Law can't help when burial site isn't ready

CONSUMING INTERESTS

October 16, 2007|By DAN THANH DANG

William McKenrick died of cancer on a December morning in 2004, three days before his 71st birthday.

His wife of 51 years, Barbara McKenrick, has not had a moment of peace since. And neither, she worries, has he.

Mrs. McKenrick's troubles started when she went to Glen Haven Memorial Park in Glen Burnie to inquire about her husband's burial. To her surprise, she was told that the spaces the couple had picked out and paid for almost 10 years in advance weren't ready.

Glen Haven offered to temporarily place her husband's body in a not-so-final resting place.

That was three years ago.

Barbara McKenrick, 73, is still waiting.

"They put him in this drawer that's so high, I can't even reach him or put flowers up there," she said.

"They even have the gall to call me every once in a while about a closing cost that I already paid. Every time they call, I think they're going to get their act together and move him permanently to where he's supposed to be.

"It's an awful heartache for me and my kids," she said. "He's just not in his resting place."

Sadly, funerals can catch consumers at their most vulnerable, emotionally and financially.

Some state laws exist to protect you. For instance, you can get a refund for prepaid services when you move more than 75 miles away from the cemetery. You don't have to purchase caskets and grave markers from the cemetery. Cemeteries must have a trust fund for long-term grounds maintenance.

There are no laws, however, to protect you when a cemetery doesn't deliver on a prepaid burial space.

There will be an effort to address this in the next General Assembly session, George Piendak, director of the state's Office of Cemetery Oversight (OCO), assured me. But that doesn't help Mrs. McKenrick.

The fact of the matter is that she upheld her part of the contract. Glen Haven has not.

Both sides agree that the McKenricks in 1996 knowingly chose plots in the cemetery's Eternity section that had yet to be constructed. Using a Glen Haven certificate for a free interment space, the couple paid $3,400.19 for a second space, according to paperwork that Mrs. McKenrick saved.

The couple put $1,000.19 down and paid off the rest in monthly installments of $100.

McKenrick said she didn't think about Glen Haven again - until the space was actually needed on Dec. 11, 2004.

"The lady at the cemetery looked at me and told me the Eternity section wasn't done," McKenrick said. "It was getting dark and it was cold out. They told me to go outside and find another spot to bury him.

"I was speechless."

Seeing little choice, McKenrick agreed to the mausoleum space that Glen Haven offered. It's not as if she could take her husband's body home. Glen Haven charged $1,195 to her credit card for opening and closing costs to temporarily inter her husband's body.

Since then, McKenrick has called and written Glen Haven several times. She complained to the OCO, which in turn wrote to Glen Haven in 2005 asking for a response. At that time, McKenrick received yet another unfulfilled promise.

"The lawn crypt section, Eternity A, is scheduled to begin construction in the Spring of 2005, subject to variables such as weather," Sarah F. Rex, Glen Haven's area administrator, wrote in a letter to the OCO. "The units to be installed are already on site. The McKenricks' selection is in phase A so it should be available in late Spring or, at the latest, the end of July of this year."

The Rex letter was written Jan. 24, 2005.

That was the last she heard from Glen Haven or the OCO - if you don't count the calls from the cemetery demanding a final payment.

"It's hard enough to close a chapter in your life when the person you lived more than half your life with dies," McKenrick said. "We've already had one service for him, now I have to wait indefinitely for a second one? It's stressful. There's no closure to any of this."

I don't have good news for McKenrick and any others who may have purchased space in the Eternity section at Glen Haven.

Granted, she could sue.

Her contract says that if the cemetery is "unable to deliver the Property or perform the services attendant therewith as described in this Contract," she can get a full refund.

The cemetery can substitute goods substantially similar and of equal quality to the property, the contract says. That does not include interment spaces.

But McKenrick says the time, effort and cost of going to court is more than she can handle.

Rex, at Glen Haven, said the McKenricks knew they were purchasing pre-construction spaces and that the cemetery was under no obligation to tell them when the spaces would be ready.

"We will get in touch with her as soon as we can," Rex pledged, asking for McKenrick's patience.

Frank Milles, vice president of administration for Stonewall Partners, Glen Haven's owners in Pennsylvania, said the project was delayed because of a dispute with Anne Arundel County government. Glen Haven's previous owners neglected to apply for permits to build the Eternity section, he said.

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