Illinois and Missouri have more in common than they may realize. Consumers and funeral directors are blaming state regulators for their current preneed problems. Looking to avoid that hot seat, regulators have been stating their excuses/defenses. If legislators are to correct the flaws in their state’s preneed oversight, they need to put partisan politics aside and objectively assess those excuses.
In response to criticism about the IFDA master trust, the Illinois Comptroller’s office states: we don’t regulate trusts. With regard to preneed audits, the Comptroller follows the money from the consumer to the funeral home and into the IFDA trust. Once there, the Comptroller did not provide an extensive review of the trust’s activities. (Summary, it’s not my job to provide oversight once the funds make it to trust.)
The chink in the Comptroller’s IFDA armor is that the consumer funds never made it into a corporate trustee’s hands. The Comptroller’s excuse (we thought they had a corporate fiduciary) has funeral directors boiling. Rightfully so. While news reports and funeral homes have garbled the legal issues, the Comptroller’s function was to license preneed sellers, and for the IFDA, that meant the responsibility to ensure the organization had an appropriate fiduciary.
Missouri’s Division of Professional Registration and State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors have received the same type of criticism with regard to the NPS collapse. Those regulators have appropriately countered with explanations about how Chapter 436 tied their hands. Legislators and state agencies sponsored meetings last summer to obtain recommendations for improving Missouri’s preneed oversight. Those recommendations included the decision to continue the State Board’s jurisdiction over the preneed and to provide that entity greater licensing and oversight authorities.
Preneed regulation should begin with the licensing/registration of who may sell preneed. (I beg to differ with Ill. State Rep. Dan Brady, and those who assert preneed should only be sold by licensed funeral directors.) But that issue aside, who should provide oversight once the consumer’s funds are deposited to trust? I tend to agree with the Comptroller’s office that a state’s financial regulator is better suited for this job. However, there are ‘gaps’ to that recommendation. (State banking regulators do not have express jurisdiction over fiduciary institutions that derive their powers from a charter granted by the Office of Thrift Supervision or the Office of Comptroller of the Currency.)
While preneed licensing and payment administration oversight should be placed with a state’s agency charged with establishing minimum competency standards, oversight of the preneed trust should be with the state’s banking regulator. Federal preemption issues could be eliminated by statutory provisions that require the seller’s trustee to consent to limited jurisdiction as a condition to accepting the account. Preneed is too complex, too big, for a single state agency.