It's your funeral, so plan for it

Once we can accept that we won't live forever it's a short step to paying upfront for the big day, writes Stephen Spurdon

Most people prefer not to think about their deaths, or pretend to be immortal. Quentin Crisp told visitors to his sickbed the week of his death to put him in a plastic sack and chuck him out with the rubbish. But Jose Luis de la Orden, a retired television technician, has planned his funeral down to the last detail and paid for it in advance. "I want to put a smile on people's faces with my funeral," he says.

Around 300,000 funeral plans are taken out every year. At any age you can buy a simple funeral plan for around pounds 1,500. The money goes into a trust, so if you live for another 20 years or more your partner/family does not have to pay a penny for your funeral because it is already paid in full.

Mr Orden, 53, says that the starting point for this financial planning decision came with the arrangement of the funeral ceremony for David, his partner of 15 years, who died in July 1995. "We all have to confront our own death," he says. "By executing my boyfriend's wishes I got the confidence to plan my own funeral. Eventually I really understood I would have to die sooner or later and I realised that I wanted to visualise how my funeral would be."

Mr Orden got in contact with SCI Funerals, one of the big pre-paid funeral companies. A company rep visited him. "I saw a picture of a hearse being drawn along by horses," says Mr Orden. "I discussed what I wanted and the colours. I find coffins very off-putting, so I requested that the coffin be laid on top of two plinths and the whole thing covered in a blanket of red velvet and masses of white flowers. There will be a limousine and the hearse will be driven by four pure white Belgian horses with white plumes on their heads. There will be no black. The guy driving the horses will be casually dressed in grey. But he must be the most attractive, handsome man they can find and he must be cheerful."

The funeral plan, Dignity from SCI Pre-arrangement, cost pounds 3,429.30. The basic cost of SCI Pre-arrangement's three plans range from pounds 1,040 to pounds 1,960 as a lump sum or paid monthly over 12 months. Spread over 60 months, however, the total cost ranges from pounds 1,200.60 to pounds 2,262.60.

"The customer's cash is invested in the National Funeral Trust," said Peter Wills, head of business development at SCI Pre-arrangement, part of the SCI Group.

"This invests 35 per cent in government bonds, 60 per cent in UK shares and the remainder in cash. SCI Funerals has an arrangement with SCI Pre- arrangement that it will produce funding for all Dignity members come what may."

Examples of other funeral plans include Age Concern's, offered in association with SCI Pre-arrangement, which provides a choice of three plans with funeral director services guaranteed at today's prices. The costs range from pounds 1,060 to pounds 1,735.

CWS Funeral Services provides three pre-set funeral packages as part of its Co-operative Funeral Bond. This offers three levels of service from pounds 1,090 to pounds 1,670. This can be spread over 12 months at no extra cost, or up to 60 months for an extra charge. All these plans include such items as doctor's and clergy costs and burial or cremation fees.

There is also a Funeral Ombudsman Scheme, which is mainly concerned with the funeral service itself, but does deal with some complaints. Check to see if the funeral planning company you deal with is a member of the scheme.

So, Mr Orden has planned his own funeral. But David had his say in what is to happen to Mr Orden's remains: "David's last request was that his ashes be kept and, when I died, for my ashes to be mixed with his," he says.

"I had the problem of what to do with the ashes. I am going to buy a magnolia tree that will be kept in a large pot in which the ashes will have been mixed with the earth, so eventually, we will have been buried together under a big magnolia tree."

You can't get more life-affirming than that.

n Contacts: SCI Pre-Arrangement (Dignity funeral service), 0800 387729; National Association of Pre-Paid Funeral Plans, 0121-711 1343; Funeral Planning Council, 0141-942 5855; Funeral Ombudsman Scheme, 0207-430 1112; Co-operative Funeral Bond, 0800 289120 or www.funerals.co-op.co.uk; Age Concern Funeral Plan, 0800 387718.

TEN SONGS TO DIE FOR

The most popular funeral choices

1 Celine Dion My Heart Will Go On

2. Elton John Candle in the Wind

3. Bette Midler Wind Beneath my Wings

4. M People Search for the Hero

5. Frank Sinatra My Way

6. Gerry and the Pacemakers You'll Never Walk Alone

7. Englebert Humperdinck Please Release Me

8. Elaine Page Memories

9. Frank Sinatra Strangers in the Night

10. Art Garfunkel Bright Eyes

Source: Co-operative Funeral Services

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