In a motion to convert the Wisconsin Master Trust from a preneed trust to a liquidating trust, the Receiver outlined to the court why the trust cannot keep its promises to consumers and comply with Wisconsin’s preneed law. Section 445.125 restricts preneed funeral trusts to depository accounts, and CD returns won’t even pay the Master Trust’s operating expenses (even after the Receiver has dramatically reduced those expenses). The WMT must diversify its investments just to meet its existing obligations, and to do so the Receiver proposes to transform the trust and take it out from underneath Section 445.125. This could mean that the Association may never regain control of the WMT, and that would deprive Wisconsin’s smaller operators a realistic alternative to insurance funding. Legislation is needed to replace Section 445.125 with the Prudent Investor Rule, but the Association faces a hostile cemetery industry and critical independents. It was only two years ago that the Association relied upon WMT fees to fund the fight to defeat cemetery legislation. With the cemetery industry seeking to re-introduce its legislation, the WFDA faces a situation of playing the spoiler role again while needing to explore all possible avenues to legislation that would preserve their ability to regain control of the WMT.
A Missouri preneed auditor recently requested an explanation from a client why certain accounts were underfunded. The handful of accounts were “underfunded” by varying amounts of a few dollars to twenty dollars. The common fact with each was an initial deposit or substantial deposit in the month preceding the Federal Chairman’s remarks that sent the investment markets tumbling. The conservative government bond was especially vulnerable.
It is inevitable that preneed auditors have to look beyond whether the consumer’s payments made it to the trust. But, preneed trusts cannot remain parked in Govies and provide operators the return they need to keep pace with rising costs. A diversified trust will have market fluctuations. The challenge for auditors will be distinguishing normal investment fluctuations from excessive fees or impaired assets.
In a post made June 30th, we discussed how the strategy behind the Wisconsin settlement proposal makes sense. But, a significant percentage of funeral homes have yet to sign on to the settlement. In terms of the Master Trust’s liabilities to consumers, funeral homes with 30% of those contracts are holding out. While both the Receiver and the WFDA’s attorney are putting a positive spin on the situation, the Receiver has gone public through his website to further pressure the dissenting funeral homes. Stressing consumer protection, the Receiver’s website lists the funeral homes that have, and have not, accepted the settlement and explains that:
Under this agreement, funeral homes that sign the settlement will ensure that their customers receive the benefits promised them under their burial agreements and, in exchange, will be protected from possible further court action.
An implicit message that can be taken from this statement is that a dissenting funeral home is not willing to promise that their customers will receive the benefits promised them under the burial contracts. For most funeral directors, it is not a matter of keeping their commitment to the consumers. Accordingly, we can’t help but wonder whether some of the dissenting funeral homes are expressing the same concerns raised by IFDA funeral homes regarding the settlement agreement brokered by Merrill Lynch.
Yes, the funeral homes wanted to recover as much in damages as they could, but they did not trust Merrill Lynch to find a way out of the hole it had created. Merrill Lynch did not want to be trustee of the IFDA master trust, and that was more than apparent to many Illinois funeral homes.
The Wisconsin law that restricts preneed funeral trusts to depository accounts cuts both ways for the Receiver. While it provides a clear standard for holding fund managers and fiduciaries in breach of their duties, the law also restricts the Receiver’s options for improving the WMT’s investment performance. What the Wisconsin Master Trust needs is legislation to expand the permissible investments for preneed trusts, but the Receiver’s job description does not include being a lobbyist for the WMT.
Several factors make it difficult for the WFDA to sponsor such legislation, and as a result, some funeral homes may rather ‘bail’ out of the situation.
For many Illinois funeral homes, April 15th served as a bitter reminder of Merrill Lynch and the financial losses suffered by the IFDA master trust. The final Merrill Lynch settlements (approximately $41 million) were received in 2012, and taxes had to be paid on those funds this past tax day. Funeral directors have questioned how those settlement payments could be taxed as income after the losses suffered when Merrill Lynch (as trustee) terminated the key man policies sold to the trust by a Merrill Lynch investment broker. After all, the aggregate settlement payments ($59 million) did not come close to covering the write downs taken by the trust ($76 million). But, Merrill Lynch took the position that a write down in a funeral home’s trust value for policy surrenders did not represent an investment loss. To compound the situation, Merrill Lynch filed a final Form 1041qft for each funeral home that transferred out of the master trust and treated the trust as terminated.
The question is whether Merrill Lynch could have characterized the value write downs so as to afford the funeral homes a capital loss carry over that could be applied to the settlement payments and future income. If one assumes the lowest Form 1041qft tax rate of 15%, Merrill Lynch could have saved the IFDA master trust participants income taxes of approximately $11.5 million.
With Merrill Lynch now out of the IFDA picture, funeral homes may want to turn to the IFDA’s new trustee for assistance. If the write downs can be properly characterized as losses that can be used as capital loss carryovers, it may be worthwhile to have those ‘final’ 1041QFT returns amended. As fiduciary of the Wisconsin Master Trust, the IFDA trustee may have already contemplated this issue.
If you haven’t noticed, there has been some turnover among the associations’ preneed fund managers. With the threat of additional litigation in Wisconsin, this trend could continue. But not all of the turnover has been as publicized as what we have seen in Illinois and Wisconsin. After 20 years at the helm, Merrill Lynch recently gave notice to the Michigan Funeral Directors Association of its resignation. There are no search protocols for preneed fund managers, and so Michigan borrowed from the retirement fund community by publishing a request for proposal (RFP). While the MFDA should be commended in their effort to bring transparency to their program’s asset management, they missed (or ignored) an opportunity to shift more investment responsibilities to the financial industry. Instead of using FINRA Rule 2111 (“know your client”) to their advantage, the MFDA structured the RFP to perpetuate (and extend) the funeral director’s controlling role in investment decisions.
Hidden investment charges have been ‘part of business’ in the death care industry for decades, and this author has contemplated whether ERISA’s fee disclosure requirements could ever be incorporated into preneed trusts by the Federal Trade Commission. The Michigan RFP focused on the same ERISA fee disclosure requirements, which could lead one to assume that association’s leaders did not want to make the same mistake again. The Michigan RFP also raised another ERISA concept worthy of the preneed industry’s consideration: the 401K approach to investment by individual contract. We too have wondered why larger programs have not looked at data from individual contracts and the sponsoring funeral homes to build an investment options matrix.
