centre Inc. ABN Fact sheets are information only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. This information only applies to NSW FRLC FINANCIAL NSW. RIGHTS All rights reserved. In 2006 Grace took out a funeral insurance policy. She told the telephone salesman that she could afford premiums of $30.00 per fortnight. She was told that if she took a stepped premium the premiums would increase only by little amounts each year. She initially took out a policy for $7000 cover at premiums of $30.63 per fortnight. By 2013 the premiums had risen to $62.97 per fortnight (100% increase), but her cover is only $8500 (20% increase). Grace s only source of income was the aged pension. Her situation now is that after paying for her nursing home accommodation and funeral insurance, Grace has $10 per week to live on. The premiums are expected to rise again next year and the policy will soon require more to be paid in premiums than she has each month after nursing home care. When that happens Grace will be forced to cancel her insurance policy and all of her payments will be lost. WHAT IS FUNERAL INSURANCE? Funeral Insurance is a type of insurance that you take out to cover the cost of your funeral after you die. Sometimes it is called a Funeral Plan or Funeral Expenses Insurance. Depending on the type of funeral you would like to have, you can usually choose from $5,000 to $15,000 to cover the cost of a funeral. After you die this money will be paid to whichever friend or family member you have nominated. Planning for how you are going to pay for your funeral is a good idea, and will save your family money and stress when the time comes. However, funeral insurance may not be your best option. Like life insurance, as you get older the cost of funeral insurance will usually increase, so you need to think about whether you can afford funeral insurance over the next 10, 20 or more years. THINGS TO CONSIDER Before buying funeral insurance, check whether it is worth the money. Will you be paying more for the insurance than the funeral will actually cost? 1 FINANCIAL RIGHTS LEGAL CENTRE FINANCIAL FUNERAL INSURANCE

2 Will your premiums increase and will you be able to keep paying them? Ask what will my premiums be in 5 years? Think long-term and remember if you can t keep up the payments you are likely to lose all the money you have paid towards the insurance. To estimate how long you will live, visit the My Longevity website: As most insurers only cover accidental death in the first year (sometimes in the first 2 years), if you die from a terminal illness in this time you may not be covered. Check the policy s terms and conditions. Sometimes it can take a while for your family to receive the insurance payout to cover funeral costs. MAIN PROBLEMS: Most funeral plans are stepped policies and the Premiums for funeral insurance WILL INCREASE as you get older. Unless you die in the next 5-10 years you will end up paying more than the cost of the funeral you will receive. If you end up living on the Pension, you will probably not be able to afford the rising cost of this insurance product, and if you miss your payments your policy INCREASING PREMIUMS Not only will you need to keep making payments over the years, but premiums usually increase with age and grow over time. If the premium payments become unaffordable for you and you stop paying them, your policy is likely to be cancelled. You will not get back the money that you have paid towards your policy. Different insurers have different rules, so read the Product Disclosure Statement carefully before you sign up. FUNERAL INSURANCE CAN BE MISLEADING FOR CONSUMERS Marketing: There is almost saturation marketing of funeral insurance on daytime television. These advertisements target the elderly and the vulnerable with marketing slogans such as Don t be a burden on your loved ones. Point of Sale: In the cases we ve seen, vulnerable consumers are being misled about the costs of the premiums. In particular, when they enter these contracts over the phone, consumers aren t being told that the premiums will rise or are not being told the extent by which they will 2 FINANCIAL RIGHTS LEGAL CENTRE FUNERAL FINANCIAL INSURANCE

