Orlando grandma told she can't transfer or sell unused funeral plans, plots

News 6 investigation reveals state law protects families

ORLANDO, Fla. – It took a moment for Jessie Hall to find the place where her mother in law is buried and the adjoining plots purchased all those years ago at the Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Gotha.

"It was intended for my husband, myself and Lord forbid, if I had to use it, for one of the children," Hall said.

The 87-year-old Orlando resident said she and her husband picked the spot to honor her mother-in-law's wishes and because it was a quiet, peaceful place. 

She said she also wanted to spare her children the hassle and expense of paying for a funeral.

"We went down and picked everything out," Hall said. "Had everything paid for to make it easier, because we just went through this kind of a situation with his mother. So we wanted to make it easier for our children."

But Hall said as the years went by, they started wondering what they really wanted to do with their end of life plans, and if they really wanted to be buried next to her husband's mom.

"You know it's a lovely place," Hall said. "But I don't want to be buried."

Hall said instead, both she, her husband and their children decided they wanted to be cremated.

“Years ago it was a no-no, as far as Catholics are concerned. I mean cremation, you just didn't do it,” Hall said.

Hall said when her husband died in 2006, he was cremated just as he requested, leaving Hall no reason to have or use the plans and plots they bought 20 years before. 

However, Hall said when she went to Woodlawn to ask what she could do, she was shocked at the response.

"He said, 'Yes I could use it, but I couldn't transfer it to anybody else,'" Hall said. "I couldn't give it to my children, I couldn't sell it, I couldn't do anything with it."

Hall said nowhere in her contract or paperwork did it say that. She said she even checked with a lawyer to make sure.

When she called Woodlawn back, Hall said no one would return her calls so she turned to News 6 for help.

We checked with the state board of funeral cemetery and consumer services and even a state senator to see what could be done in this case, and discovered people do indeed have rights here, and can change up their plans, and even choose to sell them.

"It is protected by a chapter of state law," said Florida State Sen. Dennis Baxley, who has been in the funeral business for more than 50 years, and at one time sat on the Board of Funeral Directors. "If you find the can-do person in the organization, there is a way to do it."

Baxley said one thing every funeral home should have is portability and refund ability, as well as the ability to change based on the wishes of the individual and the family.

"This is not just transaction, it’s a relationship," Baxley said.

Baxley said according to state law, there is even a consumer trust fund to protect individuals just in case the funeral home goes under or fails to be able to deliver on a pre-arranged contract.

"We get a lot of price-only shoppers," Baxley said. "And some of those people get disappointed when they don't choose reliable people to put their trust in."

Another problem some families face is people who paid for funeral services and plots in advance who end up not claiming them or families paying for an entirely new funeral and plot because they had no idea a funeral had already been arranged or where the paperwork proving it was stored.

Nevertheless,  Baxley said there are safeguards put into place to try to prevent that from happening.

"Any unclaimed property finds its way back to the chief financial officer of the state, and they try to find who to return it to," Baxley said.

He said if no one claims them, those assets will then go to the State of Florida.

Baxley said if you do run into problems, try to reach a resolution with the company or funeral home you are working with first, and if that doesn't work, contact the Florida Board of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services.

News 6 contacted Dignity Memorial, which overseas Woodlawn, about Hall's issue, and the Board. 

Within 48 hours, Hall said she received a phone call, stating the person who refused to help her no longer worked for the company.

Hall said Dignity also offered her a full refund of more than $8,000 for the prearranged funerals they never used.

She said they also told her she was free to sell the remaining plots to anyone she wants.

"I am very, very happy with the result. Believe me," Hall said.