Canterbury woman battles funeral home for husband's death certificate
Maree Ford's world fell apart when her husband, Graham, died in July.
Seven weeks later, she is reeling over the funeral director's failure to provide a death certificate.
Without the death certificate, the Canterbury teacher has been unable to receive life insurance and mortgage protection payouts, cancel her husband's phone contract, or change other contracts in his name because companies require proof of death.
Poppy Funerals, based in Middleton, Christchurch, has given Ford no explanation for not providing her with a death certificate, despite her repeatedly calling and emailing company director Jasmin Teague over the past seven weeks. Teague has not returned Ford's calls or emails, but conceded to Stuff the death certificate issues were not "acceptable".
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Ford paid Poppy Funerals $9200, which included $86.96 for the death to be registered and a death certificate obtained.
"She is a funeral director and she has a responsibility to look after people and I feel she just hasn't done that," Ford said.
"Emotionally it's had more of an effect than I realised . . . not being able to move forward."
Graham Ford, 47, died eight months after being diagnosed with bowel cancer, leaving Ford to bring up their two daughters, Molly, 6, and Alex, 4. He chose Poppy Funerals before he died because poppies meant a lot to him. His father was in the army for 25 years and the family always attended the Anzac Day dawn service.
"He chose that place and put his faith in it. She has done a disservice to the people that have died and that is not fair."
Ford has been doing her best to put a brave face on for her children, but fighting to get the death certificate has put additional stress on her and her family.
"My 4-year-old turned around and said 'you are always crying Mum'. It broke my heart. All they see is anger and pain."
According to the Department of Internal Affairs, the funeral director must notify Births, Deaths and Marriages of the death within three working days of the burial or cremation.
Ford said she could not fault the service they received from Poppy Funerals until the failure to provide the certificate.
"They were really efficient, respectful and supportive. It wasn't overly polished, but it was relaxed like we were."
The last time Ford spoke to Teague was a few days after Graham's funeral when Teague delivered his ashes. Ford said Teague told her at the time she would be back in touch once the death certificate came through.
After not hearing from Teague for weeks, Ford was desperate to get the issue sorted and rang Births, Deaths and Marriages. It said it would contact Poppy Funerals, but could not get in touch with her either.
"I came away from that thinking, 'no one can help me now I'm going to have to do it myself'."
In the end, Ford registered the death herself. The doctor reissued the medical certificate and Ford took it and other relevant paperwork to Births Deaths and Marriages. She received the certificate last week.
Responding to questions submitted by Stuff, Teague said in an email she was aware of issues around death certificates and she "personally did not find this acceptable".
She said she was bound by confidentiality agreements regarding individual cases and would handle the issue directly with the families involved.
Funeral directors in New Zealand do not have to belong to a professional body and are not subject to a complaints process. Ford was not aware of this. She wants all funeral directors to belong to a professional body.
The Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand chief executive Katrina Shanks said Poppy Funerals was not a member of the association. If it was, it would have to abide by its standards and code of conduct.
There were about 150 funeral home companies in New Zealand and 124 of those were members, Shanks said. The association's members perform 80 per cent of the funerals in New Zealand.
Shanks said registering the death was probably one of the most basic actions for a funeral director and if Poppy Funerals had breached its contract, it was disappointing behaviour, especially since Ford was in a vulnerable position.
"It's always disappointing where a funeral home is not delivering a standard which we would expect and, from what I am hearing, Poppy's has not done this."
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