A “Spend Down” is the transaction where a person seeking public assistance transfers money or insurance to a funeral home to avoid having the “asset” count as a resource. It is a commonly held perception that the Spend Down accounts for many preneed contract purchases. But should all Spend Downs trigger the state preneed law intended to protect the consumer? That question has been the source of disagreement and confusion for Missouri funeral directors since last July when the State Board first began to implement SB1.
The Missouri controversy swirls around the Spend Down that involves an existing insurance policy. It is a fairly common occurrence for a family to approach the funeral director with a small life policy ($10,000 or less) with a request that the policy be held until welfare applicant’s death (when it is to be applied to funeral expenses). Missouri’s public assistance policies are interpreted at the county level, and the result has been widely diverging requirements. Some Missouri counties require the funeral director to provide a contract to the family to evidence the assignment was not made as a gift. The contract requirement also serves to protect the funeral director by setting out the terms and conditions underlying the assignment. For example, the funeral director may not necessarily promise the insurance policy is being accepted as the sole consideration for the future costs. If the policy proves worthless, the family will still be obligated to pay for the funeral.
The Missouri State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors has grappled with whether this transaction should be subject to the requirements of SB1. During it’s initial SB1 meetings, the State Board leaned towards excluding the Spend Down from SB1, but in subsequent meetings expressed an intent to include the transaction if a contract were involved.
When the family approaches the funeral director with an existing insurance policy or certificate deposit, and the funeral director receives no compensation in the form of a commission, the Spend Down represents an accommodation to the consumer. Under such circumstances, a regulator should consider whether the licensing requirements are sufficient to protect the consumer. Imposing the requirements of SB1, or any preneed statute with additional fees or costs, on an accommodation transaction burdens both the consumer and the funeral home.