But, the Michigan RFP can be faulted for cutting off the diligence requirements of FINRA Rule 2111. To insulate the Association from solicitations, the RFP provided summary information about the program and required all inquiries to go through an ERISA consultant. Prospective fund managers were required to submit investment strategies on limited facts and without direct communications to the Association. It is understandable that the Association would want to narrow the field before initiating an exchange of confidential information with prospective managers, but the screening of candidates should have preceded the request for investment strategies. Subsequent to the screening, the MFDA should then have provided detailed information pursuant to a confidentiality agreement. Under FINRA 2111, this sequence would have expanded the fund manager’s diligence responsibilities regarding investment strategy recommendations. The nature of the questions posed by the candidates would also have helped the MFDA in its assessment of the candidates. Instead, the RFP narrowed the fund manager’s diligence to an old investment strategy with a history of mixed results and challenges.
Within the context of ERISA retirement funds, RFPs may take a formula approach to finding a replacement fund manager. But the preneed industry is fragmented by 50 different state laws, and by program issues such as whether non-guaranteed contracts are sold, the association’s role as a seller versus an agent, investment restrictions, and trusting percentages. Injecting preneed asset management with a dose of ERISA could help to discourage hidden fees and improve the quality of fund managers, but the industry also needs an alternative to the strategy of offering funeral directors three investment options to choose from.
The Mississippi Secretary of State seems to be taking a very proactive approach to the regulation of preneed and perpetual care funds. Over the course of the last few years, the Regulation and Enforcement Division of the Secretary of State’s office has averaged an enforcement proceeding per month. We were curious what type of enforcement proceedings they were pursuing, and picked one at random. The luck of draw involved a situation where the Mississippi regulators alleged the preneed seller’s preneed contract form did not adequately disclose to the consumer the tax consequences of their preneed trust. While the preneed contract form stated that income taxes may be withheld by the trust, the seller’s trustee reported the income to the contract purchaser. This did not set well with the Mississippi regulators, particularly when the consumer had no right to cancel the contract and receive a refund of the trust income.
The Mississippi regulators are not alone in their perception of the inequities of this situation. Nebraska preneed regulators are also questioning why income should ever be reported to consumers when they may never receive it. The answer is that the Internal Revenue Service forced this issue with Rev. Rul. 87-127, with the goal of requiring a single method of income reporting for preneed trusts.
The Service struggled with the situation that troubles the Mississippi and Nebraska regulators: how can the purchaser be the grantor if he/she is never entitled to a refund of the income (or even trust deposits) upon the contract’s cancellation. But, as between the consumer and the funeral home, the funeral home’s right to the trust corpus is dependent upon performance of the contract. While the consumer may never receive a refund, he/she can choose a different funeral home to service the contract. The value of that service satisfies the grantor rules of the tax code, and supports the IRS’ conclusions in the Ruling.
The inequity of the situation may have led to the passage of IRC Section 685. Given an alternative is available to the seller, the Mississippi regulators sought to force the seller to either change its contract or require the trustee to change its income reporting. But in doing so, the Mississippi regulators misstate IRC Section 685. Irrevocability is not a key characteristic of an IRC Section 685 qualified funeral trust. While the Section 685 election is viewed as irrevocable, the irrevocability of the preneed contract has no impact on Section 685. The Mississippi regulators also fail to acknowledge that Section 685 is the trustee’s election to make, not the funeral home’s. While the two need to work in concert, it is the trustee that has ultimate control over the trust’s income reporting.
We previously discussed how the funeral home or cemetery assumes most of a preneed trust’s investment risk when selling a guaranteed preneed contract, and therefore should be afforded a role in the trust’s investment decisions (Fund Managers: Is Your O&E Coverage Current?). But in that same post, we were careful to point out that there are no absolutes. More funeral homes are switching to non-guaranteed preneed. And, a certain percentage of guaranteed preneed contracts are also re-written at death when the family switches funeral homes or revises the prearranged funeral (or burial) arrangement. Yet, preneed fiduciaries seem to ignore these facts when relying upon uniform trust code provisions for their authority to exchange investment powers for a hold harmless agreement.
Death care fiduciaries first need to determine whether there are any conflicts between the applicable state death care law and the broader uniform trust code. Fiduciaries in states such as Missouri and Kansas are bound by statutes which require the trustee to retain investment oversight. Such conflicts will be reconciled in favor of the more specific death care law.
If the death care law is silent on investment delegation, the applicable uniform trust code may not necessarily authorize the trustee’s exculpation from investment oversight. Some states’ trust code conditions the fiduciary’s investment exculpation upon 1) the appropriateness of the trustee’s selection of the investment advisor, and 2) upon the notice given to trust beneficiaries. Illinois’ Trusts and Trustees Act is a good example of such a requirement. But too frequently, the fiduciary views the funeral home, or cemetery, as the sole beneficiary of the death care trust for purposes of both requirements.
Assuming notice could be given to each and every preneed contract purchaser, a court would likely evaluate the sufficiency of that notice from the perspective of the elderly preneed contract beneficiary. Would the average preneed purchaser understand the implications of the investment delegation? Or, could that purchaser effectively monitor the investment decisions made pursuant to the delegation? The fiduciary’s reliance on the uniform trust code for authority for exculpation under such circumstances should be deemed unreasonable. The validity of the exculpation may also hinge on the investment advisor’s assumption of applicable death care compliance requirements. If the agency agreement does not properly incorporate a death care law’s investment restrictions (or standard), the fiduciary has not exercised ‘reasonable care, skill and caution’ in establishing the scope and terms of the delegation. Yet, I hesitate to fault the fiduciary for trying. The strategy for seeking the exculpation is often in response to the unreasonable expectations of both the industry and its regulators.
As witnessed in California, regulators often interpret archaic preneed laws so as to argue that a ‘preneed contract is the equivalent of a savings account’. Those statutes reflect the preneed transaction from a generation ago. By applying that law out of the current context, a fiction is used to establish a standard that all fiduciaries could fail. The regulator’s position seeks to make the fiduciary a guarantor of the purchaser’s deposits to trust. The reality is that every trust investment has risk, even our government’s bonds. This exposure is applicable regardless of whether the preneed contract is guaranteed or non-guaranteed.
On the other side of the table, the industry is coming to demand that the trust offset more than just the costs of performing the preneed contract. Lagging membership revenues are an issue for many state associations. The mortgage crisis hit many preneed trusts, and preneed sellers expect those losses to be recovered without additional risk. Greater trust returns are also needed to offset the cremation trend. Of course, the asset management required for higher returns comes at a greater cost to the trust.
