Updated: December 05, 2019 07:28 PM
Created: December 05, 2019 07:14 PM
(WHEC) — News10NBC is investigating an online funeral service that promises cheap prices.
When we started making calls and emails on this story, the state funeral directors association put out a special warning to funeral directors.
The investigation started with a call from a desperate mother.
"I think he just gave up," she said.
Kathy White's son died suddenly.
It was suicide.
White's family credit card was almost maxed out and so she chose a funeral service she saw online because of the price that was listed.
But it was the kind of service the state has warned about before.
"He was the father of two beautiful kids that he adored," White said about her son Matthew Beeler. "They were his life."
But not seeing his kids killed him.
White says when another visitation was suddenly canceled in late October, Beeler went into his house near Buffalo and hanged himself.
He was 29.
"I think he just gave up," White said. "And his way of giving up was taking his own life.
At her home in Dundee near Penn Yan, White went online and found Legacy Funeral Services.
It was the price posted on the webpage that got her. It said "affordable, dignified cremation services from $695."
That was a number she could afford.
But she says when her family called they got quoted a price of $1,095.
And then the final bill came.
Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "And the final cost was what?"
Kathy White, Dundee NY: "$1,620."
Almost a thousand dollars more than that first price on the website.
White says there were other problems; mistakes on the death certificate and delays getting the ashes.
"All the stuff they put us through to get to this point just didn't sit right with me," she said.
And that's when she contacted me.
Our first email was on Nov. 25.
On Nov. 26, I contacted Governor Cuomo's office, the State Health Department and the State Bureau of Funeral Directing.
On Nov. 27, the New York State Funeral Directors Association put out a "special bulletin" that warned funeral directors that out of state, online services are "blatant attempts to deceive funeral homes and consumers."
The bill shows Legacy is based in Colorado and Florida. Kathy White says she thought she was dealing with someone in New York.
"These folks are not operating as a bona fide funeral establishment in the State of New York," funeral director Wayne Brophy said.
Brophy is a funeral director at Murphy Funeral and Cremation Chapels in Macedon.
He says the prices on White's bill don't look out of place, but he says state law requires directors like him to meet with families and be transparent with prices. Brophy says online services, like Legacy, are brokers that contract with funeral homes in New York.
Brean: "Have you ever been contacted by these guys?"
Wayne Brophy, Funeral Director: "Absolutely. Yeah. Haven't in a long time but we were several years back and ran into the same scenario that these folks did."
Brean: "You don't do that anymore?"
Brophy: "Heck no."
I phoned the 800 number on the Legacy website and I eventually got passed to a man named John.
"Do you know that the funeral directors association is advising its members not to do business with you?" I asked him.
He said "sure" and he kept telling me that things are getting clarified.
"What do you mean 'clarify?'" I asked him. "What does that mean?"
He wouldn't say. He did say, "what we charge is in line with prices in New York if not less."
"The more I kept calling them, the more they made me feel like I was bugging them," White said.
I compared some prices.
$1,600 for a cremation is pretty low.
Legacy has never been sanctioned by New York State.
But two years ago, the state warned funeral homes that if they do business with out-of-state, online services they might be breaking state law.
If you find a funeral service online, here's a strategy you can use to find out if they're local and how much they know about your town.
Wayne Brophy, Funeral Director: “Make sure you're talking with somebody that has an idea as to the area. Are they local? Are they calling you from this area? Where did the person pass away? You can ask some in-depth questions and say is your establishment local? Is it close to, in our case, Macedon Hills restaurant? If you say something like that and they're not from the area they're going to be I have no idea what you're talking about.”
Brean: “And that's a red flag?”
Brophy: “That's a huge red flag.”
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