Louis and Ziara Neapolitan prepared long ago for the ends of their lives, buying a prepaid crypt for two at Woodbridge Memorial Gardens.
“A mausoleum was very expensive at the time, but by purchasing early in the construction phase and paying over time, they could afford it,” said Gina Kazimir, the couple’s granddaughter.
The Neapolitans made a down payment of $780 and financed the remaining $2,500 balance, making their final monthly payment in 1982.
The Neapolitans, now in their early 90s, thought it was done.
Then last month came a phone call from Woodbridge to update the cemetery’s records.
Nancy Kazimir — the Neapolitans’ daughter who lives with them and cares for them — took the call. During the conversation, she said she was told the prepaid crypt doesn’t include entombment, which is the process of depositing the coffin in the crypt and sealing the drawer.
They invited the salesman to their South Plainfield home to discuss the contract, but the salesman said there was no mistake. Entombment was not included.
“To their shock, it turns out he wants additional money — nearly two-thirds the original cost of the crypts — for the privilege of putting my grandparents’ remains in their box when they pass,” Gina Kazimir said. “My grandfather is getting worried sick about this.”
The salesman said a prepaid entombment plan would cost $1,100 per person, Gina Kazimir said. The Kazimirs reviewed the paperwork for the original purchase, but they couldn’t find anything that indicated entombment would be an extra charge.
The cemetery disagrees.
WHAT IT DOESN’T SAY
Gina Kazimir said she contacted Woodbridge and spoke to Ruth Nikola, trustee of the cemetery, who confirmed that the entombment costs were not included.
Kazimir said she was told that her grandparents have a contract with a stamp saying the costs are extra, and they also have a copy of cemetery regulations stating the same.
But when Kazimir and her mother examined the contract, they found no such stamp.
The cemetery faxed its version to the family, and indeed, they are different.
Bamboozled compared the two contracts.
The Woodbridge copy has some different markings. It has handwritten notes on the bottom, a folio number identifying the contract, and most importantly, a stamp on the right side that says: “DOES NOT INCLUDE FEE FOR ENTOMBMENT SERVICE.”
Those markings — and that essential stamp — do not appear on the Neapolitans’ contract.
Gina Kazimir said she called Nikola again, asking about the differences.
“She now says that my grandparents should have two copies of their contract — one from the day they made the purchase and signed it, and then a second “authorized copy’ which would have been mailed to them seven to 10 days later with a copy of the regulations,” she said. “The authorized copy would have had the stamps, and the regulations would also have had information on fees.”
The family could find no additional records. Nancy Kazimir said if there was an extra copy, her dad would have saved it.
“He kept all of that together in one envelope marked Woodbridge Memorial Gardens,” she said. “I found a receipt for a 40-year-old refrigerator, and a receipt for 36 cents worth of screws from a hardware store that’s been out of business for a long time. He saved everything.”
They filed a complaint with the New Jersey Cemetery Board.
We studied the contracts further. If the Neapolitans were supposed to have an initial copy of the contract, plus an authorized one, something didn’t make sense.
The Neapolitans signed the contract on March 12, 1977. On March 14, a cemetery rep signed and dated the contract. The one that the cemetery signed on March 14 would appear to be the fully executed and “authorized” contract.
The initial contract wouldn’t have that March 14 date.
The vital item the family’s copy is missing is the stamp down the right side saying entombment was not included.
So it would seem plausible that the cemetery simply forgot to add the entombment-not-included stamp to the authorized copy it returned to the family.
We contacted Woodbridge to discuss the differences in the contracts.
“She says they saved everything but you’re not there. I’m not there. The other copy might have been misplaced,” Nikola said.
In theory, yes, we agree. But the initial copy given to the family would not have had the March 14 date stamp, so it seems they saved the so-called authorized copy.
Nikola didn’t have an answer to that.
She did say the contract refers to the rules and regulations, which stated in 1977 that entombment was not included.
“The rules and regulations are also posted in the lobby. The cemetery has done everything correctly,” she said.
Gina Kazimir wasn’t impressed with rules being posted in the lobby.
“Unless they make a practice of having purchasers stand there and read them, then initial that they have done so, that has no weight in my eyes,” she said.
Even if the rules say entombment fees are not included, and even if the family was supposed to have a copy of the rules, and even if those same rules are posted in the lobby, why doesn’t the family’s contract have the stamp — the very stamp that would have left no questions unanswered about what is or isn’t included?
We asked the opinion of Bernard “Buzzy” Stoecklein, chairman of CMS Mid-Atlantic, a company that owns several New Jersey cemetery properties. Stoecklein has helped Bamboozled readers before.
He said the contract in the cemetery’s records should be identical to what the family has.
“Because the contract in the situation you’re talking about has a stamp on it that’s different than what the family has in its file, it leads to misunderstandings and questions,” he said. “While the contract is moot to the subject of (entombments), that doesn’t say the counselor maybe said it included everything, which led the family to think it included everything.”
Stoecklein said it’s unusual for a cemetery’s contract to include a stamp about an entombment fee.
“Why didn’t the stamp appear on all the copies of the contract?” he said. “I would ask the cemetery to demonstrate that all contracts were stamped back at the office, and to call families to see if their contracts were stamped or not.”
The Cemetery Board has received the Neapolitan’s complaint, but it was not addressed at last week’s board meeting.
Maybe before next month’s meeting, the board should ask Woodbridge for copies of other contracts for families who purchased crypts in 1977, and then contact those families to compare their versions of the contracts.
Gina Kazimir says Woodbridge Memorial Gardens is refusing to make any concessions regarding the entombment costs.
“Woodbridge Memorial Gardens either made a grave error — pardon the bad pun — in not providing my grandparents with correct information and true copies of their contract in March 1977 or they are trying to make changes now without any notice,” she said.
“Most of all, we really don’t want any other families to find out about this as we did or worse, at the time of a burial. I can only imagine how it must feel to be hit with an unexpected bill when someone you love has just died,” she said.