The reality is that the industry will continue to be request better returns from the death care trust. As with other trusts, the circumstances may dictate that as expectations rise, a fiduciary may best discharge its duties by delegating the investment responsibilities to an investment advisor. As discussed in the linked law review article, the model uniform code should be used to support the delegation of investment duties. But, in contrast to the classic trust situation, the death care trust is a creature of statute, which has the consumer’s protection as its purpose. While the preneed seller may be allowed to step into the settlor’s shoes for purpose of authorizing the delegation, the seller cannot override the preneed statute by exculpating the fiduciary from investment liabilities. At a minimum, the fiduciary needs to stand ready to override investments that are unsuitable or clearly imprudent. The two largest preneed scandals involved investments which were clearly unsuitable for the death care trust. Despite what Merrill Lynch may argue, I doubt any corporate fiduciary would have found the key man insurance policy to have been suitable for investment for a preneed trust. And if R.S.Mo. Section 436.031 had been written differently, NPS’ Missouri fiduciaries would have sought more information about the insurance transactions they were directed to make.
Fiduciary Partners, the corporate fiduciary for the Wisconsin and Illinois master trusts, broke its silence this week with a statement to the Funeral Service Insider. The statement was made in response to criticisms previously reported by FSI, and reflects the receiver and fiduciary working together to get their “message” out and avoid the kind of litigation that has hamstrung the IFDA, its membership and the Illinois funeral industry.
FSI commentators used Fiduciary Partners’ link to the two states to drive home with funeral directors various preneed problems* including the management and investment of preneed funds, and the state of the guaranteed preneed contract and its impact on funeral pricing practices. While the issues need to be incorporated into a national dialog, Fiduciary Partners interpreted the FSI report as encouraging Illinois and Wisconsin funeral directors to assign blame to Fiduciary Partners. Consequently, Fiduciary Partners and the receiver felt compelled to respond.
As reported in a prior post, the WFDA leadership had muzzled Fiduciary Partners with a very strict confidentiality provision through an amendment to the master trust. Accordingly, the statement given to FSI has been made with the receiver’s approval, and could be taken as having the WFDA’s endorsement.
To neutralize litigation over the trustee’s role in administering investments, Fiduciary Partners and the receiver sought to clarify that the company had a very limited role that never included the management of investments. The message goes on to reinforce the need for Fiduciary Partners to continue to provide administrative functions related to individual contract accounting and performance payments. The statement also conveys a tacit acknowledgement of the WFDA’s secrecy, with Fiduciary Partner’s commitment to a new transparency.
It is inevitable that comparisons will be made between Wisconsin and Illinois, and to conclude that litigation may also be inevitable. However, one stark difference exists between the two situations: Illinois funeral directors faced a recalcitrant board that refused to acknowledge and correct its mistakes. That leaves the question whether Wisconsin funeral directors will bring litigation to recover damages. As one FSI commentator points out, damages will be difficult to measure when the association reported inflated numbers (through the guaranteed rate of return). And as the other commentator points out, member funeral directors need to take responsibility for hiring executives and fund managers that are competent and professional. It was their hire of an inexperienced executive that ultimately directed the use of trust funds to establish an insurance company.
The multi-million dollar question to be asked is what if Fiduciary Partners had responsibility for investment oversight? Would the trustee have been able to check Mr. Peterson’s actions? In our next post, we will look at the hold harmless provisions so popular in the preneed trust agreement.
*Reprinted from the Funeral Service Insider – October 29, 2012
**Reprinted from the Funeral Service Insider – November 5, 2012
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In the days that followed the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association being placed into receivership, some of the WFDA’s sister associations were quick to point out they had ‘checks and balances’ that would protect consumers’ funds from the problems that tripped up the Wisconsin Funeral Trust. As we reported in our last post, a crucial ‘check and balance’ missing from the WFT was investment oversight. The fact that a trust has a corporate trustee does not necessarily mean that fiduciary has responsibility for monitoring the prudence of the investments. Corporate fiduciaries often look to uniform trust codes for the authority to delegate investment responsibilities. If a grantor wishes to use an outside asset manager, general trust laws will accommodate those wishes. The problem with preneed trusts (and cemetery endowment funds) is that there is more than one “grantor” to the preneed trust.
We have previously stated our support for allowing a relationship between preneed seller and a qualified fund manager. However, the fiduciary must provide a ‘check and balance’ to that relationship by maintaining responsibility for the investments. The ‘scandals’ from Missouri, Illinois, California and Wisconsin stem from a lack of investment oversight. Missouri’s regulators responded to NPS with a law that precluded any relationship between the advisor and the seller. Appropriately, the Missouri association obtained revisions to allow an agency relationship between its fund manager and the trustee. However, the Missouri law does not go far enough to require the disclosures we recommended in 2011. Funeral directors and consumers need to know that Missouri preneed fiduciaries ‘have their back’ when it comes to investment oversight.
Investment oversight is also a concern for cemetery regulators. Kansas’ cemetery regulators were dismayed to find that a corporate trustee had turned over the investment reigns to a Hutchinson cemetery operator. The operator hoped to cover declining revenues (and the failure to make trust deposits) with higher investment returns. For months, the operator attempted to hide the ball from the auditor, but eventually it was discovered that those investments had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The investment supervision issue is also a concern for Nebraska regulators. As they prep the death care industry for legislation in 2013, they raise this issue:
Seller’s Power to Direct Investments
A question has arisen regarding the seller’s ability to direct the trustee’s investment decisions. Specifically, should the seller be able to instruct the trustee to deposit or invest funds in securities that do not meet the trustee’s own investment guidelines?
If it is determined that the trustee should be free from the seller’s investment influence, section 12-1107 should be amended to reflect this fact.
In what may be a perfectly legal arrangement, Illinois funeral directors have handed off investment oversight to their new fund managers. The master trust instrument carefully outlines the code provisions which authorize the delegation of investment authorities. But the document goes that extra step of exculpating the trustee from responsibilities for investment oversight. Where is the check and balance in that structure? Are the industry’s expectations so high that a trustee will not accept the fund without a hold harmless? If the industry does not establish its own ‘checks and balances’ with regard to investment supervision, the authority to participate in the investment decisions could be taken away.
