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Passing The Funeral Buck

In 2008, my dear husband, aged 44, died on the couch at home after a prolonged illness. We lived in one state, his father and sister in another. Over the course of his two-year deterioration, they visited twice.

As I had no family in town, I was blessed to have a dear friend who went with me to make the cremation and funeral arrangements. With her loving support, I was able to make the decisions that needed to be made and was able to plan the memorial service that I knew my dear, late husband would have wanted. He and I had discussed such things.

The memorial service was lovely: 21-gun salute, a violin solo, bagpipes, dear friends telling stories about him… My late husband had been in the Air Force, so I was presented with an American flag. Odd as it may seem, I even had a friend tell me, in a rather embarrassed way, that it was the best funeral she had ever attended.

My late husband’s sister and father chose not to attend the memorial service I had for my late husband. Rather, they ran a separate, inaccurate, obituary (not the one that I had lovingly written) in the town where his father lived, and planned a $5,000 funeral there. A pastor who never knew my late husband performed the service. It was, from all I heard, a very sterile, somber event. An American flag was presented to his sister. They had the funeral home produce a video of pictures from my late husband’s life with generic piano music for the soundtrack, as the beautiful one I had independently produced with my late husband’s favorite songs, and had given to them in time for the second funeral, wasn’t to their taste. They asked me if I wanted a copy of their video. I said “thank you and yes.”  I did not attend that funeral.

Less than a month later, I received a bill from the funeral home that orchestrated the second funeral. It was for the full amount of the second funeral, and included on the bill was a charge for the video! A note came with the bill stating that my father-in-law told them to bill me and have it come out of my late husband’s estate. Although I was aware of the second funeral, I had no input on it and never signed a contract with the second funeral home. I let that funeral home know in no uncertain terms that I was not legally obligated to make payment and therefore no payment would be forthcoming from me. I then filed a complaint with the Funeral Directors Association. The billing funeral director was required to take a “communicating with the family” course as well as, at my suggestion, an ethics course. I sent the video back. 0513-13

In the 15 to 18 years I have owned EtiquetteHell.com I have never heard of anyone having the audacity to plan a second funeral and pass the costs on to the widow.   It is a first.

{ 65 comments… add one }
  • NostalgicGal May 15, 2013, 1:07 am

    I didn’t mention in my first volley… My heart goes out to you, OP, that was the icing on the éclair. (shakes head). And to inMN that was a low blow…

    One other I can add to the sordid and tacky and should burn… after I answered the call and was ordained, I did a funeral, with the vigil before and a rosary… and my fee for services was paid by one of the sons with a CC (mind you his pinky ring was worth more than my house, so was his car) and. Just before the vigil, I got a notice that the CC payment was reversed. Yes I confronted him, and the expression was (he didn’t expect me to get the notice of the reversal that fast, he expected to coast through the service and graveside before I found out). It must have been some mistake? Okay… He paid cash or I wasn’t going to continue providing service. Low, eh? Stiff the minister….

  • EchoGirl May 15, 2013, 1:29 am

    Agree with Angela. When my great-aunt (a lovely woman who had been very much like a grandmother to my brother and me) passed away when I was thirteen, there were two memorial services, one in the city where she had spent the last years of her life and where her husband, daughter, and grandchildren lived and only about an hour from where my parents lived, which we went to, and then a second in the city where she was to be laid to rest (I assume, though I don’t know for sure, that the husband and daughter at least went to both). But the husband and daughter were fully involved in planning this and liked the idea that everyone whose lives she’d touched (and it was a long list) have a chance to say goodbye. I can’t imagine planning a second ceremony just off to the side like that.

