7OYS helps woman locked in contract she couldn't afford

A woman wanted to spare her children any expense or uncertainty about her burial, so she planned ahead for her own cremation.

However, a contract she signed left her more uncertain than ever about what would happen when she dies. It brought distress to an already emotional time in her life.

Joanne Stewart is trying to recover from a painful operation and at the same time she's is trying to plan for her death.

"Because I wanted to surprise my children one thing they didn't have to do for me," Stewart said.

Stewart doesn't want to burden her two daughters with funeral decisions and expenses, so she arranged things herself.

"I believe it was over the Internet," Stewart said.

She got an email solicitation that asked if she was interested in cremation and she replied, yes.

"Then I was contacted," she said.

A sales person from Smart Cremation of San Mateo came to her home and explained the services.

"They would give me a box, they would notify my children," Stewart said.

Stewart paid up front to avoid finance charges. And she signed a blank contract letting the sales person fill in the rest. That's when things went wrong.

"I had kept getting bills and the bills were $300 more," Stewart said.

The bill said the plan cost $1,652, not $1,200. Stewart called the sales person right away.

"I said 'well my deal with you was $1,200,' and she said I'll be right there. She made an appointment. I dropped my own plans. She never showed up," she added.

Stewart contacted company headquarters. A manager said the contract was for $1,652. Stewart tried to get a copy, but says she was ignored.

"I said, 'I want my money back because how do I know that when I do die you don't hit my children with well your mother can't have it done because she still owes this much money? "'

Stewart asked 7 On Your Side for help. We contacted Smart Cremation and its parent company, Northstar Memorial Group of Texas. They sent Stewart a copy of her contract. It turns out she was on a finance plan with monthly payments and interest due.

However, the company said it wouldn't hold her to it, telling us, "Smart Cremation processed the contract as written. When we determined that this customer recalled the terms differently than written, we offered to honor the smart plan on the terms she recalled or refund all amounts paid.
We are disappointed that we were not able to continue to assist this customer with her pre-planning, but glad to have had the opportunity to resolve as she wished."

Stewart received a refund for the full $1,200, which she gave to her children.

"It was so frustrating to go through this and not accomplish anything until I did get your help," Stewart said.

This case points out just how important it is to never sign a blank contract. In fact, you should always get the terms in writing first, review it thoroughly, then sign it.
Our thanks to smart cremation for giving Stewart a full refund and relieving her of so much anxiety.
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