The funeral director’s decision about how to fund his preneed is influenced by the state’s trusting requirement, investment returns, administrative convenience and the volume of preneed business. Essentially, there are three methods of funding preneed: the depository account, the master trust and the insurance policy.
The funeral director’s use of the depository account predates all state preneed laws. The industry has been accommodating families for decades by accepting payment for a future funeral, and then placing those funds in an account at the local bank. The early preneed laws reflected this practice with language that sought to impose how the depository account was to be structured. Those early laws gave rise to the “joint account contract”.
By the 1970s, proactive preneed sales organizations were testing the limits of the depository account. Low returns and administrative hassles caused the proactive seller to abandon depository accounts in favor of insurance or master trusts. For states with high trusting requirements, the proactive seller turned to insurance funding because it provided the commissions required to pay salesmen and finance the preneed program. In states with a lower trusting percentage, the master trust provided the seller the economies of scale to achieve higher returns and lower administrative costs. But, the master trust’s popularity was stunted by Revenue Ruling 87-127.
With preneed insurance carriers now cutting policy benefits, some funeral directors will need to reexamine the master trust, and the use of finance charges.
Generally, the purchase price of a guaranteed preneed contract is set by the funeral home’s general price list (the prices it charges for a funeral that would be performed today). In today’s economy, fewer consumers can afford to pay for a preneed contract with a single payment. But when a family is permitted to pay for the preneed contract over a period of five to ten years, the cost of the funeral at the contract’s performance will often exceed the trust proceeds by thousands of dollars. Regulators assume that the trust’s income will offset or exceed the rise in the costs of the funeral, but that is seldom the case with contracts paid by installments. These contracts often represent a loss to the funeral home.
Some funeral homes already include finance charges in their installment payments to offset the loss of trust earnings. However, funeral homes have not been consistent in their disclosure of the finance charges. In fact, NPS was notorious for incorporating a 12% administration charge into an installment schedule that also included a mortality charge. None of which was disclosed to the consumer.
As reflected by a Kansas Attorney General’s opinion, regulators often perceive that finance charges are an exploitation of the consumer. Instead, regulators should ensure that finance charges (or administrative charges) are adequately disclosed to the consumer, and reasonable to both the consumer and the seller.