Google the term “Funeral After Care” and what do you find? Most likely, exactly what one would expect; articles and websites promoting grief counseling, sending cards, sending e-mails, using social media to promote after care services, so on and so forth. These types of activities make up the generally accepted definition of “after care.” However, none of these practices actually address the one, complex, and often times daunting issue families face immediately after services are complete, closing their deceased loved ones estate. The estate closing process is the most underserved segment of the funeral home industry and yet, easily the most common cause of post service stress for families. That, put simply, is an opportunity. This article will explain why families both need and want this service, how you can build a program easily in your funeral home, why it will be a generally accepted practice at most funeral homes in the future, and why it is the only service that actually matches the definition of “after care.”
Why You Must Incorporate an Estate Closing Service
When considering how one should build an aftercare program, it is apparent every funeral home provides some type of after care service. These services need to be provided in order to properly align your business with the competition. However, have you considered what the families you serve actually want? Certainly, some families may want grief resources or may want you to send them a card or e-mail. More likely however, they view these items as a nice gesture. The problem with nice gestures however, is they do not necessarily differentiate a business. Rather, a differentiator is a service families not only want, but also absolutely must complete in every case. The closing of a loved ones estate after death is an excellent example of this. The process involves extraordinary effort on the part of the named executors and beneficiaries. It requires organization, paperwork, phone calls, tax and legal knowledge, and most importantly, significant effort in the form of the individuals time. Providing a service that alleviates this burden on a family creates, in many cases, an unparalleled experience. The family will be so surprised and relieved these issues can be dealt with at the funeral home, they will jump at the chance to take advantage of it. Outside of the obvious reason for providing this service, which is the immediate benefit to the family, building this service within a funeral home can increase revenue, referrals, and pre-planning opportunities. A natural offshoot of this process is an intimate knowledge of the family you are working with. As such, you will build a much deeper relationship with families than you do now. Lastly, as families tell their friends and loved ones about their experience at your funeral home, they will naturally include this after care program when encouraging others to use your funeral home in their time of need.
Building the Program at Your Funeral Home
So, it’s easy to talk about building this program, but much more difficult in practice. First, you must find the right partner to meet with families and close the estate. You may be thinking about an attorney or financial advisor. Certainly, it can be either of these professionals. However, we have found the best resource is an independent consultant with a financial planning background and advanced knowledge of estate planning. This type of individual will have no bias or conflicts of interest in terms of selling securities or other products and will be able to objectively guide families through the estate closing process. Furthermore, engaging an independent consultant in this endeavor eliminates any compliance issues that may arise with a legal or securities licensed individual. The problem becomes then, how does this person get paid? In most cases, a funeral home will not be willing to hire a new employee to run this service, and may find the costs associated with doing so unattainable. Therefore, the best way to build a program is to incorporate the cost into the base cost of services across the board. For example, if the base cost of a traditional funeral with a visitation and burial is $5,500.00 the funeral home may increase its price to 5,800.00 and pay the independent consultant $150.00 per family contacted to engage in the estate closing service. In this way, the independent consult is paid fairly for their time while the funeral home sees an immediate increase in revenue, all while providing an extremely valuable service to families. Furthermore, by building the service into the price of already provided services, it can be offered to every family and be considered exclusive to funeral home providing it. By building an estate closing “after care” program in this way, your funeral home can immediately increase revenue, promote referrals, and advertise a service not provided by competitors.
Why Closing Estates is the Future in the Funeral Home Industry
To our knowledge, this service exists in very few funeral homes at present. While we can find some examples of programs that are somewhat similar to what is being discussed here, this type of service is still very much an outlier. This will not continue to be the case and we would argue that you must begin to incorporate this service before it is offered in most every funeral home. The oldest baby boomer is now 72 years old. As this demographic begins to age, many funerals will be arranged by a younger, more mobile generation, who may prefer non-traditional services or cremation and will be looking for value-added services that make them feel comfortable, but also validate their decision to use your particular business. The funeral industry is changing and in order to thrive in this environment, you must adapt and be open to change. Our research indicates that this change is almost always presented in the form of technology, social media, or non-traditional funeral services. While adapting to these trends is important, we disagree that technological or environmental trends are the primary answer. Think of it this way, after services are complete, does a family go home and say, “man, everything was great, but I sure wish they had a better social media presence.” Or, “I was so pleased with the services, but their website doesn’t quite line-up on my IPhone.” Or, is it much more likely the family is saying, “those services were wonderful, now who do I have to start calling to take care of all these accounts?” Of course, it is always the latter. Begin to focus on what really matters to families, not what trends matter to the industry. While social media, green services, and technological advancements are fun to write about, they can’t increase your revenue or add value to your families nearly as fast or as effectively as an estate closing after care service.
The most common question we have been asked in providing this service to funeral homes is, “don’t most people have financial advisors, attorney’s, and CPA’s to take care of this?” The simple answer is, no. The more complex answer is, if they do, it does not mean they want to set up appointments with all three of them at different times, in different places, all the while incurring bills and added cost. Rather, they would prefer to sit down with an objective consultant at the funeral home for one hour at no added cost. In our experience in this market segment so far, about seventy-five percent of families who are offered the service over the phone seven days following the conclusion of services, will engage in the process. Furthermore, of the twenty-five percent who choose not to meet with the consultant, only eight percent get off the phone immediately, while the remaining families will talk to the consultant at length about their experience in closing the estate, issues with the services, or other outstanding items. We share this with you to explain that there is very little, if any, downside to this program. The majority of families will engage in the service, and if they do not, you have created a follow-up program that is unlike anything you have now. For example, do you call your families seven days after services and have a twenty minute conversation with them regarding how their estate closing is going? Probably not.
After Care that Really Matters
To conclude, the inclusion of an estate closing after care program should be a serious consideration for your funeral home. It can be profitable, manageable, meaningful, and most importantly, a much needed service for your families. If you are looking for ways to standout, increase referrals, and adapt to a changing industry, stop looking at your social media page, and start asking your families what really matters to them. We can assure you, the closing of the estate will come up every time. FBA
Dennis Breier is the president of FuneralAssist, a company that partners with Funeral Homes to help the families they service close estates. With 10 years of experience in financial planning, investment advisory, and banking roles, Dennis is extremely well positioned to handle the complex needs of clients seeking estate and asset protection. Throughout his career in financial services, Dennis has built strong relationships with bankers, attorneys, and CPAs that are key to helping families successfully close their loved ones’ estates.