Alberta family surprised website posted obituary without their knowledge

The Kimoto family says they never asked Afterlife.co to use their loved one's funeral information. But in Alberta, there are no laws blocking these actions, according to the regulatory body.

Afterlife offers to send flowers, light digital candles, but site has nothing to do with funeral home

Lighting a digital, animated candle to mourn the deceased is one of the options presented to visitors on the Afterlife website. (Oliver Berg/Reuters)

A family in southern Alberta is raising concerns after finding a website advertising funeral gifts they didn't ask for, using an obituary containing inaccuracies about a loved one.

Naomi Kimoto died on Dec. 18 in Taber, Alta. 

Mere hours later, her family came across her obituary posted on the "Obituaries in Taber — Alberta" Facebook page. The page links to a website called Afterlife, a company the family had never heard of nor asked to publish any information about Kimoto's death. 

It adds pain at a difficult time, family says 

Afterlife's obituary page for Kimoto presents options to leave condolences, send gifts or flowers to the family for a service fee of $23.97, or light a digital, animated candle for the deceased at a cost of $4.99 to $29.99 plus GST.
The digital, animated candle costs $4.99 plus GST for one week, or $29.99 plus GST for 'eternity.' (Screenshot of afterlife.co)

The website says this in its About Us section: 

"We believe that the traditional obituary should be redesigned to better reflect love at its true value and immortalize the passing of those who have left us. The collection page has been designed to simplify the sharing of memories, pay tribute to our loved ones, and communicate support to family and friends." 

However, Kimoto's family certainly does not feel supported. 

"We're already dealing with the grief and we feel like it's an invasion of our privacy," Michelle Zeller, Kimoto's sister, told CBC News. 

"My sister didn't want people to know a lot of things. She was very private about everything. So we did post something but we just posted it ourselves. Now we don't know what the reach is going to be, I don't like the fact that it's being shared and that they're asking for flowers." 

We're already dealing with the grief and we feel like it's an invasion of our privacy.- Michelle Zeller

In the obituary written by the family and posted on the Southland Funeral Chapel website, it said they wanted charitable donations made if people felt so inclined, not gifts or flowers.  

Zeller's daughter, Shilo Zeller, reached out to Afterlife to ask that the Facebook post and obituary be removed. It has been taken down. 

In a message to Zeller's daughter, a representative for Afterlife said, "You can edit by yourself the obituary. Anyone in the world can create an obituary on the website."

The representative said the obituary could not be removed from its page as someone had purchased a candle for Kimoto.
This screenshot was taken by Shilo Zeller of the conversation she had with a representative from Afterlife through the 'Obituaries in Taber - Alberta' Facebook page. (Submitted by Shilo Zeller)

No connection to funeral home

When the family found the unwanted obituary, they contacted the owners of the Southland Funeral Chapel in Taber, who said they have nothing to do with the third-party site. 

Owner Darryl Gensorek said they have also made an attempt to have Kimoto's information removed from the Afterlife website. They've done the same for other chapel clients they've found listed.

Gensorek said the website and its practices have "sincerely agitated" him, especially because he knows what it's like to try to help families through a difficult time. 

If anything has been purchased through the website, the family says they have not received it, nor has the funeral home. 

Afterlife says 'nothing underhanded'

Afterlife responded to requests for an interview by email saying that more than two million visitors use the site in a given month and there are fewer than 15 calls or messages from family members seeking to have obituaries removed. 

"Families who do not want this information provided to the public, can request so by email or phone, and information can be edited or deleted. Families can edit our obituaries on our website by logging in and providing their information and making the adjustments. Those requests are then approved or denied depending on the content within the edit," spokesperson Jordon Le Brun wrote. 

Le Brun said the company was started in January 2017 by entrepreneur Paco Leclerc. 

"There is nothing underhanded about our company. Any information that is openly shared online is public information. All we do is group all obituaries into one database that informs the public and allows people over distances to reach out to their family and friends during a difficult time by being able to send condolences and flowers easily and quickly all in one place," Le Brun said. 

Province lacks funeral service laws

There are no funeral services laws in Alberta that would pertain specifically to this website, according to the Alberta Funeral Services Regulatory Board. The rules target services that are more explicitly related to funerals, rather than the sale of flowers and similar items. 

It is also not a problem that has presented itself prior to this, said the president of the Alberta Funeral Service Association, Stuart Murray. 

Murray has been in touch with the funeral home in Taber and is alerting the rest of the association's members about Afterlife. 

A representative for Service Alberta told CBC News that if anyone has concerns of an unfair practice that may fall under the scope of the Consumer Protection Act, they should contact the Service Alberta Consumer Protection Line at 1-877-427-4088 for further investigation. 

About the Author

Sarah Lawrynuik

Sarah is an international freelancer currently based in France who travels across Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Prior to moving abroad, Sarah worked for the CBC as a radio reporter, producer and video journalist in Calgary, Winnipeg and Halifax.