NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - No one likes to think about death, but most of us, at some point in our lives, will shop for funeral services. In planning her own funeral, a local mom thought paying in advance would give her family peace of mind, but after spending thousands of dollars, the elderly woman's family was left with more stress.
It was nearly eight years ago in March 2008 when Nellie Livers says her mother, Geraldine Sheridan, pushed to plan her own funeral. "She wanted to have everything taken care of so I wouldn't have to worry about anything if anything should happen," explained Livers, Sheridan's daughter.
The family had two receipts, one for $5,000 and another one for $7,000 paid to Richardson Funeral Home in Hammond. "It wasn't checks. It was cash money, you know," Livers said. The $12,000 in cash was supposed to cover everything from services, facilities and transportation to the casket and even clothing, and Livers tells us a man named Reverend Samuel Richardson with the funeral home signed the contract.
Sheridan was healthy then. Today, she's 91 and suffers with dementia. While her daughter takes care of her most of the time, Sheridan attends a daycare for seniors. "I don't want anything to happen to her, but you know we all gonna (pass away). Right now I'm battling cancer and lupus, and you never know," Livers said.
When Livers heard recently that the owner of Richardson Funeral Home in Hammond had passed away and his funeral home was closed, she didn't know what that meant for her mother's pre-paid funeral arrangements. "It's been rough. I've been trying to get heads or tails of what's going on, what can we do, because we don't have that kind of money," Livers said. "That's why I came to you all to see if y'all can help," she said.
Livers turned to the FOX 8 Defenders to track down answers, and we went straight to the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. The state agency, which regulates embalmers, funeral homes and funeral directors, also investigates consumer complaints.
"The previous owner (Rev. Samuel Richardson) was deceased. His wife, who had been a licensee, is retired. The son (Thaddeus Richardson), who had taken over the establishment, had subsequently been incarcerated, and his wife, who had been in the business with him was not a licensee. It got to a situation where there were no entities or individuals that the board could authorize or exercise their authority over," explained Dianne Alexander, attorney at law and counsel for the Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors.
"I'm not trying to get my money back. I just want to make sure my mother's funeral arrangement she paid for is taken care of," Livers said. Alexander tells us while the original home Livers' mother contracted with for pre-need services was closed down, another funeral home agreed to honor the contract. Livers met with them the next day. "She (Livers) was quite relieved. She was very appreciative and very thankful. She just kept thanking me, and I could hear in her voice the relief," Alexander said.
Like Geraldine Sheridan, more people choose to plan and pay for funeral arrangements in advance, and in Louisiana, you've got two options, including an insurance policy, which is transferable. If the funeral home closes or say you move out of town, the policy goes with you. The other option would be funding it with a trust, like in Sheridan's case.
"Funeral homes are to take that money, and they are to put it in a bank, and that's supposed to be in the consumer's name as well as the funeral home's name, and that money would become available when it becomes at need, and in order for that money to be released, you would need to present a death certificate to the bank," said Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors Executive Director Kim Michel.
If a funeral home closes, like in the case of Richardson Funeral Home in Hammond, the operators are expected to notify pre-need consumers to determine where they want that money to go. "And no one notified us you know," Livers said.
Homes are also required annually to report pre-need services to the state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors annually, however the board had no records of any pre-need contracts through Richardson Funeral Home of Hammond or Covington. Michel says pre-need consumers should receive bank statements.
All of this information has been an education lesson for Livers. She and her elderly mother feel even better now knowing the pre-need contract will be honored thanks to a gracious area funeral home.
The Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors says Richardson Funeral Home of Hammond and Covington was in business for nearly 50 years. Reverend Richardson was in charge for most of those years, and in that time, there was only one complaint filed against it.
If you've got a consumer concern, call the FOX 8 Defenders staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women at 1-877-670-6397 or fill out an online complaint form.