Two years ago, Jennie Morrow of Nova Scotia had two tragedies strike months apart. First her sister Wanda died of lung cancer. Then her 89-year-old mother passed away in her sleep.
While Morrow felt her sister’s funeral was fairly priced, she was shocked at the price of her mother’s funeral, feeling she was forced into a “package deal” that contained many unnecessary extras that she didn’t need or want.
Her mother’s wishes were to have a funeral mass and burial at the Catholic church near her childhood home. Morrow and her brother Joseph contacted a local company, Jayne’s Funeral Home, which sent a hearse to collect the body.
The only problem was, the company only sent one person to pick up the body at the senior’s home where Morrrow’s mother, Viola White, had lived.
“The women who had cared for my mother in the senior’s home had to help carry her body out to their vehicle. I found that very unprofessional,” Morrow recalled this week.
“My mother died early Saturday morning but my brother and I weren’t able to meet with the funeral director until late Monday morning. In spite of the fact I had talked to one of the funeral directors a few times on the phone over the weekend regarding her obituary, there was no mention that Jayne’s only sold packages.”
Morrow said she asked to see a price list for funerals, but the funeral director of Jayne’s, a division of Service Corporation International of Houston, Texas, refused and instead insisted the family had to buy a package, which started at $9,099, not including taxes or the cost of the funeral mass or reception.
It had been two days since her mother had died and she thought about going to another funeral home at that point, but decided not to “because the obituary had already been sent to the newspaper (although not yet printed) announcing the details of the funeral and many people had been notified by phone. By the time we knew that they would only allow us to buy a package it felt like it was too late to switch to a different funeral home,” Morrow said.
“At the meeting to arrange the funeral, and again at the funeral itself I was pressured to set up an appointment for ‘after care,’ ” Morrow added. “I asked what ‘After Care’ was. I was told that it was when they provided us with the Death Certificate, filled out the Death Benefit forms and the Notification of Death Forms, returned the photographs that were used for the funeral display, the bill, etc. I told the funeral director that I had been incredibly busy caring for my mother before her death and did not want to make another trip for this. She offered to come to me for it and I said no. I suggested that I would prefer to take the photos home with me after the funeral and have her send the other paperwork to me in the mail.”
Morrow also said she didn’t need someone from the funeral home to fill out the Death Benefit forms or the Notification of Death forms. “I had already done them a few months earlier when my sister had died and it wasn’t difficult,” she recalled.
After the funeral, Jayne’s sent a two-page bill for $10,172, including $499 for an online obituary, a $375 “Dignity Tribute Burial Memorial Package,” which Morrow said was a black box with thank-you cards and other items, a $199 compassion helpline, a $299 “after-care planner,” $99 for estate protection, $1,065 for transportation, $595 for attending the church ceremony, $395 for “other care and preparation,” $295 for registration and documentation and another $1,948 in professional staff and service fees.
The funeral home had initially quoted a higher price, but when Morrow became upset, the funeral home knocked $1,100 off the price.
But when Morrow was actually sent the “bill,” as it was referred to by the funeral home, Morrow noticed it was actually a “purchase agreement” for “Goods and Services Selected.” There was an arrow pasted on the two-page contract, asking her to sign. She noticed it was back-dated to before the funeral.
“The date that they had put next to where I was supposed to sign was for before my mother’s funeral, making it appear that I had been shown all these prices and had chosen all these things voluntarily,” Morrow said.
“I was so angry after reading the fine print (which I suspect doesn’t usually get read when the papers are presented in person at the after-care meeting) that I stopped payment on the cheque that I had given to the director at the funeral.”
She also noticed there was a notation at the top of Page 2 saying “Part Two of Three Parts.”
Morrow demanded the funeral home send the missing third page. “When I finally did receive it, it contained 12 terms and conditions. Number One was: ‘You agree that the Funeral Home shall not be liable for loss by theft or otherwise of any clothing, jewelry, or articles of any nature whatsoever.’ “
The missing page also stated: “You acknowledge that you were offered a copy of the current price lists.”
For the sake of closure, she and her brother went over the bill, adding up the things that they thought were reasonable and made the funeral home an offer, “which we considered to be more than fair,” Morrow said. “They accepted it.”
Morrow maintains she was never shown a price list and first complained to Jayne’s, which tried to negotiate a lower price, then filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, alleging shady practices.
Two months later, the board responded by saying it was not going to intervene in the settlement of an outstanding bill.
“What is the role of the Nova Scotia Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors if not to respond to complaints?” Morrow asked.
Since her mother died, tragedy struck a third time: Her brother Joseph died. “He died 9 months later, so I lost three members of my family within 13 months,” she recalled this week.
Morrow intends to pursue her complaint about the way she was treated by Jayne’s Funeral Home. She plans to take the matter up with her local Member of the Legislature, feeling there needs to be better regulation of the funeral industry.
Fortunately for B.C. residents, there are laws and regulations that funeral providers must abide by or face fines.
“Funeral services providers operating in B.C. are required by law to display a current price list of all the offered services and products,” says the B.C. Consumers Protection Branch. “This list must be accessible by the public and a copy must be provided to any consumer who asks for it.”
Under B.C.’s cemetery and funeral services law, you also have the right to supply your own casket for interment or cremation as long as it meets certain requirements, and you have the right to supply your own container to hold the cremated remains of your loved one.
Funeral homes can often convince people to spend far more on a casket or cremation urn that they planned to spend, mainly because they are grieving and vulnerable to “upselling.”
It is always advised to read the fine print of all contracts before signing, and getting a friend or relative to have a second look and advise whether the costs seem reasonable.
This site is dedicated to our mother, Holly Haliburton, 95, who died a year ago this week. This is a photo of Holly from 1946, when she was 29:
Holly was born in Blackland, New Brunswick. Her mother and father’s families were from the Isle of Arran in Scotland. They were given land in Canada (what is now New Brunswick) to reward them for fighting in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 with Lord Nelson. Her great grandfather was Daniel Nichol, born 1787 on the Isle of Arran. He died in 1863 in New Mills, New Brunswick. He entered the British navy in 1803 and was on the ship HMS Victory when Lord Nelson was killed in battle. Daniel came to Canada in 1829. When Holly was 10, she wrote this poem about her great-grandfather and recited it in her final days:
“My great-grandfather was with him/ upon that fatal day/ when Nelson lost his life/ and there was great dismay.”
By the way, we noticed Jennie Morrow is an artist. We looked at her website (www.jenniemorrow.com) and liked this painting, called Dieter’s Clothesline, because it is peaceful, comforting and reminds us of our mother growing up in the Maritimes: