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Money Is The Root Of All Funeral Evil

My maternal uncle passed away and had many years prior named me as the beneficiary of what was termed a “death policy” through his former employer. I had forgotten all about it until a distant relative mentioned that my uncle had retired from a school district and that someone should check with the School Retirement Agency to see if there would be any funds available to cover the funeral expenses. Low and behold, yes, there was a policy and I was named as the beneficiary. I think you can guess what happened next.

Unbeknownst to me, my mother went on a spending spree: arranging the funeral (planning which I was not allowed to be involved in) and ordering flowers (from “all of us”), ordering twenty (yes, 20) copies of his death certificate from the funeral home (run by a family member), and all the while telling me that I didn’t need to come to the funeral. I thought that was strange. Needless to say, I did attend the funeral because I loved him dearly – he suffered some very miserable last few years. It was all heartbreaking and I hope that in death he has achieved some level of peace that was denied him in life.

Anyway, as I said, I did attend the funeral and within a few days of the service I began to get telephone calls from my mother and her sister (my aunt) wanting to know when I was going to claim the money and telling me that I would need to get a copy of the death certificate from THEM before I could do so (in hindsight, I think they assumed this could be used as some kind of leverage). The calls came on an almost daily basis both at home and at my workplace– the two even tried to drop in on me (unannounced) at my place of work, thankfully I have a secure building with limited access. They had the security guard call me to allow them entry but I was in a meeting at the time and away from the office so I know all this only because of the voicemail message the security guard left me that day. Keep in mind that my mother and aunt both live several hours away from me, so “popping in” would have required them to make some significant coordinated effort.

That’s when things got really ugly. My aunt called me at home one evening (I could tell she had me on speaker phone but I didn’t say anything about it – just played along). She began by asking me in a sickly sweet voice: how was I doing (funny, hadn’t heard from her in YEARS before this), how was work, how was my husband/children and then…. BAM! How much is the death policy- it’s $5K, right? When are you going to collect it?

I told her it was actually $10K, however, because it was not a life insurance policy, there would be withholding taxes that would reduce the payable amount so I wasn’t sure how much it would end up being. She then proceeded to tell me that after I received the money and paid the taxes on it and paid for the funeral, I would need to give the remainder to her because she was “legally entitled” to it and that I “didn’t deserve it”. I was stunned silent and she continued on, “The only reason he named you as beneficiary is because he thought he would outlive us” (meaning she and my mother), and, “Your mother and I are struggling to survive on just our retirement and social security.” (mind you, my aunt lives in a very large custom built home in an affluent retirement community along with a pool/pool-house and a Lexus SUV). Wow – just wow.

I didn’t really know what to say but managed to respond in what I have to admit was an uncharacteristically calm manner. I told her simply that I would pay for the funeral expenses because that was the right thing to do for my uncle but that I would not be handing over the rest of the money to her or anyone else that may be listening in on the conversation. I further told her that if she and her brother had some arrangement in which he desired that I pass along the proceeds of the policy to her and my mother, I would be happy to do so but would need to see some proof of that in writing. I also reminded her that the term “legally entitled” in this situation would actually be applicable to me as the beneficiary. Suddenly she had no further interest in speaking with me or in knowing how me/anyone else in my household was doing. She said very curtly: “Well, have a nice day” and hung up. Within seconds, the phone rang. It was my mother. She wanted to know if I was “alright”. I told her yes but was tired of talking on the phone. She said, “Ok- love you”. End of call.

Several more calls came over the coming weeks (all from my mother) both at home and at work – all wanting to know the same thing: when was I going to claim the money because she had a copy of the death certificate and would be able to bring it to me so I could take care of it.

Neither one of them had any idea that sometime before the School Retirement Agency had mailed me a letter advising me that I was named as a beneficiary on a death policy and that I could use that notice as documentation in requesting a copy of the death certificate which would be needed in submitting my claim. I did so and shortly thereafter, I received the check. I then contacted my mother and told her to let me know how much the funeral expenses had been so I could reimburse her. She came to my house the following day and brought with her a large manila envelope. It contained a copy of the death certificate (which I didn’t need because I had already received the money – they just didn’t know about it) and a crudely hand written “bill” for the funeral. The bill consisted of a piece of notebook paper (college ruled). It noted the cost of the funeral, flowers and copies of the death certificates came to a grand total of $ 3,548.01 (don’t you love it? – down to the penny).

Did I mention my uncle was cremated?

I wrote her a check then and there for the full amount. Happy with her little payout, she left but not before asking me what I planned to do with the rest? Unbelievable. I told her I hadn’t decided yet.

I haven’t heard from my aunt since that ghastly phone call and contact with my mother has been spotty. My sister stopped speaking to me once she found out that our uncle left me money (not a big loss – this is the person that once called my home when I was away at work in order to make a very creepy pass at my husband- of course he was appalled… let me just say this about my sister: her two biggest achievements in life were surgically implanted into her chest). Considering that I have always been generous with my family over the years, including sending money when needed with no questions asked or expectations of being paid back (and finding out the money had been safely received only because I could tell by my bank statements the checks had been cashed), it was really shocking to see how they treated me.

All in all, it was a terrible ordeal. I have never been so hurt but at the same time, I’m reluctantly grateful that these people have little involvement in our lives. Having wished and hoped all my life for a loving relationship with my mother and being hurt and disappointed time and time again is a little like being let down that a blind person can’t see color: It just isn’t possible.

Thanks for listening. It feels good to write this down and let it go.   1029-14

First, my condolences on the death of your uncle.

I do think you are being a little harsh in how you view some of your Mom’s actions.   Ordering 20 copies of the death certificate is recommended by numerous funeral arrangement sites and organizations.  I can speak from experience that those 20 copies were likely needed by the executor of the estate to close many accounts. In the case of my father-in-love’s estate, more than 20 copies were needed.

Rather than finding your mother’s exact summation of the funeral costs to be worthy of suspicion and disdain, I offer a different view.   It appears she was the executor of the estate and by law she has a serious fiduciary obligation to perform the probate of the estate with clarity and accuracy.   I would have given you a “bill” that was exactly to the penny, if I were the executor, because ethics and the law demands that level of precision in the estate accounting.   I have a relative, executor to a deceased family member’s estate,  who embezzled thousands of dollars from the estate by first starting to fudge those few dollars and eventually fudged so much that the delta between the actual costs and what he billed to the estate totaled over $5,000.00.   So, you want an executor who will be excruciatingly precise in the amounts of money taken into and out of the estate account.

As for your mother not allowing you into the planning of the funeral, I further suggest that while you were given the legal opportunity to pay for it, you were not given the legal right to plan it.   To be honest, I think you created the opportunity for drama by how you handled this situation.   If your uncle’s death policy was meant to cover his funeral expenses, I believe you had a duty to take the initiative to inform the executor of the estate in a timely manner what the funeral budget limit was based on the net proceeds of the death policy.   Instead you presented the opportunity for your mother to hound you to get answers she needed as the executor to close the estate accounts.  And I further think your representation of your mom as greedy is unfair.   She merely wanted the funeral expenses reimbursed and she did not ask, like her sister did, for any part of the remaining funds. Her asking you what you were going to do with the remaining money is just “mom talk”.  If one of my kids had received a financial windfall, I’d be curious to know what they were going to do with it, too. New car?  Add a nursery?    To me it’s about rejoicing with them and seeing them enjoy the prospects of blessings  brought by unexpected money.

As to cost of the funeral,  I don’t consider $3500.00 for cremation, flowers, and other funeral service arrangements to be that unusual or extravagant.  The average cost of an embalming and burial in the US is between $7,000.00 and 10,000.00 so $3500.00 for cremation funeral service was a thrifty choice. Did you expect your mother to simply have her brother cremated (about $500-1000, depending on the locale) and his ashes spread in the back woods somewhere or did you think that flowers, the rental of the chapel, programs, the services of the funeral directors were all free?  I suspect if your mother had not organized a tasteful funeral service for your uncle, you would have found fault with her as well.

Regarding the remaining money left after all funeral expenses had been paid, I personally would have donated it to a charity I thought uncle would have appreciated, like a teachers’ retirement fund.   You were not expecting that money, you noted that it was designated for funeral expenses and by not taking a pro-active position to donate the remaining money (a few thousand?), the temptation to be greedy came to the surface in everyone.   While you had a legal right to retain the remaining funds for yourself, and you had no obligation to share it with others,  and to certainly ignore whining that others are more “entitled” to it than you, I think you allowed money to create further barriers to relationship health.  It became a family squabble over the last “bone” of the estate and to my thinking, if the dogs are fighting, it’s time to get rid of the bone but this assumes one values relationships over money.   After my father died,  I discovered that he had a huge amount of frequent flyer miles accumulated which would have covered the cost of at least 4 round trip plane tickets to anywhere in the US and I further discovered that one particular family member was exploiting this asset by redeeming those points for his own ticket while other family members were left to pay for theirs. I ended the family drama by calling the airlines and having the remaining frequent flyer points donated to the Fisher House for wounded vets, an appropriate donation considering my dad was a retired veteran.   Was the greedy bastard who exploited this asset happy that his access had been cut off?  No, he was one angry guy but the rest of the family was relieved and supportive of the decision and it’s by these choices that one really discovers where family priorities lie.


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  • Dublin November 5, 2014, 4:51 pm

    I’m not sure why everyone seems so fixated on whether or not she should have used the funds to pay for the funeral expenses. No it doesn’t indicate that the funds were specifically laid out for that purpose but she doesn’t seem upset that the money would cover the cost of the funeral. The OP even states she would cover the cost of the funeral because it was the right thing to do. She at no point complains that they expected the money for the funeral but that they wanted some of it for themselves. So I don’t get why this seems to be an issue for everyone, it wasn’t for the OP. There was no mention of the will or any other details regarding the estate but I would assume there was no money otherwise to cover the expenses of the funeral except for this benefit. The OP in no way earned this money other then having the good fortune to be named the beneficiary. The uncle may have known he had no other other assets to cover those expense except that fund and that was his intention for it. If there was no other money to cover those expenses in the estate and the OP gives no indication that there was, than the right thing to do is pay for the funeral. It would have been wrong for her to pocket the money and leave her mother and aunt with that bill and she seems to know that it was the right thing to do.

    Same with the death certs, it would seem that there are different rules depending on the country/state but regardless of how many are issued, they are often required when closing out accounts or claiming death benefits. It is a reasonable assumption that her mother and aunt would expect she would need one and since they organised they funeral, they would have the death certs. They told her she would have to get one from them to claim the benefit. She claims this was for leverage but I don’t see for what. That makes no sense.

    I would be curious what the distance is between her and her family. I believe she said it was a couple of hours away. (Canadian perhaps? Always judge distance by travel time not distance) Despite calling it a speeding spree, the funeral seems pretty modest and straightforward. Maybe if it was a simple affair and they simply were telling her that they understood the distance and she wasn’t obligated to come if she felt it was too far. We said the same to some relatives who lived a piece away at my fathers funeral. The service was very small and we wouldn’t expect them to make such a drive in poor weather. It wasn’t meant to exclude but be understanding of the realities of their circumstance. Since she doesn’t particularly concerned with that detail as it warrants only one line in the tale, the same length of space she uses to comment on her sisters implants, I suspect there was a reason for saying she didn’t need to come but the OP is failing to explain that.

    There are a lot of details missing in this story that are needed to put everyone’s actions into proper context.

  • Lizajane November 5, 2014, 6:17 pm

    People are “fixated” on her paying for the funeral because her aunt and mother seemed to assume she would and assert that she was somehow obligated to. She wasn’t. Doing so was the rigjt thing, given the info we’re given. But what if the uncle had other assets? We’re not told that he did, but not that he didn’t.

  • Kirstenh November 5, 2014, 8:03 pm

    From what I read the aunt sounds like the villain, not the mom. The cost of the funeral is actually quite frugal, not a “spree”. I suspect her mom called right after her aunt did because she head the aunt’s call, knew it was a nasty one and was genuinely concerned. And I think the mom was asking about her intentions with the rest of the money out of genuine curiosity and not because she wanted anything.

  • Nina November 7, 2014, 1:10 pm

    Admin’s response seems a little biased — and it appears she completely misread the story when she says the following : “It appears she was the executor of the estate and by law she has a serious fiduciary obligation to perform the probate of the estate with clarity and accuracy.”

    I find it really strange that the mother did not bring original receipts for the costs of the funeral, and that amounts were added up on a piece of ruled paper.

    That having said, my dear grandmother was cremated and her funeral cost over 5K. I don’t think the amount asked by OP’s mother was unusual and then again, OP points out she made no fuss about it and quickly wrote a cheque.

    I’m really concerned however by how the family seemed to quickly plan the funeral while telling the OP her help wasn’t required, neither was her presence at the funeral. Even if they were trying not to burden her, it seems odd.

    And the aunt’s actions speak really loudly here, and she reminds me of my family members when my grandmother passed away. My grandmother had been in a retirement/medical home for nearly 10 years when she passed. Only my aunt came to see her 2-4 times a week, took care of her finances, made sure she was fully clothed, fed properly, and had proper entertainment. My aunt SLAVED over my grandmother. At her worse, my grandmother would call my aunt several nights a week complaining about things that had happened to her 20 years back or imagining things that weren’t happening. It was really sad and my aunt was exhausted.

