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Why You Should Double-Check Your Prepaid Funeral

In October 2016, Toby Polley, a former Missouri funeral home owner, was charged with five counts of felony financial exploitation of the elderly.  Polley was allegedly taking payments for “pre-arranged funeral and burial services,” but then forcing consumers and their families to pay again later for the services that had already been paid for.

A “preneed” funeral contract allows funeral consumers to pay in advance for the funeral and burial services they will require after their passing.  Many consumers choose to prepay for these services to spare their loved ones the hassle and expense of financing a funeral, which typically costs thousands of dollars.  When a consumer enters into a preneed funeral contract, the payment is deposited into a special account, which cannot be comingled with the funeral establishment or funeral director’s personal funds.  Polley allegedly failed to deposit preneed payments into special accounts and then consumers and their families were forced to pay for the same services a second time.

In Missouri, preneed funeral contracts involve several parties.  A “seller” is the one who executes the contract with a consumer.  The seller or his agent remits payment to the provider.  The “provider” is the one who provides the funeral or burial services specified in the contract.  Each of these parties must be licensed by a board to enter into preneed funeral contracts and must renew their license yearly.

In addition to criminal punishment for financial exploitation, a complaint can be filed by the licensing board against Polley to an administrative hearing commission.  If the commission finds that Polley was mishandling funds, he could be put on probation for up to five years or have his license suspended for up to three years.  If Polley’s license to enter into preneed contracts gets revoked altogether, he must wait only three years to reapply for his license to enter into more preneed contracts.  If you're going to prepay for your own funeral, it pays to double-check what's happening to your money or you might end up paying double.

Lauren Stovall

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