Recent document disclosures are reflecting that several factors contributed to the WFDA’s master trust deficiency (and the appointment of a receiver). Certain of those factors relate to the fees paid to fund managers and the association’s sponsorship charges. Those factors are relevant to other association master trusts, and we will explore them in subsequent posts. However, the ‘straw’ that broke this camel’s back came straight from the National Prearranged Services’ playbook.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported that it was the formation of a life insurance company by the WFDA’s Wisconsin Funeral Trust that prompted a regulatory audit by the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance. In 2009, the WFDA used the master trust to set up an insurance company to provide its members a preneed funding alternative to the trust. Wisconsin law requires 100% of the consumer payments to be deposited to trust. In contrast, insurance funding provides funeral homes commissions to offset the costs of a preneed program. This same reality led National Prearranged Services to form a life insurance company. NPS needed an insurance program in order to expand into 100% trusting states. To jumpstart that insurance program, NPS tapped its Missouri and Texas preneed trusts.
NPS exploited a provision of the Missouri law that exculpated the trustee from investment oversight when an independent investment advisor was appointed by the seller. Held harmless by state law, NPS trustees may not have looked further than the statements the seller provided. NPS then appointed an investment advisor that directed the trusts into policies issued by the sister insurance company. In a similar fashion, the WFDA amended its master trust agreement in 2009 to remove the trustee’s investment responsibilities and authorities, and to vest investment control in the fund manager of the WFDA’s choice. And to top that move off, the amendment made information about the trust and parties confidential. If the trustee was unhappy with the situation, it could resign, but it could not make “any public communication that may be reasonably considered derogatory or disparaging to the Association, the Trust, the successor Trustee or any party relating to the Trust.”
There are indications the WFDA funeral trust had been struggling for years to keep up with promised return. But, over the course of three years, the WFDA made radical changes that culminated in the formation of the insurance company. Who was the driving force behind those changes? When advice was sought in 2007 to allow the trust to diversify its assets, the legal opinion was directed to the WFDA executive director Scott Peterson, not the corporate fiduciary.
A short three and a half years ago, the funeral industry reeled from the collapse of National Prearranged Services and the emerging story of the Illinois Master Trust. The NFDA was slow to respond to the crisis, and when it did, this blog joined the criticism. Fast forward to September 2012, and the NFDA responds to the Wisconsin Master Trust controversy with the same guidelines.
Granted: associations are cumbersome organizations that are dependent on volunteer members.
Granted: changing the mindset of a membership that has been historically opposed to preneed will be difficult.
Granted: it is a matter of time before another state association master trust fails.
We need to augment the advice offered the NFDA in 2009: eliminate from your trust evaluation guidelines any suggestions that a guaranteed rate of return is permissible. The days of set rates of return or book/tax cost of account for distributions are over.
The fixed rate of return approach allowed the Wisconsin and Illinois programs to avoid investment transparency and individual account allocations of income and market value. But, providing investment transparency in terms of the investments held by the trust, and the rate of return, can be more complex that the NFDA guidelines suggest. It is not uncommon for three or more investment pools to be offered by a master trust program. Administrators may have different ways to provide transparency at the trust level, in terms of in investments held by the trust and their rates of returns.
Whatever procedure is followed, the end result should be a ‘mark to market’ that will allow an auditor to reconcile each individual preneed contract’s value to the individual funeral home account(s), and in the case of master trusts, each individual funeral home’s account(s) to the aggregate master trust market value.
When news of the Wisconsin receivership was made public, I anticipated some signs of support from other state associations. The strength of a professional relationship can be measured by the support given subsequent to a public indictment. But, when that support comes in the form of hackneyed advice, the accused is left to wonder about the relationship. It should not come as a surprise if the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association leadership was frustrated or angered with the National Funeral Directors Association or the New York Funeral Directors Association over the ‘advice’ given through trade journals.
When asked by the Funeral Service Insider for a response to the Wisconsin ‘scandal’, the NFDA recommended its model preneed law and referred members to its “Guidelines for Evaluating Preneed Trusts”. How would the model laws have avoided the Wisconsin scandal? Does the NFDA advocate investment standards that would permit diversification and the prudent investor rule? Would those model laws make the Wisconsin program more competitive with insurance companies?
If one were to review the NFDA’s Guidelines for Evaluating Preneed Trusts, you would find a section titled Rate of Return. That section includes questions about whether the preneed program provides guarantees about the rate of return on investments. It would be reasonable for the WFDA leadership to infer from the Guidelines that fixed or guaranteed rates of return are an acceptable method of master trust administration. So, that leadership has to be asking itself why they are facing a securities investigation by including that same guaranteed rate of return in preneed contract forms and consumer marketing materials. The WFDA leadership could have corrected its program and avoided the securities issues if those Guidelines had been revised years ago to recommend market value administration and the limitation, and disclosure, of the association fees charged to the trust.
The NYFDA association advises the funeral industry that state associations are uniquely well-positioned to deliver on preneed safety and security, and argues that competent executive directors and educated volunteer leaders can deliver what no other entity can. The NYFDA goes on to assert that return of principal is more important than return on principal, and that trust programs start to go off the rails when too much authority and oversight is handed over to third parties (that want to make money on the backs of funeral firms and consumers). What is the WFDA preneed committee (or other associations) to make of that advice? Are they to direct the trustee in making investments? Are they to ignore the demands of trust participants for higher returns? Are they to ignore the fact that New York is the only state to have laws that require 100% trusting and that bans insurance funded preneed? The reality is that state association preneed programs are under increasing pressure to improve investment returns. Unfortunately, associations are contributing to that pressure with the fees they are charging the trust.
During the past six years, four state sponsored programs have “crashed” due to fiscal problems and noncompliance. Minnesota, Illinois, California and Wisconsin all seemed to have respected executive directors and educated volunteer leaders. What roles did internal fees and outdated laws play in each situation? Would these associations have lost program participants (and the accompanying sponsorship fees) if they had provided more transparency regarding investments and internal fees?
I agree with Ms. McCullough that association sponsored master trusts are uniquely well-positioned to deliver on preneed safety and security. The problem is that too many have not delivered either safety or security. How many of these programs adhere too closely to Ms. McCullough’s advice? The affidavit that served as the tipping point for the appointment of the Wisconsin receiver paints a picture of a dominant association executive and an active and engaged volunteer board. Where were the compliance attorneys and the corporate fiduciary during the preneed committee meetings? Were they even invited? While there will be more pieces to the Wisconsin puzzle, what is available today suggests that the WFDA should have sought the input of “experts” instead of excluding them.