    When my grandma passed away, all my aunts and uncles including my mother came to town, got together, and made a huge deal of proving who was closer to my grandmother, who shared more memories with her and who was more deserving of her remaining jewelry or the small estate she had left for them to share. It was downright horrible to witness.

    4 years before my grandma had passed, while she was still lucid, she had given me her mother’s ring. My grandma practically raised me and we were really, really close. None of my cousins really knew her either. Well, this mother’s ring thing — made a LOT of my aunts upset. For days they wondering who had “stolen her ring”, blamed my mother etc — until I mentioned in passing that I was so glad that I had this small piece to hold on to and they all literally, and I say literally, nearly freaked out. They were shocked she had given it to me, asked when it happened etc. I’m not even going to say what went through my mind or the things I wish I had said, I kept my mouth shut and played dumb but seriously. Seriously?

    • NostalgicGal November 7, 2014, 9:10 pm

      Yep. Seriously. The annals here are full of that and worse.

      I’d safety deposit box the ring . I’m surprised at least one hasn’t stood in your face and screamed bloody murder and DEMANDED the ring RIGHT NOW and nearly gone to violence (searching your body for it and/or trying to snatch your hair out or something) to get it from you. And if they can get into your house, search for it.

      As mom has very little left, and there are two things she has yet that I want (one is a small scene painted on velvety stuff, it’s not a true velvet painting of the heyday, I am guessing it’s 80 years old now that was her mom’s; and my mom’s pair of stuffed dogs she received as a Christmas present when she was ten and sit on her bed) and I’m betting I won’t see them. I’m mostly braced for the marching straight into court to prove that the small insurance policy that I’m beneficiary; is all there is, and after the cremation and settling other things, that’s all there is.

      • Asharah November 9, 2014, 11:22 am

        I agree, DO NOT let these people in your house unless the ring is locked up in a safe place where they can’t get their paws on it and make it “disappear.” More than one story around here about what happens when one family member gets an heirloom somebody else felt entitled to.

  • Schnickelfritz November 7, 2014, 9:09 pm

    I now wonder, if the Uncle’s funeral was pre-paid. It is very common – and the price is set to the day you pre-pay. That may account for the $3,500.00 amount. The Mom and Aunt did not want the OP to turn up, so she would not be privy to that fact. My parents pre-paid their funerals. It is a policy, that can tranfer to any funeral home – even out of state. The only charges that are fluid – are the newspaper charge for the obit, and the flowers for the casket. They set an amount slightly higher than those charges in the pre-paid policy. When going into a nursing home (for life); you immediately have your life insurance cashed in, and pay your funeral from your estate. Medicaid did not set a limit – you could get a top of the line casket, or a pine box. You just had to prove that you pre-paid your funeral. My parents passed away six years apart – in that time, the same exact funeral went up $3K. We ended up paying less than $200 for the charges that were fluid. That did not include the burial plots they already owned. If you have the $$, it is very wise to pre-pay – it is a monthly plan if you want, or just pay it all out. I wonder if Uncle pre-paid his, and made his own arrangements.

    • hakayama November 8, 2014, 10:45 am

      Awrite, Schnickelfritz! I think you’ve got it. Uncle possibly/probably had a prepaid funeral. His sisters must have known that, but it would not do to tell that to the OP (and the funeral directors were relatives).
      It would not do to have the OP involved in detail work because then she just might find out the truth. None of the original paperwork was presented either for the same reason. After all, flowers from “all of us” were not included in the prepaid sum…
      What the OP describes as a “spree” then happened with the knowledge that “everything was covered”, and the she-vultures didn’t even have to advance THEIR money for anything.
      A now centenarian friend used to make sure to pay her bills with such precision that nobody would get money before it was actually due. NO, she did not have an interest bearing acct., but this was a matter of principle with her. I did feel pity* for her, especially when the 11th hour came around, and I could see her scurrying down to the post office to mail her payment.
      I’ve known enough of her peers who had a “nicer” stance about money. So, noooooooooo, it was not the Great Depression at the root of that attitude. It was the individual’s “inner core”.

      * Feeling sorry is a good emotion. Pity? Not so much.

    • NostalgicGal November 8, 2014, 3:09 pm

      Oh, this sounds like the situation perfectly. It was prepaid, mom went on a spree, and Auntie had knickers in knots because she wanted a spree too … it fits perfectly.

