A couple in New Jersey thought they had made the final payment on their prepaid funeral arrangements 30 years ago. That is, until the cemetery called to tell them they still owed more than $2,000 if they ever hoped to actually be entombed in the crypt they had purchased.
The husband and wife made a $780 down-payment back in 1977 and then paid off the remaining $2,500 over the next five years. But according to the cemetery, the contract did not include the cost of entombment — $1,100 per person.
The couple, now in their 90s, and their daughter reviewed the contract with a sales rep for the cemetery and say there is nothing on their copy of the contract that mentions any additional costs, and certainly no specific mention of fees for entombment.
The Newark Star-Ledger’s Bamboozled column compared the couple’s copy of the contract and the copy faxed by the cemetery and found that the cemetery’s version has, among other differences, a stamp in the margin that reads, “DOES NOT INCLUDE FEE FOR ENTOMBMENT SERVICE.”
None of this appears on the copy held by the couple.
“[The cemetery rep] now says that my grandparents should have two copies of their contract,” their granddaughter tells Bamboozled, “one from the day they made the purchase and signed it, and then a second ‘authorized copy’ which would have been mailed to them seven to 10 days later with a copy of the regulations… The authorized copy would have had the stamps, and the regulations would also have had information on fees.”
But her grandparents say they never received any such copy and they would definitely have said it if it had been received.
“He kept all of that together in one envelope,” says the granddaughter. “I found a receipt for a 40-year-old refrigerator, and a receipt for 36 cents worth of screws from a hardware store that’s been out of business for a long time. He saved everything.”
Bamboozled took a closer look at the contract and was puzzled by something:
[The couple] signed the contract on March 12, 1977. On March 14, a cemetery rep signed and dated the contract. The one that the cemetery signed on March 14 would appear to be the fully executed and “authorized” contract.
The initial contract wouldn’t have that March 14 date.
The vital item the family’s copy is missing is the stamp down the right side saying entombment was not included.
So it would seem plausible that the cemetery simply forgot to add the entombment-not-included stamp to the authorized copy it returned to the family.
When questioned about this, the cemetery rep didn’t have an explanation but did say that the contract refers to the cemetery’s rules and regulations, and that in 1977 those did not include costs for entombment.
“The rules and regulations are also posted in the lobby,” said the rep. “The cemetery has done everything correctly.”
Bamboozled took the contracts to the chairman of a company that owns several cemeteries in New Jersey. He tells the Star-Ledger he doesn’t understand why the family would be given two different versions of the contract.
“Because the contract in the situation you’re talking about has a stamp on it that’s different than what the family has in its file, it leads to misunderstandings and questions,” he said. “While the contract is moot to the subject of [entombments], that doesn’t say the counselor maybe said it included everything, which led the family to think it included everything.”
The family has complained the state’s Cemetery Board, which has not yet taken up their complaint.
“Most of all, we really don’t want any other families to find out about this as we did or worse, at the time of a burial,” says the granddaughter. “I can only imagine how it must feel to be hit with an unexpected bill when someone you love has just died.”
Two years ago, we told you about how many prepaid funeral contract contained clauses that either exempted certain items from pre-payment or effectively negated any pricing agreements if the cemetery were to be sold in the interim.
If you do choose to go the pre-paid funeral route, make sure every associated cost is included in your contract — and that your children, family or friends not only know where the cemetery-related paperwork is, but what it entails.