When news that the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association and its master trust had been put into receivership, I anticipated that the association may have fallen victim to a perfect storm: when an antiquated preneed law collides with a volatile investment market. But, subsequent news accounts are painting a bleak picture of poor planning and poor oversight.
The Wisconsin preneed funeral law alludes to trusts, but contemplates depository accounts. That is very consistent with the approach taken by most states. Accordingly, many original preneed laws provide very little statutory authority to the preneed fiduciary. Fiduciaries are forced to turn to general trust laws for guidance. If the fiduciary is not knowledgeable about the purpose of preneed contracts, crucial decisions are often deferred to the program sponsor.
Somewhere along the line, the WFDA program added a guaranteed return to its preneed contract. For a state that has a depository based law, that type of promise might seem appropriate enough. But, that promise of a return changed the consumer contract from a purchase of funeral goods and services to an investment contract. The WFDA program crossed a line established by the Securities Exchange Commission in “no action letters” issued to other sponsors of preneed programs (including various state associations).
Besting a certificate of deposit return may not have seemed to be too much of a risk to the fund managers, but they may not have foreseen the 2009 mortgage crisis. “Trapped” by the guaranteed return, the fund managers may have felt that they had little choice but to implement a more aggressive investment portfolio. But, if the program always had an aggressive investment policy, the fiduciary could have exposure for the oversight provided that policy.
If the firm employing the master trust’s fund manager seems familiar (Morgan Stanley Smith Barney), it could be from the litigation swirling around Mark Singer and Clayton Smart.
It is no secret that the larger funeral home operators have more preneed options than the industry’s mom and pops. The large operators have the volume of business that will attract insurance companies and banks, and their program incentives and discounts. Economies of scale provide the larger operator preneed advantages when going ‘toe to toe’ with the smaller operator. A completely different ‘have’ and ‘have not’ environment exists within the cemetery industry. One crucial fact distinguishes cemetery preneed from funeral preneed: a burial space, and certain merchandise and services, can be delivered prior to death. That fact is a problem for both insurance companies and banks, and accordingly, neither industry has courted the cemetery industry in the same manner as they have the funeral industry. And, there are other factors which complicate cemetery preneed. Consequently, cemeteries tend to be more ‘have nots’ than ‘haves’. The lack of preneed not only puts the cemetery at a disadvantage with funeral homes when competing for vault and marker sales, the cemetery also runs the risk of losing out completely to cremation.
Over the next months, this blog will examine the state of cemetery preneed, and its regulation. While the cemetery industry, as a whole, has been slower to embrace the preneed transaction than the funeral industry, some cemeteries have aggressive preneed programs. With such a distinct dichotomy within the cemetery industry, regulators must decide whether to spend resources on the few, or for the mass.
In a recent article, Bruce Ruston provides a detailed account of the drama behind the IFDA master trust and its divesture of the key man insurance policies. It is a long, costly story about an organization that pushed the legal envelop in several directions with disastrous results: a master trust without a corporate trustee, insurance investments to avoid Rev. Rul. 87-127, fixed returns, high administration fees, and the stubborn defense of a twenty year mistake. The Rushton article is appropriately critical of the IFDA’s legal counsel. But, to better evaluate that criticism, consideration should be given to those facts reported in the various lawsuits and the Secretary of State’s Consent Order that reflect an organization ran by an iron-fisted executive.
That evaluation should start with Robert Ninker’s 1985 decision to reach out to a young, newly licensed insurance salesman. By 1985, there were ample signs that the IRS was building its case for the taxation of preneed trusts. Mr. Ninker cannot be faulted for making life insurance the preferred alternative because it eliminated income reporting to consumers. Many trusts did not have the consumers’ social security numbers and couldn’t report income if they wanted to. So, insurance was proved a means to avoid the reporting problem. But, Mr. Ninker’s decision to turn to Ed Schainker, an insurance salesman with two year’s experience should have caused the association’s attorneys to raise questions.
Mr. Schainker did what salesmen do, he looked through available products, picked one with a high commission and put together the proposal. The proposal not only skirted the Illinois preneed law requiring preneed purchaser approval, it failed to satisfy the requirements of an insurance policy (ie that the master trust have an insurable interest in the ‘insured’ funeral directors). With such obvious problems, why didn’t the IFDA attorneys apply the brakes to the proposal?
Fast forward ten years, and the IFDA lawyers had cause to remind the client in writing of the firm’s concerns about the authority to act as trustee, and to suggest that the association resign. At that point in time, Mr. Ninker was still the boss. Okay, clients do, from time to time, reject their attorney’s advice.
Fast forward another twelve years, and, Mr. Ninker has retired and the Comptroller has finally forced the association’s hand on the trustee issue. With the IFDA attorney in Mr. Ninker’s chair, the association went to Regions Bank, a leading name among death care fiduciaries, for a proposal. That proposal put the key man insurance issue squarely in the attorney’s lap, and rather than acknowledge a twenty-year mistake, the attorney challenged Regions. In the end, there was no client to hide behind.
The decision to defend the investment “to the end” suggests the law firm may have been ‘in over its head’ from the start.
The Springfield Journal-Register reported last week on the latest lawsuit to hit Merrill Lynch, the IFDA and the law firm that represented the Association.
One aspect of the lawsuit focuses upon the claim that the key man insurance policies sold to the master trust were not suitable investments. Without an insurable interest, the policies could not provide the tax consequences sought for participating funeral homes. Piercing through the “it’s an insurance policy argument”, the allegations are directed at whether Merrill Lynch has violated securities laws. With the implication of securities laws, the Illinois Secretary of State’s jurisdiction has been triggered.
The article also reports on the lawsuit’s allegations against the law firm that represented the IFDA. Concerns over the investments date back to 1987 (which coincides with the issuance of Rev. Rul. 87-127), when the lawyers sought regulatory approval of the plan. While that approval was never provided, the IFDA moved forward, and the law firm is now being blamed for ‘giving the green light’.
The Illinois Funeral Directors Association is living out its own version of A Christmas Carol, with the Ghost of Yet to Come having painted a fate similar to that of Scrooge.