      My parents didn’t prepay, instead they took the small insurance policies and named me as beneficiary so I could pay for funeral expenses and settle estate; this was done about 20 years ago and I set the amount expecting some inflation (they wanted $5k I said 10… and 10 just covered Dad’s a few years ago. I started putting a few $ in a sock to deal with Mom’s might be short)

  • Sharon November 13, 2014, 10:13 pm

    I agreee that the ADMIN seems a little harsh to the OP. But, that may come from being raised by a mother who was bi-polar and every enounter with her was a MAJOR drama. (She called me once claiming that her 20 year old granddaughter had stopped by her house while she was asleep and taken her “pot holders”. Now, Jennifer would not know a pot holder from a map of Kansas because… well… she’s 20 year old college student and… you know…!)
    We tried to care for her and my daddy as they we almost 80, but she would nag and yell at daddy to go get her cigarettes when we weren’t around and like a silly fool he did it.
    When my daddy died she almost made me insane. Never mind the fact that the reason my dad died was because she insisted that they live in an upstairs apartment and coming back from going to buy her cigarettes he fell DOWN THE DANG STAIRS!!!! She whined and complained about everything from whether the grocery store was out of her Dove ice cream bars and cigarettes to the flowers that my boss had ordered and sent to the funeral home. My sister who lived 500 miles from our mom took my mom’s side in everything.
    One odd little note though, after my mother moved to the town where my sister was, my sister called and apologised for thinking that I was a mean COW… our mom had worked her magic on my sister and now good ol’ sis understood my actions.

  • Ginger November 22, 2014, 7:46 pm

    I completely disagree with the Admin! This woman has every right to that money because her uncle decided she should have it. She had planned to pay for the funeral from the very beginning, even though she didn’t have to. But her mother went on a spending spree and ordered things that weren’t necessary. It didn’t sound like the uncle had an estate or anything, and therefore didn’t need that many death certificates. If someone is paying for something, they have the right to plan it. You would say that for a wedding in which the parents are paying for it, so why not a funeral?

    The OP stated that her mother and aunt called her and visited her because they wanted the money. How is the OP causing drama? Her aunt and mother only called her because they wanted her to hand the money over to them. The uncle probably knew they didn’t deserve it and would squander it, so he left it to a relative that was a decent person and nicest to him. The uncle could leave it to whoever he wanted and since he chose the OP, she is the only one legally entitled to that money. If OP wasn’t paying for the funeral, would her mother have went all out? Or would the poor uncle have been given a plan funeral, with no flowers, etc…? And the OP being told by her own mother not to come to the funeral is horrible. I’m still confused onto why the mother would say something like that.

    The only things I would do differently: I would NOT have told the aunt how much the money was. “It’s $5K, right?” “Yes Auntie Selfish, it’s $5K.” Why should they know how much it is?

    The other thing I would have done differently is taking the mother’s “bill” for the funeral. I would have called the funeral home and asked for the final amount and then send the mother the check.

    And after all this, I would have nothing to do with my family again. They are obviously selfish and nasty people who only care for themselves. I hope the OP has cut these leaches out of her life.

  • WellWell Well June 17, 2015, 12:34 am

    The only thing that was probably inappropriate was to air your family’s dirty laundry. They don’t have a chance to refute anything. Although everything you wrote is pretty believable considering how family members acted after the recent death of my loved one. People act like the money that belonged to the deceased loved one is their personal ATM. The uncle left the money to his niece for a reason, and probably a good one.

  • WellWell Well June 17, 2015, 12:47 am

    Now, here’s a story for you… There was a radio station ad for a deceased pastor noting the service location with a note attached saying that in lieu of flowers and money, please go to a gofundme page to fund the GRANDKIDS college. When I opened the link, the fund me goal was $35 THOUSAND DOLLARS! The fund-me page was set up by one of the pastor’s daughters. Meanwhile, the church where he pastored sent out a Facebook note basically saying the gofundme ad was inappropriate and that flowers and cards and expressions of kindness can be sent to the church. So far, only 1 person has donated $200 to the college fund, which is not a memorial scholarship–just a personal fundraiser for a parent of young children. I was put off by the money-grab college fund. $35,000 is a BIG ASK of people who just want to honor the man in their own special way. That same ad, by the way, was circulating to members of a large nonprofit group on which the creator of the gofundme page serves on the national board. Bothersome. So you know what I think of this. I’d like to know what an etiquette expert thinks?