In response to a proposal that preneed trustees be required to provide periodic account statements to contract purchasers, a funeral director asked what liability he would have to consumers who question the trust’s performance during a year such as 2008. Legally speaking: none. But ultimately, death care companies should be accountable to their families for the decisions they make with regard to preneed funds, including where those funds are placed and how well they are invested. With regard to certain contracts, NPS providers may not be responsible for the promised funeral, but consumers will punish the funeral home that turns its back on those contracts. The funeral home put the consumer at risk by agreeing to do business with NPS. Similarly, if a funeral home fails to devote the time and resources required for proper management of its preneed trust, consumers should ask if they are assuming too great a risk that the facility will be in business when the funeral is needed.
Realistically, periodic trust statements to individual purchasers provide a ‘tickler’ that alone will not flag a troubled preneed program. A systematic trust reporting system is needed. Such a trust reporting system must also afford the public sufficient information to assess the financial strength of the preneed program. Yes, there will be a cost to both consumer and the funeral home, but a trust reporting system will reward the funeral home that devotes the energy and resources required to properly administer their families’ preneed funds.