  • Maple May 15, 2013, 8:57 am

    OP, I’m so sorry for your loss and the fact that you also had to deal with what the in laws put you through. Grief makes people do strange things. I can only hope that this fell into that category. I have seen other E-Hell stories about events surrounding funerals and can only shake my head is disbelief.
    My Dad passed away in 2010, very suddenly after a short illness. My mother involved my grandparents in all aspects of the funeral planning and almost everything went smoothly. We did have a couple WTH moments with my grandmother though. Although we worked with the funeral home to put together a obituary, my grandmother chose to do her own. She was in a rush to put it together so that it could be included in the free circular distributed in the small town she lived. Her obituary ended up being extremely inaccurate, included an old picture (circa 1980) and also listed my Dad’s name incorrectly. He had always gone by his middle name and she chose to list him by his first name.
    Since there was a delay in the release of Dad’s body, the family hunkered down at my parent’s home awaiting the funeral which was to be held at the end of the week. My grandmother in turn demanded someone drive her and my grandfather home (an hour plus there and back) despite the fact that they were invited to stay and that they had their own vehicle. My brother and I put together a lovely slideshow of photos from Dad’s life complete with music. My grandmother decided to help herself to several of the original photos which had been out on the table while we scanned them. And last but not least, in a slight to me that still stings to this day, she stumbled over introducing me to her friends after introducing my mother (wife) and brothers (sons) and I had to introduce myself as his daughter. You see my Mom and Dad met when I was a toddler. She had been previously married and I was a product of that relationship. My Dad raised me as if I was his own, providing a guiding hand for nearly 30 years, and never treated me differently from the children he and my Mom had later. Initially I thought maybe the slight was all in my head, but I continue to be treated differently then my cousins and my brothers.

  • Jess May 15, 2013, 10:20 am

    What a terrible thing to happen to you, you have my most sincere condolences! the way you handled the situation cannot be commended enough.

    We had a similar thing happen in my family. My Pop passed and my Nan and the ten (yes, TEN) children and a few spouses were left to plan the funeral. There didn’t seem to be too much drama with that, apart from the usual that we had come to expect from a particularly over-bearing spouse; D. (D and my uncle own the very successful and prosperous family business, and are childless. This becomes important later on)
    After the funeral, the wake was held at D’s very large beach house, which she insisted on hosting. Not a word was said to anyone about splitting costs, so it was assumed that D and that uncle were financing it (as is normal for a host, when hosting a party)
    The wake was lovely, and all the grandchildren were put to work serving and the gargantuan cleaning effort afterwards. We did not leave until the house was SPOTLESS.
    Imagine my parent’s and aunt’s and uncle’s collective surprise when they were presented with an itemised bill two weeks later, with the portion they were expected to pay! which included a “cleaning fee”, funny, neither myself or my cousins received any payment for leaving the house cleaner than we had found it!
    After getting together and working out how much each of them had been charged, against the itemised bill, it worked out that D had completely factored her and that uncle out. The bill was to be covered by the nine other siblings and their spouses.
    The bill was returned with the “cleaning fee” pointedly crossed out, and more equitably split, along with a note along the lines of “the next time you plan to throw a party, let us know if you plan to have us foot the bill”. I haven’t spoken to her since.

    oy vey, I think I need a cup of tea after re-telling that.

  • Mamamia May 15, 2013, 2:52 pm

    There’s little more background here than meets the eye I believe. Obviously the two families did not care for each other, or at best, tolerated each other (this is obvious in the expressions of the family only visiting twice, and that neither like the other’s video, etc.) . Sending the bill to the estate seems to make sense in some way to me, as I’m sure the estate paid the expenses of the first–and we don’t know for sure that the deceased had not agreed to the 2nd funeral, and for the expenses to come out of the estate.

    And @Jess, the splitting of the bill for the wake only seems very fair? could the cleaning expense have been a crew that came BEFORE the wake to clean carpets, windows, etc? which sounds appropriate to me if you are holding a wake for a family member?

  • Cat May 15, 2013, 3:11 pm

    Are you certain about this? Can someone order a funeral for someone not a close relative without telling anyone that it is expected that the bill will be settled out of the estate, without the next of kin’s/executor of the estate’s knowledge, and the estate can be sued?
    If a order a funeral for someone, and I claim to be a relative ,but then I refuse to pay for it-the estate will be sued?
    What is to stop from anyone doing this, related or not?Sounds like fraud to me. What a gimmick for a dishonest funeral home to try-provide an expensive funeral ordered by just anyone and then stick the decease’s estate for the bill, even if he/she was buried by another funeral home..
    It seems to me a funeral director can sue only if he/she is hired by the relative or executor who has the authority to do so and then is not paid.

