It has to be bad when your main source tells you its time for the Methadone clinic. With the worst financial crisis in our lifetime, and spiraling costs, what funeral director isn’t already battling a case of the sweats and shakes when reviewing his/her preneed program? And now you’re being told to go cold turkey on the only preneed transaction that you offer.
With Forethought having joined the bandwagon against the guaranteed preneed contract, funeral directors are being forced to reexamine the transaction. It is an examination that is long over due. However, dropping the guaranteed contract will not be as simple as Forethought suggests.
For fifty years, the US funeral industry has defined preneed as a cost saving transaction that will provide peace of mind to the "consumer". As many funeral directors recall, Forethought/Batesville taught them how to structure this transaction around the casket sale. And, now they tell the funeral director it’s a mistake. No wonder some funeral directors are a bit miffed with their insurer. Funeral directors that embrace Forethought’s prescribed medicine could suffer sharp withdrawal pains that have long-lasting side effects.
Preneed insurers are crucial to most preneed programs, but funeral directors need to appreciate that their insurers are responding to changing market forces. Insurers are looking for alternative markets, and consequently, we are hearing more about ‘final expense policies’ and ‘funeral expense trusts’. These products can be marketed independently of the funeral home, relegating the funeral director to an end provider. For the funeral home that maintains an insurance agency, the final expense product offers a larger commission. But, the final expense product also targets a more affluent consumer. How many of your consumers are candidates for a $20,000 policy that provides a 2% return, and requires a $200+ monthly premium?
Rather than go cold turkey on the guaranteed contract, the industry will begin to explore hybrid contracts that provide partial cost protections. For the older, and less affluent, consumers, the industry needs to look at cooperative trust arrangements similar to those offered in England, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. With regard to these alternative trusts, we face a ‘minor’ hurdle: our preneed exemption from certain securities regulations is based on the guaranteed contract being a sale of goods and services.
To facilitate the administration of preneed contracts and trusts, the Securities and Exchange Commission has issued a series of “No Action Letters” regarding the preneed contract or the preneed master trust. See, e.g., Fleet National Bank (Sept. 5, 1990); Funeral Services of Iowa, Inc. (September 28, 1987); Michigan Funeral Directors Association (August 27, 1987); Associated Funeral Directors Service, Inc. (September 5, 1986); Drexel Trust Company (September 12, 1983).
For purposes of collective investment, the trust-funded, non-guaranteed preneed contract will need to utilize an alternative exemption from the SEC regulations.