PRATTVILLE, Ala. (WSFA) - Losing a loved one can be extremely difficult. But for an Alabama women, that grief was compounded by the ordeal she says she and her family had to go through as they sough to cremate her brother’s remains. Now, she’s speaking out.
Prattville resident Carolyn Wood thought the online company she chose was reputable, but she later learned it isn’t even licensed to do business in Alabama.
Before Wood lost her brother, Thomas Walker, in July, she says he made only one wish.
“He wanted to be cremated. He didn’t want a funeral. He didn’t want a memorial,” she explained.
Honoring that wish became extremely difficult when she hired Legacy Funeral Services. The website gave her the impression it was a local business that serves families in the Montgomery area.
“The worst thing is when someone dies. You are already hurting,” said Wood.
A man named “AJ” became Wood’s contact at Legacy. He originally quoted Wood $995 for the services. But when the invoice arrived, the price had jumped to more than $1,500. Despite her suspicion, Wood used her credit card to pay. Days later she realized her brother’s body was still in the morgue.
“He had been there a week and these people hadn’t done a thing because they wanted my money,” Wood said.
When she raised questions about the delay, AJ said she owed even more money.
“He said, ‘Oh, by the way, you owe us $450,’ and I said ‘For what?’ and he said for transporting the body,” Wood recalled of the conversation.
Wood’s grief quickly turned to anger. She was left with no choice but to hire another funeral home to perform the cremation.
“I just want to warn people,” said Wood.
That’s when the 12 News DEFENDERS stepped in.
WSFA 12 News called Legacy Funeral Services to speak with AJ, the person Wood said cut her a bad deal. They said AJ was on the phone, but within a matter of minutes, that story changed and AJ was out of the office. Legacy returned our call two hours later only to say that AJ had left the country.
“We have had complaints on them over the last four or five years,” said Charles Perine, the executive director of the Alabama Board of Funeral Service. “What we have been able to gather, thus far, is that once the number is called, it goes to a call center and then the call is referred to one individual by the name of AJ. The individual will receive a call back from him. All we know right now is the one individual. We don’t know if there are multiple individuals included in this,” Perine went on.
Perine is now stranger when it comes to Legacy Funeral Services. He says Wood’s ordeal is much like the other complaints local consumers have lodged against the company.
“The price they were quoted, or the cost, got higher and false advertising,” said Perine.
It gets worse. According to Perine, Legacy is an “internet based company” with multiple addresses.
“None of them pan out to be an actual address, so we really don’t know where they operate out of," said Perine.
Here’s what we can confirm: “They are not licensed to do business in the state of Alabama," Perine stated. "They do not hold a license from the Alabama Board of Funeral Services.”
Perine says other states have taken action against Legacy for similar allegations. Alabama may be forced to follow suit.
“We will have to bring in other agencies to look at this matter," Perine said. “It will go beyond the board of funeral service.”
Perine says the Alabama attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission could get involved. WSFA 12 News reached out to AG Steve Marshall’s office and a spokesperson said they are familiar with Legacy but that no consumer complaints have been filed.
The Alabama Board of Funeral Service offers these tips:
- Make sure the establishment is licensed by the state’s regulatory authority and know where the establishment is located. They recommend visiting the establishment and have a conversation with the funeral director.
- Make sure the individual you are making arrangements with is licensed by the state’s regulatory authority.
- Ask plenty of questions. If the individual you are dealing with is not willing to provide you with verifiable information, or if something does not feel right, there is probably something wrong and the consumer should investigate further.
In Alabama you can visit the Alabama Board of Funeral Service website and click on the “Licensee” tab to search for active license individuals and establishments with in the state. Most states have similar capabilities through their funeral board website to search for the license status of an individual or establishment.
It is also recommended that people plan ahead for their arrangement,s if possible.
“By simply having a conversation with their family concerning their wishes can prevent many problems at the time of death," Perine said. "If an individual wishes to pre-pay (Pre-Need – before death occurs) a funeral, they should verify that the establishment has an active Certificate of Authority from the Alabama Department of Insurance to sell pre-need funerals. A consumer can verify if an establishment has an active Certificate of Authority by visiting the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.”
As for Wood, it took four days of calling, but she finally secured a refund from Legacy.