The court decision reported by the Memorial Business Journal* has all but sealed the fate of the Association. While the attorneys can continue to maneuver (and file appeals), the IFDA’s future is dependent upon how its board responds. But, the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Present offer little hope for the Association’s members. Everything rests on whether the IFDA Board can change course and demonstrate the leadership required to win back the trust of its current (and past) members.
If the situation in Illinois is like that seen in other states (including Missouri), the IFDA board must confront the frustration of larger operators who have felt ignored for years. Unlike Scrooge’s nephew Fred, many of these operators are neither paupers nor inclined to extend hospitality to an ailing, dysfunctional organization. But these are difficult times for the funeral industry, and operators must begin to search for common ground. The demise of an association will result in a vacuum that will be difficult to fill as reform picks up speed.
*Reprinted with permission from the December 16, 2010 issue of the Memorial Business Journal. To subscribe please call 609-815-8145.
California funeral directors face a September 13th deadline that could have substantial financial consequences, including the repayment of trust distributions.
A July 1st letter sent by the California’s Cemetery & Funeral Bureau to funeral homes in the California Master Trust outlined the regulator’s rejection of the Association responses regarding the Master Trust audit. An impatient Bureau gave funeral directors 3 weeks to respond. That deadline was quickly extended to August 11th. Then the week before the August 11th deadline, the Bureau granted another extension to September 13th. On the eve of the deadline, there is nothing on the Bureau's website to suggest another extension is in the offering.
The Bureau is demanding several significant changes to be made to the administration of the California Master Trust. But one demand that may prove problematic for the Association will be the Bureau’s demand that funeral homes repay to consumers’ trusts the administration fees that have been paid out over the years. The Bureau has rejected the Association’s proposal for prospective procedures to document the fees.
Within the past year, Nebraska preneed sellers were also called upon to replenish trusts for the method in which income taxes were paid. The Nebraska examinations also went back several years, and involved substantial amounts.
With new reporting requirements, Missouri funeral homes will also have to explain trust and joint account shortages. Some Missouri funeral directors have failed to appreciate how Missouri law distinguishes between trusting and joint accounts. Missouri’s old preneed law allowed sellers who used trusts to retain 20% of the consumer’s payments, and to withdraw income (subject to the mark to market) requirement. Those provisions don’t apply to joint accounts. With regard to the new Missouri law, sellers also need to grasp that the 10% sales expense is permitted only with regard to trust contracts that are guaranteed. With regard to Pre-SB1 trusts, sellers could be held accountable for income, taxes and expense distributions that cause the trust to drop below aggregate deposits.
Illinois preneed sellers have a similar limitation on their claim to the 5/15% permitted under their preneed law. While the lawsuits that have embroiled the IFDA claim about 1/3 of the master trust’s contracts were non-guaranteed, it’s not clear the funeral homes made that distinction when claiming their ‘administrative fee’.
For those funeral directors who participate in a master trust, the California drama is worth watching. While the Association is crucial to negotiating a resolution, the Bureau has taken its fight to the individual funeral homes. Will other state’s regulators follow suit?
While the reasons are open to debate, it is common knowledge within the funeral industry that a small percentage of consumers cancel their preneed contracts. Consequently, some funeral directors tend to view their preneed block of business with a degree of certainty. Performance of the contracts, and recognition of the revenues, seems to be just a matter of timing. A few state laws reflect the perception that performance of the preneed contract is a ‘lock’. For 37 years, Missouri law allowed preneed sellers to withdraw trust income. Nevada’s law has similar provisions. Preneed trust income became a source of funds that could subsidize funeral home operations.
While the preneed subsidy had long been a source of frustration for certain Missouri officials, they were powerless to stop the practice until the failure of National Prearranged Services. With the 2009 passage of Senate Bill No.1, Missouri officials feel they have a law that they can use to force a new business model upon the funeral industry.
In the case of the California Master Trust, the Department of Consumer Affairs has taken a similar position with regard to an administrative fee that has been paid to participating funeral homes for decades. Consistent with the historic industry view, the CFDA response relies in part upon the preneed guarantee and the risk assumed by the funeral home.
The position becomes tenuous when the administrative fee is judged on terms of whether a necessary service has been rendered to the trust, and whether the amount paid is reasonable for the services received. It is apparent from the documents that the DCA will also apply that analysis to what the CFDA has charged the trust. Depending upon how this controversy is resolved, other states’ regulators may ask whether the administrative fees charged to the master trust are appropriate.
As a recent Funeral Service Insider comment suggests, some industry associations have also become dependent upon the preneed subsidy. The classic guaranteed argument loses traction when facts such as those in Illinois emerge. By one account, non-guaranteed preneed contracts accounted for one third of the contracts administered by the IFDA.
But, in defense of the CMT, preneed trusts are labor-intensive enterprises where the funeral home, administrator and fiduciary have shared responsibilities. In its challenge of a different CMT issue (the maintenance of preneed records within California), the DCA acknowledges this reality while discussing the funeral home’s recordkeeping duties. Effective field examinations will require that certain preneed records be maintained at the funeral home. But, is it reasonable to impose greater administrative requirements on the funeral home without allowing any compensation to be paid to them?
The emerging regulatory challenge to the preneed subsidy is premised on the position that the funeral home’s right to preneed funds does not vest until the contract is performed. That position is consistent with Missouri’s efforts to improve portability. But, regulators must also find a consistent and reasonable position with regard to the services that they mandate from the funeral home.
(The Funeral Service Insider excerpt was included by special permission from Kates-Boylston Publications and Funeral Service Insider.)
In contrast to how the IFDA situation was handled, the California Department of Consumer Affairs has taken a public approach to disclosing its issues with the CFDA’s master trust by posting its website an audit report and the Association’s reply.
The DCA is unhappy with the Association, and the master trust fiduciary, with regard to (among other things) the fees that have been charged to the trust, the authorities that have been delegated by the fiduciary, and their refusals to respond to certain audit inquiries and document requests.
The audit report reflects a very literal interpretation of the applicable California laws. A close reading of the report should leave one scratching his/her head on a few of the issues (hint: corpus issues). But, auditors have no choice but to apply the laws that are applicable to the entity under examination, and unfortunately, the California preneed law and rules are dated and disjunctive.
For those who summarily advise that the audit report and the DCA actions reflect yet another example of a preneed program gone bad, that is not the case.
