Major Jewish funeral home ordered to repay fees levied on memorial donations
May 18 should have been the 20th birthday of Raziel Zisman’s son.
Instead, Zisman found himself filing a complaint with the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) about how Benjamin’s Park Memorial Chapel — a major Jewish funeral home in Toronto — was handling memorial donations made on behalf of his son.
“Instead of focusing on grieving and healing, we have to relive, every time we deal with this, very, very painful times,” Zisman told CBC Toronto.
After his 19-year-old son, Liam Jacob Zisman, died in January 2022, Zisman signed an agreement with Benjamin’s to hold a funeral service and collect memorial donations on behalf of the family before distributing the money to charity. .
His problem is that the funeral home did not tell him about a 10% administrative fee levied on each donation made to his charitable foundation, and his refusal to let him see a record of the money that was collected.
« I have the right to receive accounts, » Zisman said. « As of today, these funds, to my knowledge, are still in their bank account. »
The authority of mourning weighs
Although the amount of the fee was included in a contract he signed, Zisman says it was not clearly communicated to him – something the BAO eventually agreed to after filing its formal complaint.
After investigation, the BAO asked Benjamin’s to do more to inform potential customers of the 10% fee and to refund fees collected by its charitable foundation over the past six years to the charities that received them.
Benjamin’s has agreed to update its website and retrain staff so that the amount taken by the foundation is communicated more clearly, but is now seeking a judicial review of the BAO’s order asking it to repay years of fees.
He also promised to temporarily suspend the practice of charging the 10% administrative fee « pending appeal of BAO decisions », according to a statement from chief executive Michael Benjamin.
This break « is good news for grieving families, » said David Brazeau, BAO’s communications manager.
As for refunds, that’s « still pending because of Benjamin’s funeral home challenge, » Brazeau said.
« And it will go to the Superior Court of Justice. »
Zisman has also filed a lawsuit against Benjamin’s, but says he expects it will be at least a year before taking the next step.
In “industry guidelines”?
In a statement to CBC Toronto, Michael Benjamin regretted that « a small dispute has turned into a long legal battle » with the Zisman family.
He also wrote that the reason for challenging the BAO’s recent decision is that « the foundation is clearly and unequivocally not within the jurisdiction of the BAO and is already extensively and rigorously regulated under applicable Canadian laws and regulations as well as of the [Canada Revenue Agency]. »
Finally, he wrote that the practice of levying a 10% fee was “well within industry guidelines” for nonprofits and actually covered only about a quarter of operating costs. of the Benjamin Charitable Foundation.
This contrasts with what Brazeau says he has seen in the broader funeral industry.
« Most funeral homes charge either one percent, a very low percentage, or nothing at all for just accepting charitable donations, » he said.
« It’s very unusual for us to see a 10% charge. »
Other Fee Complaints
Zisman’s complaint is not the first time Benjamin has been investigated by BAO, which says it has reviewed five complaints against the funeral home since its inception in 2016.
An online press release describes a series of rulings in 2020 and 2021 in which Benjamin was ordered to reimburse nearly 260 people for charging extra fees, including « special care fees » during the pandemic even though the deaths were not COVID-19 related.
« Benjamin settled that with us in April of this year. And they reimbursed almost $76,000 of those costs, » Brazeau said.
As for Zisman, he is still waiting to receive the money raised in memory of his son, which Benjamin says he is obligated to keep until there is a legal resolution.
Liam Zisman, who was an environmental geoscience major at Brock University and a former intern at Northern Miner, a mining journal, was also a cancer survivor.
The money donated in his name was intended for Chai Lifeline and Camp Quality, which run camps and provide support for children with cancer.
“Liam attended those camps and benefited immensely from them. He was involved and very much loved,” Zisman said.
« The funds given in January … should have been dispersed to sponsor children who would benefit from these camps this summer. And here we are in September. It’s not right. »
In early October, Brock University is set to hold a sustainable resource development forum in Liam’s memory, part of a larger initiative by his father to « attract, inspire and motivate young people » to get involved in the area.