Family disputes extra charge for mother’s pre-paid funeral plan

Confusion over pre-paid funeral plans

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A dispute over a prepaid burial has a grieving family at odds with Forest Lawn cemetery.

Twenty-six years ago, Air Force veteran Viola Garner paid her own funeral expenses in advance to spare her children the burden. But when Garner died last month, her daughters say Forest Lawn threatened to block the burial unless they paid an additional $2,000. The back and forth is over the opening and closing the grave.

The two daughters said their mother bought the full package, but cemetery managers said it was an expense she decided not to pay in advance.

Garner is buried in a central location in Forest Lawn Cemetery, exclusively for America’s veterans.

The family claims when Garner died last month, they presented their Mom’s prepaid burial contract purchased back in 1991 to Forest Lawn.

“Yes. We were like we don’t have to come out of pocket with anything. She already paid it,” said Danita Johnson.

Relief turned to misery when the sisters learned there would be an additional cost for opening and closing the gravesite.

“I was like, that’s not included in her plot that she paid for?” Johnson said.

The sisters said Forest Lawn applied immediate pressure and said they were told if they did not have the money by a certain time, they could not have the funeral.

The family raised the money among family and their mom was laid to rest, but there’s no solace, they say, in how Forest Lawn handled things. They believe their mother thought she was buying the full package and should have been notified by mail of the extra cost.

"It’s unfair. Totally unfair because my mother bought a package when she thought she was handling everything that was needed, and come to find out that this is an added expense. It’s just not fair,” Johnson said.

Corporate Representative John McNamara said it’s not uncommon for people to purchase only a plot and leave opening and closing for when the time comes. He said they did not own Forest Lawn 26 years ago and this contract only states space, vault and marker.

The fine print on the contract states an added charge for this service. Forest Lawn did give the family a $200 discount and said it wasn’t an admission they did anything wrong.

"She was expecting the vault and the opening and closing. You can’t leave somebody on top of the dirt,” Denise Fortson said.

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