  • Lisa May 15, 2013, 4:54 pm

    OP, I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s just terrible that you had to deal with that, especially after the emotionally draining period of his illness, and having these people add to your grief.
    I completely ‘get’ that it gives you some satisfaction to hear that your service was ‘better’ then theirs, so don’t feel bad about that! You planned his funeral as an act of love, your last sweet tribute to him. They basically tried to say that your act of love wasn’t good enough. (for them) So to hear someone else say that yours was the best and be happy about that is not weird: it’s being human.

    I’ve noticed on several occasions that people the least close to the deceased, sometimes try to determine the funeral the most. I’ve witnessed a catholic family wanting a full-blown church service for a (loudly self-proclaimed) atheist, who absolutely hated anything that had to do with church (something that had to do with a scandal I won’t rehash here, but everyne probably knows what I’m talking about). I’ve also seen ‘the brother who hadn’t shown his face in years’ trying to dominate the narrative of an obituary, and the ‘girlfriend for the past 2 months’ thinking she was entitled to recieve all the attention/sympathy/anything she had her eyes on that wasn’t nailed down, because ‘he had loved her’… For 8 weeks.
    And to top it off, I have personally experienced almost not having a seat in the front row of my mom’s funeral, because her brother (the one who hadn’t seen her in ages) wanted his wife + ALL his children to sit next to him… Because they were his family, and because of that presumably more important then my mom’s own children? I guess he needed the support… Ugh.
    That situation ended well since the funeraldirector kindly asked some of them to move, but I did NOT need the extra stress at that moment.

  • Quin May 15, 2013, 6:18 pm

    I’m sorry for your loss. Conflict makes losing someone so much more painful and takes away from the memories of the person you loved, but it isn’t unusual at all.

    I’ve seen a few fights over who gets to make the decisions when it comes time to plan a funeral, and I’m of the firm conviction that it is the person’s closest family member who should be doing the honors. For example, a spouse should plan his/her partner’s funeral, children should plan their parent’s funeral if the other parent is already deceased, etc.

    I’ve also experienced funerals that were completely inept on the part of the funeral home. My father is one example. When he died, my mother and us kids helped plan the service for him. We asked for a tent and chairs at the gravesite for a short service as well as a longer service at the funeral home. Since the cemetery was an hour’s drive away, we had the service in the morning, had lunch at Mom’s, and then drove to the cemetery in the afternoon for the graveside service. When we got to the cemetery, my dad’s casket was sitting on the ground next to an open hole. No tent, no chairs, no plastic grass, nothing. And no funeral director, just the guy who drove the hearse to the cemetery. My aunt and I had to go into the next town to get a lowering device so that he could be lowered into his grave. The next day, my mother and us kids went to meet with the funeral director to go over the bill. He never mentioned the lack of preparation at the cemetery, never apologized, and never reduced the bill. We sat and waited until he was through, and then my brother told him that either he signed the bill paid in full or we were getting a lawyer. He signed the bill. To this day I don’t know why the funeral home screwed up my dad’s funeral so badly. I just know it was painful then and is still painful many years later.

  • Michelle C Young May 15, 2013, 8:16 pm

    This is utterly horrible! I have no other words.

    OP, I am so very sorry for your loss, and for the heinous way your in-laws treated you. Good for you for standing up for yourself in such a trying time! Many people would have buckled under the stress.


  • Michelle C Young May 15, 2013, 8:25 pm

    inNM: Whaaaaa?????

    OK, the funeral director did well calling your mother to check if she would approve the changes, but some changes are just TOO MUCH to do without a very firm and fully-informed approval. We’re not talking about changing the color of the flowers, here. We’re talking about adding a direct insult. When she said that she was sure the mother (in her grief) would choose changes that would be fine, any sensible person would have said, “Well, there is this ONE change that you really ought to hear about before we carve it in stone,” and either insist on telling your mother, or else not go through with the change, at all.

