Prepaid funeral plans: Buyer Beware

Prepaid funeral plans: Buyer Beware »Play Video
Buy your casket in advance and save thousands of dollars on funeral expenses.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service says the sales pitch may sound convincing, but be careful -- you could end up losing your shirt.

Military veteran Clarence Corter thought he was putting funeral finance worries to rest when he bought a pre-paid military casket for under $3,000 from a company called "Celestial Burials".

"We ordered a casket and it had an Air Force insignia on it because he was in the Air Force. And so, we ordered that, and we ordered one for me too because they were less expensive," explained Corter's wife, Betty.

When Clarence died several years later, Betty called the owner of Celestial Burials to send for the casket.

"We contacted him right away. And then we went to the funeral home and let them know that they were shipping it within 24 hours," Betty said.

But the casket was never delivered.

"When we got there, he was laying on a table. They had no casket for him," she said.

Betty and her children had to come up with $3,500 for a new casket on the spot. According to postal inspectors, nearly 5,000 families got burned in the scam alone. The victims lost more than $ 2.4 million.

Investigators say military vets and retirees are prime targets. Funeral directors warn that you must do your homework with any pre-paid funeral arrangement.

"With the advent of the technology we have today, the internet and word of mouth, has anybody else done business with these people? Are they people of their word? That is the crux of any business," said funeral director Joseph Lapinski.

And be sure to discuss your funeral plans with your family, long before they're faced with the emotional stress of saying goodbye.

Investigators report a number of cases where companies claimed to offer pre-paid funeral plans only to pocket the payments, instead of putting them in an escrow account.

Instead of getting involved in a pre-paid funeral plan, experts recommend looking into a "Payable Upon Death" account at your bank. That way at least, you're earning a little interest, and the money is there to support your family after you're gone.

Whatever you do, it's important to make your plans before you need them, and talk to your family so there are no unexpected surprises when you're gone.