'We feel cheated': Funeral home charged $1K for burial vault that was never used, family says

A Toronto family says a funeral home failed to bury their father a vault that they paid for. However, the home says it has conducted tests and is "certain" the vault is there.

Arbor Memorial says it has confirmed the existence of the vault in 3 separate tests

Kwame Smith and his mother, Divine-Sophia Yud I, said they were open to asking Arbor Memorial to place a memorial plaque for her parents in lieu of the burial vault. (Pelin Sidki/CBC)

The province's death-care authority is investigating a Toronto woman's claims that a funeral home buried her father's casket without a protective vault but charged her more than $1,000 for it anyway — an accusation the funeral home denied Monday, telling CBC Toronto it has tested the site and found the vault..

Divine-Sophia Yud I says she didn't even want the burial vault, a type of container for a casket that helps stop a grave from sinking. In fact, she wasn't aware that she'd paid for it until she tried to resolve a separate issue with the company.

"Now it's one big drama and some trauma and I'm very disappointed," Yud I, 60, said.

The trouble began when she went looking for a name plate that had marked her father's grave since he died in 2002. After her mother died and was buried in the same double-depth plot in 2016, the family noticed the marker was removed.

Divine-Sophia Yud I says she turned to the Bereavement Authority of Ontario for help after a funeral home failed to deliver services that ate up almost a quarter of her total burial expenses. (Pelin Sidki/CBC)

A double-depth plot is arranged so that two caskets are buried one on top of the other. Generally speaking, the casket on the bottom is buried inside a concrete burial vault.

Yud I says she assumed that the funeral company, Glendale Funeral Home — which is owned by Arbor Memorial — removed the name plate to avoid damaging it while they buried her mother.

"If they took it, they should've very well put it back," she said.

Tested for vault, funeral home says

In an interview with CBC Toronto, Arbor Memorial said they conducted a series of tests on Monday to confirm the existence of the vault.

The test involves a mechanical device that is used to probe the earth around the site.

Arbor Memorial said it confirmed the existence of the vault on three sides of the apparatus.

"We're very sympathetic to the grief and loss the family is feeling," said Dustin Wright, Arbor Memorial's director of marketing communications. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

"I can say and confirm with confidence that we fulfilled on all the support, products and services with [the family,]" said Dustin Wright, Arbor Memorial's director of marketing communications.

"We're also very confident that the Bereavement Authority of Ontario, the regulator for our industry who's reviewing the complaint from the family, will also arrive at the same conclusion," he added.

When told about the funeral home's test, Yud I disputed the finding, saying she remains certain the vault was never installed.

"That's a lie," she said. "There was absolutely no vault."

'I was grieving, I just wanted him buried'

Yud I admits that she mistakenly paid $1,043.25 for a vault, thinking it was a charge for some sort of name plate. The fee accounted for about one quarter of the total expenses for the funeral.

"I didn't even take note of that at the time," she said. "I was grieving, I just wanted him buried."

Her son, Kwame Smith, said the family just wanted a "regular funeral" and wasn't aware of the nuances around burials.

We feel cheated, like we were taken for a ride.- Kwame  Smith

When they went online to research what a vault is, it occurred to Yud I that she'd never actually seen one before. Not at her mother's funeral, and, notably, not at her father's funeral either.

"It's in the contract, paid for. But in actuality, it wasn't there," she said.

Divine-Sophia Yud I is the interment rights holder for both of her parents. She entered into a contract that included a $1,043.25 charge for a standard burial vault. (Submitted)

The family doesn't have any photographs from her father's funeral to corroborate the claim that her father's casket was buried without a vault. But Yud I insists that she remembers her father's casket being lowered, and it looked the same as her mother's casket.

"A casket has to go in the burial vault and covered. It's not something that is easily hidden," she said.

An Arbor representative says the casket would have been on top of the vault — a large concrete box — during the burial service. Once the service ends, it would be lowered into the vault, covered with a lid and lowered into the ground together, a process that would likely be easy to see.

Industry watchdog investigating

Yud I says she has reached out multiple times to the company to find a resolution, even going to their offices in person. She thought perhaps they would keep her money but provide a new name plate for the grave.

Now, she's just hoping for a refund.

"That's hardworking money," Yud I said. Her father was a carpenter and her mother a babysitter, so while it may seem like a moderate sum for some people, it was a big deal to her family.

The burial procedure for Divine Sophia Yud I's mother's funeral can be seen here. The casket was not in a burial vault, and she believes that her father's casket was buried the same way. (Submitted)

The provincial regulator of the funeral industry, Bereavement Authority of Ontario, is investigating Yud I's allegations against Arbor Memorial.

The agency has a rod-like tool that can be used to definitely determine whether her father was in fact interred inside a burial vault. However, an agency executive said these types of cases are usually resolved through a mediation process based upon the conclusions of investigators.

It typically aims to resolve cases between 30 and 60 days.

However, a positive mediation process now looks doubtful.

Yud I said she will only be convinced of the vault's existence if the coffins are uninterred.

With files from Nick Boisvert