The rules and issues around the COVID-19 pandemic continue to evolve and information changes consistently. Please take note of when our content was written and always go to the sources we’ve provided for the most current guidance.
With the current guidelines around social distancing, the typical way funeral services are provided has undoubtedly changed. We’re going to talk to you about your options when prepaid (also known as “preneed”) funeral services are changed to follow social distancing guidelines and the implications this might have on your preneed contract.
We know this is a sensitive issue and talking about the end of life arrangements is difficult. The information we’re sharing below is nuanced and we’ve done our best to make it easy to understand. The key piece of advice here is to ensure that you understand what you are agreeing to in your specific circumstances.
If you need any clarification, consider reaching out to your funeral provider or contact us (as the funeral services regulator in BC) for more information.
There are two types of preneed contracts
Prepaid funeral services (also known as a preneed cemetery or funeral contract) arrange for cemetery or funeral services that will be provided in the future and is organized while the person is alive. Your options for managing changes or amendments to preneed contracts vary depending on the type of contract you have. There are two types:
- Funded by trust.
- Funded by insurance.
The options we’re talking about below only apply to preneed contracts that are funded by trust (option #1). If you’re not sure how your preneed contract is funded, please speak to your funeral provider.
Funerals and COVID-19
We support the BC Funeral Association’s recommendation that at this time services be limited to fewer than 10 people wherever possible. We suggest that you discuss your options and any concerns you have with your funeral provider so you can come to an agreement on what’s possible.
Are you the official decision-maker or Executor of the will? If so, you can make the final decisions on end of life services and decide on how you want to proceed with the preneed contract. Below are some options for you to explore and some of the implications.
Find out who gets to decide on after-death care (there are laws about it).
3 possible situations to consider
1. Putting a hold on the gathering (memorial or service) part of a funeral service for now
You may decide to put a hold on the memorial service or celebration of life until social distancing guidelines are relaxed and more family members can be present. While we recommend moving forward with final disposition (burial or cremation) as soon as possible, you may choose to have the memorial or celebration of life later.
So, what does that mean for your preneed contract? In this case, you can keep the contract with the funeral home open to pay for those services in the future. It is important to understand what you are agreeing to and what the terms of the agreement are for future services. These future services should be agreed to by both parties and must be set out in an amendment to the original preneed funeral services contract.
2. Using part of the funeral services and then cancelling the rest of the contract
If you decide to go forward with some of the funeral services but cancel the rest of the contract, you can get a refund for the services that won’t be provided. However, the funeral provider has a right to keep 20% of the total cost (as long as the 20% was not already taken off at the time of sale). Your refund would be the amount in trust, plus any interest accrued at a prescribed rate, minus any personalized goods that can not be returned.
3. The funeral home is unable to provide any of the funeral services
If the funeral home is unable to provide the funeral services, then you are entitled to receive a full refund on the services that were not provided.
Your cancellation rights
A preneed cemetery or funeral services contract may be cancelled at any time; however, the funeral provider has the right to keep 20% of the total costs. Be aware that items that are personalized or unique may not be refundable. There may also be some tax implications for the estate that you should discuss with a financial professional.
Questions or concerns?
This information can be nuanced and complicated. If you have a question about your specific situation, please speak with your funeral provider. If you run into an issue with your contract that you cannot resolve directly with your funeral provider, then you can come to us for help.
Where do we fit in?
Funeral services and cremation are governed in BC under the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act (and regulations) and the Cremation, Interment and Funeral Services Act (and regulations). We are responsible for enforcing these laws. That means that we license and regulate the industry as well as take calls from consumers who have questions or complaints. Find out more on our website.
Funeral directors, providers and embalmers as well as cemetery and crematorium operators are required to be licensed with us. To find a licensed provider please visit this page on our website.
About Consumer Protection BC:
We are responsible for regulating specific industries and certain consumer transactions in British Columbia. If your concern is captured under the laws we enforce, we will use the tools at our disposal to assist you. If we can’t help you directly, we will be happy to provide you with as much information as possible. Depending on your concern, another organization may be the ones to speak to; other times, court or legal assistance may be the best option. Explore our website at www.consumerprotectionbc.ca.