Live lavishly, go out extravagantly.
For many of the rich and powerful, funerals are becoming the final opportunity to flaunt immense wealth, competing with weddings and birthdays as a rite of passage worthy of a small fortune. They’re choosing to be laid to rest in $60,000 gold-plated coffins and ferried by horse-drawn funeral carriages or Rolls-Royce hearses. Some are even flying friends and relatives to exotic locales for destination funerals.
A cottage industry of advisors is in place to meet the demand, and some wealth managers are encouraging clients to confront their own mortality and make advance plans — not only to ease the grief of those left behind, but also for tax purposes.
“There’s a certain set of expectations about how you’re supposed to go out,” said Ted Klontz, chief executive officer of Klontz Consulting Group. “It’s become one last display of power and wealth.”
Businessmen and billionaires are often aggressively competitive in life “and that doesn’t end when they think they’re going to die,” said Klontz, a Nashville, Tennessee-based financial psychologist.
Some are being serenaded by gospel choirs in great halls, amid a sea of their favorite flowers flown in by private jet. Others are flying loved ones abroad to watch as their body is pushed out to sea like Viking warriors and the boat set ablaze.
“Whatever we can do that is legal, lawful and in keeping with the integrity of our profession, we will do,” said William Villanova, general manager of Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel, New York’s “undertaker to the stars.”
Custom-made Rolls-Royce Phantom VII hearses and a fleet of 25 matching Rolls-Royce sedans owned by the U.K.-based A.W. Lymn funeral home are sought-after internationally, CEO Nigel Lymn Rose said.
“I get inquiries from people who have always driven Rolls-Royce’s and want their final journey to be in a Rolls-Royce,” said Lymn Rose, who’s had requests to fly the cars to the U.S., Russia and elsewhere. They “want to make a statement: Ride it in life, ride it in death.”
David Monn has planned some of the most high-profile funerals, including Oscar de la Renta’s star-studded service at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in 2014.
At the recent funeral of another fashion designer, he assembled 120 gospel singers who performed as the casket was carried from the hall. He arranged for a marching band to perform at one service, and once covered Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in blue hydrangeas to mirror his client’s Hamptons home.