Finding a fiduciary institution that is both knowledgeable and receptive has proven a challenge to funeral directors. Until a few years ago, the larger operators could rely upon the size of their trust to at least generate interest from prospective institutions. However, litigation exposures are now causing institutions to hesitate with even the largest of trusts, and the Illinois Comptroller’s proposed legislation would raise the fiduciary bar even higher for Illinois funeral homes.

If given the choice, state preneed regulators prefer that sellers use a ‘domiciled’ fiduciary institution. It is easier to hold domiciled institutions accountable under the preneed law. However, the preneed regulator’s jurisdiction begins to ‘cloud’ with regard to a foreign state-chartered institution, or a federally chartered institution that is not “located” within the state.

The Illinois Funeral or Burial Funds Act, like other states’ preneed laws, has an ambiguity that opens a ‘back’ door for foreign fiduciaries. While paragraph (b) of Section 225 ILCS 45/2 contains language stating the preneed fiduciary is to be domiciled in Illinois, paragraph (f) authorizes the use of foreign fiduciaries without the institution subjecting itself to the jurisdiction of state regulators. The Comptroller is now looking to close that ‘back’ door by deleting paragraph (f). The consequence to the Comptroller’s proposal would be to require the foreign fiduciary to comply with the Illinois Corporate Fiduciary Act.

Each state has a law governing the fiduciary activities of foreign institutions, and some are more liberal than others. State chartered institutions have no choice but to comply with these laws if it is deemed that the fiduciary services are being rendered within the state. In contrast, OCC and OTS chartered institutions will generally assert federal preemption arguments. With regard to both state chartered and federally chartered institutions, the language of the preneed law and the preneed contract are relevant to the issue.

The Texas Department of Banking addressed these issues in a 2001 opinion, with a compromise of sorts. In reaching that opinion, the Texas attorneys were mindful of the 1998 OTS opinion obtained by Forethought Financial Services. While on its face, the OTS opinion reads as a “Pass Go” and Collect $200 card, certain representative facts undermine the opinion’s value. State preneed regulators will invariably dispute the facts asserted by the “Association” at the bottom of page 7 of the opinion.

Following the Texas lead, state preneed regulators need to be flexible with foreign fiduciaries willing to comply with their state’s preneed law without ‘locating’ within the state.