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Final flight with final expense

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I had the pleasure of obtaining a final expense plan several years ago for Petelo Alailetaleula, a Samoan immigrant who had an interesting story about his culture.

Petelo was a charming, gentle giant, standing 6’1” and weighing 379 pounds, and he preferred people call him Peter. When I knocked on his door (final expense sales are most effective when you visit people instead of calling them on the phone), he was 62 years old, with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. He was concerned about his health and whether he could buy a simple, inexpensive life insurance plan. I assured him that with liberal underwriting, no medical exam and no home office specimen, he would get approved for a small final expense policy ranging from $3,000 to $25,000.

With his limited budget, we agreed that $10,000 would be sufficient. He had life insurance for funeral costs from his trade union, but his wish was, as is with many foreign nationals, to return to the country where he was born for his final resting place. Peter knew from previous Samoan passings in his Los Angeles community that shipping the body is extremely expensive, and he didn’t want to burden his family, friends and church members with these expenses.

It’s a common problem among many immigrant communities in the United States, and it’s a frequent driver for final expense purchases. According to the latest stats from the Centers for Disease Control, 2,437,163 people died in America in 2011. A percentage of those were immigrants or visitors who had either relocated here or were in the United States for work, tourism or family visits.

While exact figures are hard to come by, it’s estimated that more than 40,000 bodies are commercially air transported just between U.S. airports each year. Delta, which says it’s the world’s largest transporter of human remains, estimates it moves about 25,000 bodies a year.

Charges for transporting human remains (or HR in airline terms) are based on destination, the number of transfers required and different airlines needed, as well as the combined weight of the casket, body and air tray. It’s not uncommon to see international charges from the airlines ringing up at about $6,000.

Final expense policies can often solve the problems posed by these transport charges, and not just for Samoans. If you’re selling final expense, you might also pursue Latin-American immigrants. Many first-generation immigrants from Mexico as well as many people from South America, especially Brazil, wish to return home after they pass. It’s also a common wish for Central American immigrants, including those from Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica. For immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa, it is tradition to be buried in one’s tribal homeland. The funeral industry is also seeing an increase in immigrants wishing to be returned to India for burial.

If you plan to help clients concerned about body transport costs, it helps both you and your client to know the relevant lingo. Some terms you should know:

Repatriation: To repatriate is to send back to one’s own country. In case of death while traveling, most travel insurance policies will cover the cost of repatriating the body back to its place of origin.

Ship-outs/ship-ins: These are funeral industry terms for the funeral homes involved on each end of transport. The funeral home at the location of the death is in charge of ship-out. That means it obtains the body, prepares the deceased, embalms him or her (or, for those of the Jewish faith, seals the body in a zinc case casket), and prepares the body for shipment. The forwarding mortuary takes care of ship-in, picking the body up at the airport. For example, in the state of Alaska, the busiest time for the funeral homes is during the summer, when a huge number of cruise ships arrives carrying thousands of passengers, many of them elderly. The funeral homes there stay busy with ship-outs to the Lower 48.

Consular/embassy: The receiving country consular must be notified, and proper documentation must be obtained prior to shipment. With more than 300 recognized countries, every country has its own specific requirements. A country’s website will usually explain its current rules. If paperwork is not 100 percent accurate and in that nation’s official language, the body will not get through that country’s customs.

Known shipper: After 9/11, Congress passed the 9/11 Act, mandating that only specific funeral homes are allowed to prepare a body and transport it to the airport. The purpose of the act is to impose significant barriers to terrorists seeking the use of casketed remains to plant explosive devices. These funeral homes have been approved based on tighter access to the preparation room and heightened security while transporting the remains to the airport.

Air tray: Casketed remains must be enclosed with an outer container — the air tray. The base is made of plywood, and the casket is surrounded by durable cardboard. The air tray must have six handles and be able to hold up to 1,000 pounds. Funeral homes have them in stock, and airlines sell them at the cargo department at the airport.

CCSP: This stands for the certified cargo screening program. The 9/11 Act requires all cargo, including human remains, be screened for explosives prior to loading on all passenger airlines.

Final expense products are well received in immigrant communities, and families are always so appreciative you provided them guidance during their darkest days.

My client and my friend, Peter died just three years after I placed his protection plan, but I’m glad to share that he’s back in Samoa, his homeland. His wishes were honored. Thanks to final expense, he had his final flight.

For more on final expense, see:

Insuring a proper farewell

Dancing with the Star of Final Expense

The Final Expense Waltz