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As the cost of living rises, so too does the cost of death – and this Taranaki man has had enough

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By Elijah Hill of Stuff

Dave Devenport was outside the New Plymouth Public Trust office on Thursday morning to protest the cost of death.

Dave Devenport was outside the New Plymouth Public Trust office on Thursday morning to protest the cost of death.

On a busy street in New Plymouth, a portrait of a dead woman sits in front of a skeleton.

It’s Thursday, and Dave Devenport, “a jack of all trades and a master of none”, has been there since midnight.

It’s the first protest he’s ever held, and so far it’s just him, the skeleton and his dog Kelly May.

The woman in the picture is Janice Giddy, she was Dave’s partner who died in 2018, “a lovely, lovely woman,” Dave says.

But it was her death – or at least the cost of it – that has sparked Dave’s protest.

“You come here with nothing, and it costs you a bloody fortune to go out,” Dave says.

While the cost of living has rocketed in recent years, so too has the cost of death.

The price of a funeral varies depending on what you want and where you get it from.

One Chirstchurch-based funeral home that advertises its prices online range between $6321 for just a casket and “professional service fees” to over $20,000 for everything from a hearse to a photographic tribute to catering.

A 2019 Ministry of Health report put the average price at between $8000 and $10,000, saying funerals were “often the third most expensive purchase that many people will ever make after a house and car”.

A funeral, as we know it, consists of more than just a burial or cremation. There is also the cost of embalming, flowers, transportation, the service venue, a wake, funeral notices and service sheet.

A survey of 17 councils earlier this year shows the average cost of a burial (plot and interment) is now $4038 – a 9 percent jump in just two years.

In New Plymouth, expect to pay $4163 for a burial plot, and $2389 for an interment fee – $6552 all up.

South Taranaki charges $1678 for a burial site and $1843 for interment – $3521 all up.

Stratford sits in the middle at $2200 for a site and $1500 for interment bringing the total cost to $3700.

In Auckland’s Manukau and Waikumete the cost is $5600. At the other end of the scale, it’s $1150 in Taupo and $2075 in the Far North.

Things get cheaper if you go for a cremation – you’ll pay $2537 for a cremation plot, ash interment fees and cremation in New Plymouth, while in South Taranaki you’ll pay $1659 for just the plot and interment, Stratford District Council doesn’t list separate fees for cremation plots on its website.

Wrapping up an estate is another cost that many Kiwis might not take into account.

Dave’s wife Janice had her will with Public Trust, the building Dave parked his ute and trailer in front of during his protest.

According to Dave the cost to wind up Janice’s estate was $9500, which he thinks is outrageous given he’s the only beneficiary.

Public Trust chief executive, Glenys Talivai, wasn’t able to confirm the costs of administering Giddy’s estate, but said in an email the trust’s charges were based on a range of set fees and hourly charges.

“…which are calculated on the amount of time it takes us to complete the process of administering an estate.

“Even for estates that are more straightforward to administer, this can take longer than people may expect due to complex processes such as selling properties and managing overseas assets, which take time and expertise to manage.”

Talivai said Public Trust was careful to stay in close contact with all estate beneficiaries throughout the administration process and was clear on the fees and charges throughout.

Talivai provided a list of Public Trust’s charges, with hourly rates for estate conveyancing ranging from $220 per hour to $385 per hour.

Mike Aro, manager of New Plymouth’s Vospers Funeral Home, said the industry had felt the effects of inflation and supply chain issues.

“The cost of providing caskets has increased hugely in the last year and a half or two years with Covid supply issues.”

Most funeral director’s fees are an amalgamation of everything from catering to flowers, to council fees, Aro says, and when these go up, so too does the cost of a funeral.

But there are ways to help pay for a funeral for those struggling.

Work and Income offers a funeral grant of up to $2280 if the estate of the person who died can’t pay and when the deceased dies from an injury covered by ACC, the agency can pay a grant of up to $7024 to help with funeral or memorial costs, one-off payments, and loss of income.

Aro says the key is to talk with their funeral director.

“Most directors only too happy to have the discussion a monetary consideration to be taken into account, we’re happy to accommodate whatever wishes or constraints that you might have, no one wants to give a person an invoice that they can’t cope with.”

* This story first appeared on [Stuff].

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