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Investigation finds big markups, confusing charges and pushy tactics at major funeral home chain

When Judy Wood's sister, Diana Parent, died at age 56, the family knew what she wanted: a simple cremation and a celebration.

But when Wood went to Victoria Greenlawn funeral home in Windsor, Ont., to finalize arrangements Parent had prepaid before her death, she was surprised to find her sister's planning didn't cover any funeral services, just the cremation, urn and a burial spot.

"We were shocked," Wood says.

Staff at the funeral home, a branch of Toronto-based Arbor Memorial Inc., recommended a funeral package they said included everything Wood needed.

Once they finished going through all the services included in the package, the bill was close to $10,000, on top of the $4,000 Parent had already prepaid to an Arbor funeral home.

Wood and her family looked at the bill and tried to keep costs down, cancelling items like memorial cards and a catered reception. But the funeral still ended up costing them an additional $4,300.

An investigation by CBC's Marketplace and the Toronto Star has found that Wood's experience is indicative of a pattern of assertive sales tactics and upselling taking place at some funeral homes run by Arbor Memorial, the largest Canadian provider of funeral and cemetery services.

Wood says one service staff insisted on was identification of the body, even though her sister had previously been identified in the hospital.

Arbor says this is company policy to "protect the family and the funeral home" but there is no law requiring identification and many funeral homes don't insist on it.

"Why would we identify her? We were with her when she passed away in the hospital, we were holding her hand," she says.

Staff strongly recommended embalming the body too, Wood says, at a cost of $525 and a further $200 for a preparation room.

"It was terrible. It was almost like she died a second time," Wood says of the viewing of the embalmed body.

"We saw her, and we didn't want to do that."

Staff at several Arbor locations insisted that a $1,195 plain wooden casket would not be appropriate for a funeral service. The undercover journalists were told it was "not painted" was "simply an identification container" or had inappropriate handles. Staff at those locations instead directed the undercover reporters to rent a traditional hardwood casket at a cost of more than $2,200 a day.

Undercover investigation finds big markups, confusing charges and pushy tactics at major funeral home chain - Canada - CBC News