    Some people really lack in common sense.

    As to your “reputed grandmother,” I have no words for that, other than I’m sorry you went through that.

  • Michelle C Young May 15, 2013, 8:30 pm

    inNM – yours is an excellent example of the principle, when you insult a mother (or father), you insult the children, as well.

    If your grandmother had “pretended” to love you all these years, it’s quite possible she did. However, like many mothers-in-law, she apparently hated her daughter-in-law, and thought this was a good opportunity to express that. She probably did not even think about the implications about you and your sister.

    Or maybe she did. I don’t know.

    Was she terribly shocked that you were angry with her? That you took it personally? Did she ever apologize, and try to mend the relationship with you and your sister, even if she did not try to mend it with your mother?

    I am so floored by this! I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, and say that she was suffering from temporary insanity. Well, if she were, then the funeral director really should have stepped in and put a stop to it, for Granny’s sake. She has lost so much, because of adding that one word!

  • Michelle C Young May 15, 2013, 8:54 pm

    Mamamia – splitting the bill is only fair if all of the “splitters” are told beforehand, and agree to it. It is never fair to serve someone with an unexpected bill.

    And if the cousins really left the house cleaner than it was when they arrived, I do not think that the pre-wake cleaning service earned their fee.

    As for the estate paying the funeral, when my father worked in the industry, he told me that payment was always required at the time of service, or before, and you could not just say, “the estate will pay for it.” After all, we’ve all heard tales of estates being tied up in probate for years, people suing and arguing over who gets it, and those estates that are just eaten up by taxes and legal fees. That is why someone planning a funeral and saying “the estate will pay for it,” doesn’t hold water, in my book.

  • missminute May 15, 2013, 9:56 pm

    I wonder if there is more to this story – do the OP and her husband’s parents not get along?

  • Jess May 16, 2013, 9:16 am

    @Mamamia, as Michelle said the splitting of the bill would have been very fair…
    -if all of the siblings had known there was going to be a wake with more warning in advance of 4 hours
    -if the siblings had known the cost was to be split
    -if the cost had been split equally between the ten siblings
    -if the siblings were allowed any input into the planning of the wake, i.e venue, food, beverages, invite list, and BUDGET.

    The first I heard about the wake was when we were leaving the cemetery, that’s how much of a surprise it was. The invite list seemed to have been 25% business contacts of D’s and uncle. The food and beverages provided were expensive, and expansive.

    What really stung the most was how she lapped up all the praise and thanks, and acted the charitable hostess without saying a word to anyone that she was planning on stinging everyone else with the bill 2 weeks after.

  • NostalgicGal May 16, 2013, 3:56 pm


    I’ve had that sort of family dynamics for years… the one person of repute and the one other one that would gang up to plan everything and spend others’ money… flit about and be the hostess butterfly (flies) and have the rest of us pay for it and work like dogs to make it happen. A few rounds before I left home and just after of them disregarding what the recipient of this wingding wanted and not being able to include my father or the other one in planning but deciding things like my father should provide 150# of lean angus burger for the whatever…(and they will do the soda, coffee, chips, and buns, the other one left out could whip out all the side dishes for 150-200)-we also didn’t attend X-when the bill came it got sent back in confetti in a return receipt sign for letter. Include him in the planning or forget it. Repeated several times. At both the grandparents funerals they threw fits over the casket chosen and got told that if they were buying/paying for it ALL then they could choose what they wanted, the $1100 was a nice one the $6000 one was out of budget…and so on. When the funeral or lack of it bit showed up with my father, I totally expected those two to pull something and the one tried.

    Bravo Jess for smelling the BS and sorting the bill out. My motto is: if you want the party you better be ready to PAY for it and do the WORK. I would’ve added a new line for a deduction for the number of people in your family that worked to clean, at say $15 an hour per person, and subtracted their cleaning cost from the amount you remitted. If there was to be a cleaning charge, then she should have paid for the labor she conscripted. And contacted the others to do the same.

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