U.S. Navy veteran Robert Heiskell was a quiet and reclusive man, whose wife had died years before. A concerned neighbor called the police, who on March 22, 2017, discovered the 80-year-old dead in his home.
AZ Central’s recent article, “Phoenix funeral home took control of dead people’s estates, then charged them excessive fees, complaints say,” reports that Heiskell didn’t have will, and no one claimed his body. A Phoenix area funeral home, Abel Funeral Services—under a contract with Maricopa County for indigent burial—retrieved his body and placed it in refrigeration, while they looked for the next of kin. That meant a meter began running on Heiskell’s funeral expenses.
When the county saw that Heiskell had too much money to qualify for indigent burial, funeral home owner Spencer McBride got court approval to become the personal representative of Heiskell’s estate and settle Heiskell’s financial affairs. The funeral home owner had done this many times for other estates.
By the time he was finished, McBride had racked up costs of more than $30,000 from Heiskell’s estate to his funeral home, according to court records. Compare that to the average cost of a funeral and burial of $7,360, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.
While state law permits funeral home owners to act as both executors and creditors of an estate, many don’t care for the headaches. Now the Arizona Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers, which regulates the profession, is looking into several other complaints that McBride assumed control of estates and charged excessive fees for funeral services.
Three complaints in the past year claim that McBride did not exert a sufficient effort in locating the next of kin, while his funeral home charged estates excessive fees for funeral services. Another complaint didn’t dispute fees, but the family of an Air Force veteran was upset over a delay in burial.
Heiskell’s closest living relative, a cousin, questioned the bill and alleged that all but about $8,000 of the charges were “excessive.” This included fees to refrigerate Heiskell’s body for 115 days. The matter was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. In statements to the funeral board, McBride has denied using his position as personal representative for profit.
Even if you believe you have no heirs, it is important that you speak with a qualified estate planning attorney to create a mindful plan that tells people what you want to happen to your assets and personal belongings. Book a call today.
Reference: AZ Central (June 21, 2019) “Phoenix funeral home took control of dead people’s estates, then charged them excessive fees, complaints say”