Legal issue causing grief over cemetery plots

Group won't honor family's payement of plot bought in 1977

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - At a time when families are grieving, some are finding out they could be overcome with debt because of problems surrounding a Northwest Jacksonville cemetery.

The church running Restlawn Memorial Park says it feels for the families, but there is nothing it can do about the problem.

One Gainesville family is hoping to bury their recently deceased aunt at the cemetery after her burial plot was purchased 35 years ago.

In 1977, Lilliame Rivers paid $5,000 for a mausoleum site so she and her husband could be buried together. He was buried there, but the family just learned she won't be.

DOCUMENT: Southside Christian Charity's letter to Restlawn customers

"I was told we had to find somewhere else to bury, or pay the new price," said Jerry Mack, Rivers' nephew.

He said the new price is more money than they have.

This all stems from a complicated legal issue that involved the former owner and the church group now running the cemetery. That group, Southside Christian Charity, said the money paid into a pre-need trust fund is all tied up in court.

"It saddens me that is the case, and hopefully the judge will make a decision regarding this so things can be cleared up," said Pastor Harold Rollinson, of Southside Christian Charity.

Restlawn has undergone many changes. Many of the problems involving mixed up graves, bad bookkeeping and poor maintenance at the cemetery have been documented.

The previous owner sold the cemetery to the church group. Since it's a not-for-profit organization, state officials say they have no legal authority to force the the new owners to honor the old contracts.

The church group says it has done that in the past, thinking it would be reimbursed, but now the group says it is out about a quarter of a million dollars and can't pay out any more.

Rollinson said he understands why the families are upset and why they expect a funeral.

"It is supposed to happen," he said. "It's legal for it to happen, and we want it to happen, but there is a procedure that is outline by the Florida statue that has to take place. The pre-need trustee is holding the trust fund."

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