Owners of Heritage Funeral Homes speak out about preneed service plans


Editor’s Note: This interview article is running for a second time as recommended by The Texas Department of Banking and the owners of Heritage Funeral Homes in order to clarify certain statements made by the owners of Heritage Funeral Homes. Examples given by the owners may not always be the case for other pre-paid funeral plans since Heritage is referencing a specific type of pre-paid funeral plan - that is, insurance-funded. According to Texas Department of Banking, there is a trust-funded pre-paid funeral plan, which other funeral homes may offer. Revisions will be bolded and underlined. For additional information, please check out the website: <https://www.prepaidfunerals.texas.gov/>.

Dr. James Mercer and Dr. Jason Fulton, owners of Heritage Funeral Homes, met with me recently to explain and discuss pre-need funeral plans. Dr. Fulton was attending via speaker phone since he was at the Brady funeral home location. Accompanying Dr. Mercer at the San Saba location was Anita Alvarez, Office Manager, who recently became a licensed pre-planning advisor.

Dr. Mercer expressed concern there has been much confusion about a pre-need plan. Thus, he and Dr. Fulton wanted to take the time to discuss this specific plan that gives peace of mind to the purchaser and entire family. With this goal in mind, the setting of this interview was basically a questionand-answer themed discussion. Consequently, questions posed will be bolded and numbered.

1. What is a pre-need funeral plan?

Dr. Fulton: “It is basically an insurance plan (remember, this is what Heritage sells) that will purchase a funeral of your choice at current prices. These prices are locked in for the funeral. . . because funeral prices do go up. Payments can be made in short installments or as much as up to 10 years. (The minimum term is one year, especially due to Heritage’s low all-in price of $3995.00.)

Even these payments can be small, especially for someone who is on a fixed income. So, one can just lock everything in. . . get your wishes finalized and then your financial burden is very small versus having to pay for it all at once.”

Dr. Mercer: “There is one insurance company that has a one-year plan which also covers children and accidental death free of charge. Monthly payments can be as low as $25.00 a month.

Also, if you pay off a plan within the first 18 months, there is no payoff fee. Remember, too - there is no interest charge.”

2. What is the interest rate charged on a pre-need funeral plan?

Dr. Fulton: “There is no interest charged on pre-need funeral plans. It is just like a full-life policy. . . it builds value over time. Let’s say, you have a five-year policy and you were paying it out. Something happened, and you passed away before the 5 years. Credit would be given for what was paid; the family would just pay the remaining balance.” (This is not always the case for an insurance policy. Credit would be given generally for the type of insurance policy that Heritage offers.)

Dr. Mercer: “I just wanted to make sure that our community members know that the monies used to purchase pre-need plans do not go to Heritage Funeral Homes; it goes to the underwriting insurance company.”

Dr. Fulton: “Yes, everything goes directly to the insurance company. Any down payment, all monthly payments are sent to the insurance company. The Guaranty Fund Advisory Council at Texas Department of Banking supervises the operation and maintenance of the monies for the pre-need plans.” (https:// www.dob.texas.gov/cemeteryprepaid-funeral-services) (Actually, The Guaranty Fund Advisory Council guarantees performance by sellers of prepaid funeral benefits contracts with valid licenses issued by The Department of Banking.)

3. Your rate at Heritage for a funeral is $3995.00. So, what if someone purchases a pre-need plan elsewhere for $5995.00 but come here to Heritage for funeral/burial services? What can they do with that extra money?

Dr. Fulton: “The $3995.00 here at Heritage is for fullservice cost funeral services, including a specific casket. If the family wanted to switch and use our casket instead, they would get a refund. Or, they could decide to use the same casket they chose within the $5995.00 package.” (In other words, the family will receive a funeral service plan for the exact cost of their pre-need plan or they can choose Heritage’s $3995.00 plan, or increase their own plan if they so choose.)