3 rise. Many of our clients have told us if they had known before they took out the insurance that their premiums would have almost doubled in five years, they never would have taken the insurance out. Once signed up: Many consumers are reluctant to withdraw from a contract once they ve signed up and some are even willing to go through significant hardship rather than fail to honour a contract they ve signed up to. CASE STUDY Nabil is a Disability Support Pensioner. He is from a non English speaking background whose cultural norm is that elaborate funerals are held upon the death of a parent. He cares for his elderly mother and worries about how he will pay for her funeral when she dies. In 2005 having seen a day time television advertisement promoting funeral insurance, Nabil rang the insurance company and arranged insurance for himself and his mother. The premiums were much more expensive that those in the advertisement but he was just able to afford them. The transcripts from the telephone conversations with the insurer reveal that when he asked about whether the premiums would rise, the following occurred: He was told that it would take 9 years of premiums to pay to equal the payout on the policy. This calculation was based on the premium at the time the policy was taken out, implying the premiums would not rise, and He was told that in the first year the premium for his policy would rise by less than $1.00 per fortnight. This hid the steep increase for his mother s premium. After five years the premiums had increased by 83%. Nabil says this possibility was never made clear to him at the time of the policy s inception. He says that had he known the premiums would rise in the way that they did he would never have taken out the policy. Nabil maintained the policy for as long as he could. Essentially he was throwing good money after bad. Eventually he could no longer afford the premiums and had to cancel the policy. He had paid over $16,000. WHEN CAN YOU CANCEL A FUNERAL INSURANCE POLICY? Under the law you are provided with a cooling-off period, normally around 14 days after you purchase a policy. You can cancel your policy in this period and get a full refund provided that you have not made a claim. Some insurers may charge an administration fee for the cancellation. You can cancel your funeral insurance policy at any time after the cooling off period by contacting your insurer. 3 FINANCIAL RIGHTS LEGAL CENTRE FUNERAL FINANCIAL INSURANCE

4 GETTING PREMIUMS BACK If you think you have been misled by an Insurance company when you signed-up for funeral insurance, there are some steps you can take. 1. Request any recordings of the phone conversation where you were told about your funeral insurance policy. 2. Once you have listened to the tapes, if the company did not adequately explain that your premiums would go up over time, call the Insurance Law Service. Our number is We are a free service. 3. You can raise a dispute with the insurer. If the dispute is not resolved you can lodge a dispute with the Financial Ombudsman Service. ALTERNATIVES TO FUNERAL INSURANCE Pre-paid funerals: can be a good option, particularly if no chance you ll move interstate before you die and the company is reputable. Read the fine print. Many companies will let you pay by instalments. Funeral bonds: an investment product that accrues interest. High-interest savings account: Opening a joint-bank account in your name, and the name of a family member can be a really simple and effective way to pay for your funeral for three reasons: First, you can put in a small payment every fortnight, depending on what is affordable to you at any one time Second, your family member can access those funds as soon as they are needed for your funeral, unlike insurance payments that can take time to be released Third, there is no risk that your payments will be lost if you miss a few payments, or even completely stop making payments. Your money is safe, and will continue to accrue interest. Super: If you have super, when you die your super fund will pay out your super balance and any associated life insurance to your family. Some of this money can be used to pay for a funeral, and requested urgently. Talk to your super fund to see what approach it takes. Getting Super released early: In some circumstances (like if you have a terminal illness) you may be able to get hold of your super early to cover funeral expenses. You may also be able to get your super early to pay funeral expenses of a dependent. Go to the Department of Human Services webpage on early release of superannuation or see getting super early for more details. 4 FINANCIAL RIGHTS LEGAL CENTRE FUNERAL FINANCIAL INSURANCE

5 If you are a Veteran: You may be entitled to funeral payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), your trade union, or your state or territory government. See the publication DVA: What to do when someone dies ( for regional callers). If your family is on Centrelink: A bereavement payment may be available through the Department of Human Services. See their webpage on what to do following a death or call ( for TTY service). SUMMARY Take Care! Unless you die within 5 years of taking out the policy this is unlikely to be the best product for you. If you are on the pension, there is a very high probability that you will have to cancel the policy before you die because you ll be unable to afford the premiums. If you are on a higher income and can afford the rising premiums there s almost certainly a better product out there. IF YOU ALREADY HAVE FUNERAL INSURANCE The Insurance Law Service would be happy to talk to you about the possibility of getting some of your premiums back. Our number is We are a free service. You can lodge a dispute with the Financial Ombudsman Service. NEED SOME MORE HELP? See Fact Sheet: Getting Help for a list of additional resources. Last Updated: February FINANCIAL RIGHTS LEGAL CENTRE FUNERAL FINANCIAL INSURANCE

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