Nova Scotia

Sydney funeral home under investigation over prearranged funeral funds

The complainant in the case says he's satisfied, but a hearing will nonetheless take place.

Complainant says he's satisfied, but hearing will take place

Service Nova Scotia will investigate a complaint about Chant's Funeral Home in Sydney. The owner acknowledges the error but says it was a case of the wrong invoice being sent. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

A Sydney funeral home is being investigated after a complaint about a prearranged funeral.

"Service Nova Scotia received a complaint regarding S.W. Chant's Funeral Home alleging money that had been paid for a prearranged funeral had not been held in trust," spokesperson Marla MacInnis told CBC News in an email.

MacInnis said an inspection of the funeral home's records was conducted, but she did not say what it found. She said a hearing is planned for May 22 and the outcome will determine whether any action will be taken.

"A full decision from the hearing will be made public within three weeks of the hearing," she said.

Funeral home acknowledges mistake

The funeral home owner, Sheldon Chant, said this was not a case of missing funds. He said the company sent an invoice to the family that failed to take into consideration a series of periodic payments they had made earlier.

"We did, unquestionably, make an error when we sent out the wrong invoice … initially … to the family," Chant said. "Sending out the incorrect invoice was a mistake … our mistake … which we quickly rectified upon examination of it."

Chant said the funeral home conducted its own audit, Service Nova Scotia also did one in January and they will be meeting to review the findings.

Complainant now satisfied

Chant also provided a letter from the family involved. In it, William Joseph MacIntosh said he's satisfied with Chant's apology and subsequent actions. He said he was contacted immediately upon making the complaint and has been told changes have been made to ensure the same thing doesn't happen again.

S.W. Chant's Funeral Home in Sydney, N.S., is being investigated after a complaint about a prearranged funeral. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

"He has also made other steps to reconcile with us such as a refund, a letter with his personal guarantee to cover my funeral expense. I tried to say no, but he insisted," MacIntosh wrote.

Legislation requires that money paid for a prearranged funeral be placed in trust in the person's name.

Clients must be given proof of deposits

All funeral homes are required to provide the person making prearrangements with written proof from the bank that their payment has been deposited into a trust account within 21 days of payment. If paying by instalment, the funeral home must also give proof, at least twice a year, that the payments have been deposited.

This is not the first time a funeral home in Nova Scotia has been investigated for its handling of prepaid funeral funds.

In February, a Nova Scotia funeral director was handed a 90-day licence suspension for improperly selling a prearranged funeral for $8,500 without a licence.

Trevor Tracey, who owns two funeral homes in the province, pleaded guilty to a charge under the Cemetery and Funeral Services Act and had his licence suspended for 90 days.

His two funeral homes, in Bedford and Glace Bay, also had their licences suspended for one week.

People licensed to sell prearranged funerals are required to keep each account in a separate trust and keep monthly records of their trust accounts.

Bookkeeping the biggest problem

MacInnis said between Feb. 1, 2013, and Feb. 1, 2018, eight funeral homes were found to not have funds in trust as required by legislation.

She said one was T.J. Tracey Cremation and Burial Specialists. The other seven funeral homes had all funds accounted for in trust, but they weren't entered into the trust account properly. All seven instances were corrected immediately following inspection.

She was not able to say what amounts or how many trust accounts were involved, noting, "we do not record the amount."

MacInnis said as part of the annual licensing renewal requirement, all funeral homes that sell prearranged funeral plans must submit a review engagement report to Service Nova Scotia.

"This report is completed and signed off by a licensed public accountant and confirms if the funeral home is in compliance with the Cemetery and Funeral Services Act."

Service Nova Scotia says it conducts routine inspections of each funeral home in Nova Scotia every one to three years or as required.

About the Author

Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days, she's focused on helping consumers get the most bang for their bucks and avoid being ripped off. She invites story ideas at yvonne.colbert@cbc.ca.