Regulators and preneed sellers squared off recently over the subject of who owns the preneed trust fund: the funeral home or the consumer. Hearings to reform Missouri’s preneed law hit a wall when the issues of trusting requirements, income accrual and portability was taken up by a review committee comprised of regulators, industry representatives and consumers.
In a debate that has been waged in countless other venues, several Missouri funeral directors asserted that the trust fund is theirs because they have guaranteed the prices and assumed the risk of the trust’s performance. The regulators argue that the trust fund represents the consumer’s funds, and the consumer should have the right to change their minds about funeral homes and type of service they want, and to do so they must be able to transfer the funds or receive a refund without penalty.
This all begs the question: what do consumers want? We cannot answer that question in Missouri because the law only contemplates the guaranteed contract.
Mortuary Management asked the question whether the guaranteed contract is necessary to attract preneed customers. As was the case at the Missouri meeting, the responses were divided.
As Missouri re-writes its preneed law, consumers should be afforded a meaningful choice between the guaranteed contract or the non-guaranteed, 100% funded contract. As I wrote in one of the first blog entries, the non-guaranteed contract faces certain hurdles.
Under Missouri’s current trusting requirements, preneed sellers have little incentive to offer a non-guaranteed contract. If the funds are deemed to be entirely the consumers’, who will assume the burden of establishing a program that provides the requisite documents, administration and oversight?