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They thought they had it all planned out.
But one by one, families are coming to local funeral homes to make changes to their final arrangements which, it turns out, are not so final after all.
Ron Spicer of Shorts, Spicer and Crislip Funeral Home in Ravenna and Streetsboro, said roughly half a dozen families have come to his funeral home to update their pre-need agreements, because Grandview Cemetery in Ravenna Township, at least for now, won't be honoring "pre-need" items with deed holders at the cemetery.
"They each paid $9,000 and thought they had it all worked out, and now they've paid $18,000 for two plots of land," Spicer said. "It's put a lot of people in a difficult situation."
For generations, the privately owned Grandview Cemeter has billed itself as a "one stop shop," offering its plot owners not only the land, but vaults, caskets, urns, grave markers and the eventual opening and closing of their graves.
Now that the cemetery's owners, Theodore "Ted" Martin and his wife, Arminda, are both serving prison sentences for tax evasion, Stephen Colecchi, a local attorney, has been appointed to run the cemetery while a lawsuit is pending. Colecchi has said that although he can still provide families with their cemetery plots, families are on their own when it comes to "pre-need" items, and must also pay for the opening and closing of their graves.
Local funeral homes, including Shorts-Spicer-Crislip and Wood-Kortright-Borkoski in Ravenna, also provide families with pre-need arrangements that are paid in advance. But Spicer points out that the laws for funeral homes are radically different than the ones Grandview's owners were required to follow.
"I've talked to numerous people at the state level," Spicer said. "Why are cemeteries able to offer funeral goods without falling under the same funeral rule that we do?"
How it works
Spicer and Aaron Borkoski of Wood-Kortright-Borkoski both sell families an insurance policy to pay for their future final arrangements. Wood-Kortright-Borkoski works with American Memorial Life Insurance, while Shorts-Spicer-Crislip works with two companies, Colombian Financial and Homesteaders, which works exclusively with funeral homes.
The idea is that the insurance policies will grow in the years between when the arrangements are made and when the policy is needed, although the services are often discounted if the policies don't keep up with inflation. All the funeral home policies can be taken with the customer if they move out of the area. If an item changes in the interim, families are given choices that are similar to what the original customer requested.
Both Spicer and Borkoski are advocates of making pre-need decisions. Spicer said that Homesteaders once did a study showing that most families make 1,000 decisions between the time of a family member's death and the service, and 90 percent of those can be eliminated by making the decisions in advance.
"I've never had a family say, 'I really wish Mom hadn't pre-planned her funeral," he said. "They all say, 'Mom made it so easy.' "
Borkoski, meanwhile, a third-generation funeral director, said he learned to be an advocate for advance arrangements from his father, Randy, a funeral director in Cadiz.
"My Dad always used to say, 'What do you want, to make all these decisions for me and your mom, or to know that we took care of it for you,' " he said.
Private cemeteries, Colecchi said, also are required to abide by state laws. He said the law defines pre-need items, and requires funds paid for such items to put into a trust or other account until the money is needed to pay for services.
The same code, he said, requires cemetery owners to file affidavits with the state to account for the money customers pay, and to set up accounts for lawn maintenance.
To date, Colecchi said, he has been unable to find such accounting by the Martins for Grandview.
"My understanding is that pre-need payment annual reporting has not been filed for a number of years," he said. "I've seen no evidence that it has been filed."
The Grandview bank account has just $332.58 in it, Colecchi said, and that makes it impossible for him to honor pre-need contracts for families who want to use their plots. The families need to make arrangements with funeral homes and monument companies, he said. There also is a fee schedule in place for opening and closing of graves.
For now, Ravenna Township trustees are handling mowing of Grandview, and Rootstown trustees are aiding the township by lending specialized mowing equipment.
The Portage County Prosecutor's Office has filed a motion seeking to dissolve the corporation that owns Grandview. The motion, which is pending in Portage County Common Pleas Court Judge Laurie Pittman's court, states that the Martins have "systematically used Grandview as a subterfuge to engage in criminal activity" and have used funds paid for cemetery plots and pre-need merchandise and services for personal use.
Should Pittman dissolve ownership of the cemetery, Ravenna Township trustees would assume ownership and responsibility for burials -- but not "pre-need" items that often are purchased separately at many cemeteries.
Colecchi, who will oversee Grandview Cemetery until the ownership issues is resolved, expects to file his first report with the court in July. Since he took receivership of the cemetery, only one person has been buried in Grandview under his watch.
Two others, clients of Wood-Kortright-Borkoski, also were caught up in the issue when they died shortly after Ted Martin, on his way to prison, ordered Grandview to shut down. Those people eventually were buried at the cemetery.
Spicer said issues with Grandview, which opened in the 1960s, are nothing new. When the Martins took ownership of the place, Spicer said he heard complaints that they hiked the cost of opening and closing plots three times within their first three months of ownership, aiming to make them comparable to private cemeteries in Summit County, which charge hundreds or thousands more than municipal cemeteries.
"We saw this coming for a long time," he said. "There's nothing you can do."
The families coming to him, he said, are already clients of his funeral home, but want to update their pre-arrangements to cover items they thought they bought from Grandview. The added expense is difficult for some families to cover, he said, but "they just know it has to be done."
"We try to come up with something that wouldn't have them spending too much money, but still allow them to have a decent funeral," he said.