In May 2009, the American Funeral Director editorial advised that fixing preneed has to be a cooperative effort, and that the industry needs to agree upon a plan before attempting to legislate a fix. In that same month, the Missouri legislature passed a ‘fix’ to the NPS abuses that incorporated provisions from a mixed bag of industry recommendations. The Missouri funeral industry is now learning that their recommendations don’t amount to much of a plan.
With rumblings that Chapter 436 would have to be reopened this year to fix SB1’s flaws, the State Board took two important steps towards a plan: suspending any legislative efforts by state regulators for at least a year, and establishing a forum for industry attorneys to provide input regarding SB1. So now, in who’s court is the ball?
Mr. Defort suggests that state associations must take the lead in developing the “plan”. Perhaps, but that would depend upon the strength of the particular association’s membership. The Missouri Funeral Director and Embalmer Association played a crucial role in passing SB1, but the Missouri preneed industry is large and diverse. Consequently, the MFDEA cannot be expected to shoulder the plan-building task alone.
Some might suggest the ‘big’ sellers should step up, but the national companies have preneed programs that already comply with more stringent requirements than those imposed by SB1. The big sellers are waiting for the regulators to clarify SB1’s ambiguities and conflicts.
Rather, the ball would seem to be in the regulator’s court, and more specifically, the court of the Division of Professional Registration.
If the Division needs some starting points for a plan, here are four:
- Develop an annual reporting system that operators can use to demonstrate compliance with the 80% funding requirements of existing trusts (so as to minimize audit expenses and lower the $36 contract fee)
- Develop an alternative to the broken joint account contract
- Establish a voluntary compliance program to fix the technical violations that have accumulated over the past 27 years (when there were no guidelines or oversight)
- Establish a “no action letter” procedure that will allow more sophisticated sellers to determine the boundaries of compliance.