Dr. Mercer: “Remember, Heritage’s Legacy plan is $3995.00 which includes a full traditional funeral at a location of your choice within 50 miles of the funeral home. Items not included are opening and closing the grave, death certificates, and obituaries. You can also add flowers and a vault or headstone to the Legacy plan.

I think some people think our prices may seem “too good to be true,” or “Am I going to get high quality services?” or maybe the prices are going to change constantly. However, these prices cover EVERYTHING within the funeral home’s power. However, remember a full traditional funeral at your chosen location with 50 miles of the funeral home is covered by the Legacy plan at $3995.00”

4. Why is it important for me to have a pre-need plan right now?

Dr. Fulton: “I would say because your wishes would be followed. This way you’re leaving instructions for your loved ones and letting them know what it is you wanted. . . to make sure. . .instead of them trying to guess later.”

Dr. Mercer: “It really takes the stress from an already stressful situation! If one doesn’t know what the deceased wanted, then everyone is left to guess.”

Ms. Alvarez: “My Mom passed away suddenly. We had no insurance and no money to bury her. Plus, she never told us what she wanted for her funeral. We had to ask a family member to help us pay for her funeral! I never got a chance to grieve!”

5. Okay, you said there would be monthly payments. . . how are these handled?

Dr. Fulton: “Of course, if someone wants to pay the balance outright, they can pay by check or credit card. On the other hand, the monthly payments can be charged by credit card, bank draft or monthly bill.”

6. Once I purchase a pre-need at Heritage, can I use it at another funeral home? What if I have a pre-need from another funeral home, or it has been assigned to another funeral home, does it have to be used at that funeral home, or can I use it at Heritage?

Dr. Mercer: “Heritage Funeral Home will accept your pre-need plan no matter where it was purchased.” Most pre-need funeral plans are transferable to any funeral provider of your choice. This allows people the flexibility to be able to pre-plan and not worry in case they move or the funeral home goes out of business. However, this refers to insurance-funded pre-need plans, not trust-funded plans.

Dr. Fulton: “Yes. . . if you were told you have to use your pre-need plan at the funeral home where you purchased it, or where it has been assigned, that is not a true statement. You can use your plan at any funeral home that accepts pre-need funeral plans. Furthermore, these pre-need plans are regulated by Texas Department of Banking.” (https://www.dob.texas.gov/cemetery-prepaidfuneral-services) Policy proceeds may be reassigned to a different funeral provider, but the new funeral provider is not obligated to honor the original pre-paid funeral contract prices.

7. What can be confusing about a pre-need plan?

Dr. Fulton: “I believe that people may be misinformed in that they’re not sure who is holding their money; they need to know that their money is being held by a 130-year-old insurance company and not by us.”

Dr. Mercer: “In other words, we make the arrangements, but we don’t hold your money.”

I want people to know and understand no other plan will save you thousands. . . you’re already hurting. . . I don’t want your pocketbook. . . I can’t imagine having to spend all my money to bury my Momma and then not having enough to take care of my kids.”

8. If I purchased Heritage’s Legacy plan, what would my monthly cost be and the term for a pre-need?

Dr. Fulton: “So, at your age (xx), the Legacy plan at $3995.00 for 7 years would be $47.55 per month.”

In conclusion, both Drs. Mercer and Fulton, as well as Ms. Alvarez, presented as very informative and ready to assist any and everyone who walks through their doors at Heritage Funeral Homes with pre-need plans. Their focus isn’t just the value of their pre-need package but the quality and quantity of offerings, too. They want to assure the community that their funds are safe, and Heritage Funeral Home looks forward to continuing a long tradition of caring for the community they serve.

Overall, the crux of this interview article was to enlighten the community towards the concept of having a pre-need plan. . . no matter whether you’re young or in the senior population. Indeed, not only the need for peace of mind and the knowledge that your wishes will be followed, but the fact that a pre-needs plan at many funeral homes, including Heritage Funeral Homes, will not drain you and your family financially has certainly clarified the importance of pre-need funeral plans.