The DCA website includes the April 29th response from the law firm representing the Association. I doubt the attorneys knew that the letter would end up on the DCA website, but the reply is very illustrative of the issues that exist with a dated, and ambiguous, law. While the Association has made some serious missteps with regard to some of the law’s ambiguities, the auditor’s interpretations of the law and its requirements are inconsistent or unreasonable in some respects. Accordingly, the DCA would be well advised to accept the offer extended in the “Conclusions” on page 46 of the reply.
The crucial issues raised by this dispute are relevant to all master trusts, and will be addressed in future posts. Hopefully, the DCA will continue to make the discussions and eventual resolutions public so that death care regulators and preneed program administrators can take note.
In rejecting the $18 million settlement forced upon IFDA members, an Illinois Circuit Court is telling Merrill Lynch Life Agency to dig deeper into its pocket to compensate funeral homes. As reported by the Springfield Journal-Register, the $18 million represents the revenues the insurance broker received from the sale of key man insurance to the IFDA master trust. Apparently, Merrill Lynch convinced the Illinois Department of Insurance (DOI) that the funeral homes’ damages should be measured in terms of the benefit that Merrill Lynch received. But as the editor of the Memorial Business Journal* suggests, the Circuit Court seems more inclined to consider a ‘deeper’ measure of damages, and that will require the parties to the litigation to assess the master trust’s true loss.
The master trust collapse is framed by a ‘value’ that was set by a fixed return (2%) on consumer deposits. Based on that ‘value’, the loss is reported to be close to $100 million. But, one question funeral directors may be forced to answer will be whether the trust could have attained that value with the investment restrictions imposed by the members and the expenses taken by the IFDA. Another issue that may be raised is whether the IFDA’s past executives and attorneys bear some of the responsibilities for either selecting the investments or approving them. If so, comparative negligence may force the IFDA to shoulder responsibility for a portion of the damages.
The situation begs for a negotiated settlement, and it is unfortunate that time and expense was wasted on an end run with a regulator that had little, if any, authority over the IFDA master trust.
*"Reprinted with permission from the March 4, 2010 issue of the Memorial Business Journal. To subscribe please call 609-815-8145."
The September edition of the Mortuary Management ran an excerpt from a Funeral Monitor article about the California Master Trust suffering a deficit.
If the story is accurate about the master trust's shortage, the author's speculation about the reasons for the deficit omits a possible factor that has existed for years: the 4% administration fee.
As explained by the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau's audit guide, California law allows for an annual 4% administration fee. If the CMT takes the full administration fee allowed by law, no wonder the trust is running a bit short.
Last week’s exchange between the State Journal-Register and the Illinois Comptroller’s office underscores just how poorly some regulators (and funeral directors) understand the preneed transaction.
The newspaper’s June 24th editorial included the following statement:
The directors allege they didn’t find out about the audit until fall 2007 when the comptroller revoked the IFDA’s license to be the fund’s trustee.
The Comptroller’s office responded two days later with a letter stating they are only responsible for auditing funeral homes and cemeteries that are preneed sellers, and that the IFDA was not a seller. While this position is consistent with that taken by the Comptroller in its September 17, 2007 letter of revocation, it is wrong nonetheless.
State associations serve as a jack-of-all-trades with regard to their master trusts, including administrative agents. But for smaller operators, the association (or its affiliate) typically serves as the preneed seller, discharging compliance and licensing obligations that are too burdensome for the ‘little guy’. With regard to larger members that have a seller's license, contracts between the association and the member determine who is the seller.
One problem with the IFDA situation was that the preneed contracts were so poorly written it may be impossible to tell who the seller is. But, it was the Comptroller that licensed the IFDA as a preneed seller, and it was incumbent upon the Comptroller to have addressed the contract and fiduciary problems before the license was issued. It is wrong for the Comptroller to now attempt to duck those responsibilities, or to cram a settlement down the throats of funeral directors on any argument that they were the sellers of the IFDA preneed contracts.
The battle to reform Illinois’ preneed funeral law was renewed by the Comptroller’s office with the release of his Amendment to Senate Bill 1862. Reform in Illinois will take months, and the final product may differ substantially from the Comptroller’s proposal. However, SB 1862 flags Mr. Hynes’ priorities, and one of those priorities could force a shotgun marriage between the IFDA and some of the small funeral homes critical of the Association.
The Illinois preneed law authorizes a preneed seller to act as its own trustee when the seller’s preneed funds are less than $500,000. This provision is a reflection of the difficulty and expense encountered by small operators attempting to find affordable trust services. However, the IFDA exploited this provision with regard to its master trust, and consequently, the Comptroller wants to eliminate the self-trusted arrangement.
The advantage of an association master trust is that it provides the requisite economies of scale to provide affordable trust administration to the smallest funeral home operator. But, many Illinois operators shunned the IFDA master trust because of a lack of transparency. The amount of preneed funds held in self-trusted arrangements could be substantial. If the Comptroller seeks to apply the elimination of the self-trusted exception retroactively to existing trusts, the cost of corporate fiduciary services and the scarcity of such fiduciaries may lead these operators back to the IFDA, perhaps with the numbers to force changes at the Association.
U.S. Senator Roland Burris has been sidestepping questions about his role(s) in the IFDA master trust troubles. While the Senator was a side issue to a March 30th article published by the Springfield Journal Register, the statement provided by his public-relations specialist may signal just how little Mr. Burris understood about his responsibilities to the Illinois public.
In an effort to shift blame to current Comptroller Dan Hynes, Delmarie Cobb wrote to the paper:
I don’t know what he has to say is relevant given that he left the comptroller’s office in 1991. When he left, the pre-need fund was in the black.
Au contraire, Ms. Cobb.
The $49+ million dollar question is why Comptroller Burris issued a seller’s license to the IFDA when it did not have a corporate fiduciary?
It didn't take long for an Illinois funeral director to confirm that IFDA members have disagreements with their association leadership.
Several Illinois funeral homes filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court on January 28th. The petition, a derivative complaint, seeks remedies and damages on behalf of all Illinois funeral homes that participated in the IFDA master trust. Various IFDA officers, board members and agents are named the defendants. The defendants include Merrill Lynch, in its capacities as an advisor to the IFDA.
The Derivative Complaint asserts facts that indicate the IFDA not only concealed critical information, but mislead funeral directors and consumers. However, the Complaint does not answer the question from my prior post: Who is the seller of the IFDA preneed contracts?
Page 20 of the Complaint approaches the issue with a discussion of "Participating Member Firm Agreements", but ultimately sidesteps the question and its legal ramifications.
