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Call Kurtis Investigates: Cemetery ‘Holding My Dad’s Ashes Hostage’

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Eight-time Emmy Award winner Kurtis Ming is CBS13'...
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A Call Kurtis investigation is asking questions and digging for data on an industry with little oversight, after a viewer complained Sacramento Memorial Lawn Funeral Home wanted $1,026 to remove her father’s ashes from niche — a job that takes only a couple minutes.

So why would a cemetery charge so much?

“I feel like they are holding my dad’s ashes hostage,” said Rose Chilcoat, whose father George Collins was cremated and placed in a niche 22 years ago.

When her mother died two months ago, Chilcoat wanted her parents reunited, if only their ashes — in an urn on her peaceful, beautiful property in Placerville.

“It’s just such an emptiness, such a big hole that I know will never be filled,” said Chilcoat. “I want them to finally be together again.”

Chilcoat wanted to place her parents remains in a carved-out stone boulder under a flagpole on her property — under the flag her father fought to defend in the military.

But her plans changed when she learned Sacramento Memorial Lawn wanted more than $1,000 before it would give her father back.

“Bottom line is [they] are charging five times more than what some other places are charging (for the same service),” she said.

Finding the best price

CBS13 investigated prices around Sacramento, Stockton and Modesto, checking with a dozen cemeteries throughout the area. Most charge between $200 and $600 for the same “disinterment” service. CBS13 also found one that charged just $50.

Some of those cemeteries described the service as one of the easiest they provide, taking only a few minutes. Later, a Sacramento Memorial Lawn worker admits this to a CBS13 producer.

Producer: “It’s only like a one-minute job though, huh?”
Worker: “Maybe a couple minutes.”

But even after Chilcoat pointed out to SML it was charging much more — she said the cemetery wouldn’t back down.

Who’s regulating the cemetery industry

“They can charge highway robbery if they want,” said Josh Slocum of the Funeral Consumer Alliance.

Stonemor Partners (NYSE: STON), which owns Sacramento Memorial Lawn, is traded on Wall Street. Slocum said the company is more interested in looking out for shareholders than grieving families.

“This just strikes me as greedy opportunism,” he said.

Who is keeping an eye on the industry to make sure families are not getting gouged?

CBS13 has learned no one, from people in the cemetery industry as well as government officials.

Stonemor Partners Area Manager Bryan Baker could not explain why prices were so much higher than many competitors, but said the company plans to lower the price of the service to around $600.

CBS13′s calls to other Stonemor officials were not returned.

After CBS13 got involved, the company went even lower for Chilcoat, charging just $200, allowing her parents to finally rest together again.

“It just brings so much closure,” she said. “Today I’m just really happy.”

Getting the best price

So what consumers do if a cemetery appears to be charging too much?

First, do your research — get quotes from other area cemeteries to see what the going rates are. Often, this information is crucial in negotiating a lower price.

Second, ask them to work with you and your budget. Often cemeteries are able to cut special rates for those with tight wallets to help you get a lower price.

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