Death may be the last thing your family wants to discuss during the holidays. But because it is not discussed, people often don’t understand the economics behind dying and what happens if a family can’t afford the necessary arrangements.
A new nonprofit foundation hopes to raise awareness of a need that extends beyond life. Buddy Phaneuf, pictured, president of Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Crematorium in Manchester, launched Phaneuf Family Foundation to provide financial assistance for funerals and cremations for those in need in NH and Vermont.
Phaneuf says welfare departments typically pay about $750 toward a cremation or funeral, but the most inexpensive service at funeral homes in NH averages $1,000. A family might have to come up with $250 and Phaneuf says more of them are having a hard time doing that. So he wants this foundation to bridge that gap.
“Over the years, we [have] worked closely with the welfare department to offer discounts but even $200 can be out of reach for people living on the edge,” says Phaneuf of the inspiration to start the foundation.
He recalls assisting a nursing home where a resident who had passed away needed to be cremated but the only living relative, an estranged daughter, refused to do anything. “A lot of funeral homes can’t offer deeply discounted funeral services,” he says, explaining many are small businesses running on tight margins. “The smaller funeral homes would like to help but can’t take the hit.”
Requests for assistance seem to be on the rise as the opioid crisis has resulted in the deaths of younger, sometimes indigent, people who are estranged from their families, Phaneuf says. That’s a strain on a declining industry in NH, which saw the number of funeral homes drop from 100 to 85 just in the past decade, while handling 11,000 deaths annually, he says.
His inspiration for the foundation came when a family whose infant was buried for free wanted to make a donation to help others. “We didn’t have a vehicle for that,” he says.
Now, if someone prepays for a funeral and the family doesn’t use all the allocated funds, they can opt to donate the leftover money instead of refunding it back to the estate, Phaneuf says.
He emphasizes the foundation is meant to cover a shortfall between what the welfare reimbursement provides and the actual cost for a basic funeral or cremation. “We want to make sure this is a service they truly need,” and that people have exhausted other sources for assistance first.
Phaneuf wants the foundation to help support hospice organizations statewide and to create a scholarship fund for students studying at mortuary schools and help more students to enter the field.
Phaneuf chairs the foundation’s board and says he serves 3,000 families annually through his funeral homes and cremation society, making his business one of the largest funeral homes in New England.
An application for funds is available online and the foundation accepts requests for assistance from family members, friends, funeral directors in NH or Vermont, social workers, hospice or nursing home employees or other interested parties. For more information, visit phaneuffoundation.org.