A trade newsletter recently reported on funeral homes forming buying groups to negotiate better terms with casket vendors. Through cooperative alliances, the funeral homes can achieve the numbers required to negotiate better discounts from vendors. Those same economies of scale also benefit preneed programs that utilize trust funding. The larger trust not only provides the operator leverage in negotiating terms with a fiduciary, the trust provides the asset manager the critical mass required for a sophisticated asset allocation model for proper diversification.
However, state laws are often a hurdle to independent funeral homes or cemeteries seeking to form a master trust that would commingle funds from multiple sellers. Laws such as Missouri’s Section 436.031 authorize collective investing by preneed trustees, so long as the funds deposited belong to a single preneed seller. This restriction reflects a legislative concern for the trust’s accounting of deposits, distributions, income and expenses.
Rather than close the door completely on collective investment trusts, the Michigan cemetery law signed into law last week left the door open to a new breed of master trusts.
Section 16 of SB 674 establishes a transition period for Michigan cemeteries to transfer their endowed care trusts to corporate fiduciaries. Subparagraph (2) of that section addresses the traditional master trust established by a single cemetery that has multiple trusts or a master trust among multiple cemeteries with common ownership. The subparagraph also references preneed trusts. The opening for pooling among unrelated trusts comes in subparagraph (3) where Michigan’s cemetery commissioner is given the authority to approve ‘other comparable methods of bundling or pooling of trust or escrow funds for investment purposes’.
The fiduciary services provided by national banks are subject to Federal regulations set out in 12 CFR Part 9 (“Reg 9”), and more specifically, collective investment funds are subject to 12CFR 9.18. State chartered fiduciaries and Office of Thrift Supervision chartered fiduciaries are subject to similar requirements. The fiduciary’s authority to pool preneed trust accounts is derived from 12 CFR 9.18(c)(4). The regulation sends the fiduciary back to state law for its authority, and prohibitions. In the absence of express authority (and express prohibitions), the fiduciary is in ‘no man’s land’ with whether it is required to follow the requirements of Reg 9, which include a written plan, audits and asset valuations.
The Michigan law seems to appreciate that Reg 9 requirements go beyond what should be required of a preneed master trust, and appropriately, make the non-traditional master trust subject to a case-by-case approval. The test will be whether the proposed pooling arrangement has sufficient accounting procedures to protect participating operators and their consumers. Missouri is particularly sensitive to this issue in light of the NPS failure, and its procedures for trust rollovers.
The IFDA master trust turned a new page today, and for participating funeral homes, the first step in a long recovery process. With the appointment of Merrill Lynch Bank & Trust as a temporary trustee, the association begins the process of looking for a permanent trustee. The appointment also coincides with the trust's accounts being put on a mark-to-market basis.
The mark-to-market approach taken by the IFDA master trust will mean that the trust's value will be allocated among the preneed contracts each month. Until the benefits of key man insurance purchased by the master trust are realized, funeral directors will be servicing contracts for far less than they were promised. It was not clear from the Q&A circulated to funeral directors whether insurance proceeds will be allocated to preneed contracts serviced while the actuary study is being performed.
Funeral directors who left the IFDA master trust for NPS must feel whipsawed by these circumstances.
Missouri funeral directors questioning reporting requirements being considered by the legislature should note that the IFDA reports its preneed contract values to consumers annually.
Mortuary Management’s July/August Colleague Wisdom column underscores how difficult it can be to run a trade association. I can empathize with the funeral home operators who took the time to provide their thoughts. As an attorney who specializes in the death care industry, I have to weigh the costs and benefits of membership in trade associations from two industries.
Every so often, the American Bar Association calls to solicit my renewal to the ABA. I was an ABA member back in 1986, the first year out of law school. After that first year membership, I never renewed again. Yet, they continue to call. And I will continue to decline, because the ABA is not a resource that is worth the cost (to me).
In contrast, I do belong to the Missouri Bar Association. The MBA provides services and programs that justify its membership costs to me. The MBA is not only a good source for forms and information, it provides some reasonable discounts for continuing education classes. However, I have not found that to be same for the Kansas Bar Association. The KBA seems to be marketing primarily to the trial attorney bar (a reflection of an economic reality).
If comments published in The Colleague Wisdom are representative of the funeral industry, the article reflects that funeral directors also tend to look more to their state association for the services and programs they need. It should come as no surprise but the level of satisfaction among funeral directors varies greatly. It is difficult to compare state associations because each has its own unique set of factors or hurdles. However, there seems to be certain common standards.
The Colleague Wisdom comments provide some insight to what industry members expect from an association, and why some do not participate. The comments also touch upon the revenues that subsidize the association. As Mr. Wigger so succinctly states: membership in a state association is a matter of weighing the costs vs. the benefits. One reality is that an association must impose costs in order to have the funds needed for programs and services that will attract membership. It is also a reality that some industry members will complain no matter what the cost.
Some of the Colleague Wisdom comments have been highlighted in yellow, green and pink. The yellow comments seem to reflect an association’s perceived values. The green comments make note of a source of revenue, and the pink comments reflect criticisms. Associations need to be sensitive to criticism, and adapt to the membership’s needs. In order to do so, the association must seek input (even if it is done so by a coded survey).
Now for the obligatory preneed comments:
Funeral directors who are opposed to preneed will need to appreciate that master trusts are an important source of revenue for association programs and organizational expenses. The master trust is an even more important revenue source for associations in states where continuing education is not required. But as one Colleague Wisdom commentator points out, association leadership must be careful with regard to the master trust becoming a competitor to its own members. In a sense, the master trust cannot help but be a competitor to larger independents that have their own preneed administration. The master trust may be the only way for the small operator to effectively compete for the preneed sale. Accordingly, it will become incumbent for association leadership to diffuse these situations through cooperation and attempts to find mutual benefits.
Association leadership must also be careful that the master trust does not become a source of dissatisfaction when earnings and/or expense expectations are not met. Disclosures, accountability, frequent communications, innovation and leadership will be crucial to retaining membership satisfaction.
With the NPS failure, associations may have an opportunity to expand their master trusts. But to do so, some state associations need to assess why funeral homes turned to NPS in the first place. Some funeral homes did succumb to the promises of profit, or looked forward to the Rep visit, but many did so out of dissatisfaction with their master trust. For some funeral directors (like those in Illinois), the state association may have a difficult task in regaining the membership’s faith.