The fear of SB1 drove the Missouri cemetery industry to push for Chapter 214 legislation in 2009, only to have the wheels come off at the stroke of midnight last May. While legislation was passed, the original bill was gutted, and the resulting changes were incoherent and confusing. It was no surprise that the industry would pursue a bill to correct what was done in 2009.
An industry bill was introduced in the 2010 session as SB754. However, that bill was quickly replaced by a Senate Committee Substitute. The substitute bill incorporates changes sought by the State, the speed in which the bill was produced signals regulators’ recognition that Chapter 214 reform is needed.
Over the next several weeks, the death care industry and consumers need to take a close look at SCS SB754. Legislators will only provide the parties so many attempts to ‘get it right’. And while this bill contains several needed changes, it also has provisions that beg for questions, and answers. Take preneed for an example.
Section 214.387 will govern how the cemetery industry is to sell preneed in Missouri. Prior to last year’s legislation, Chapter 214 provided minimal oversight of preneed sales of markers and services. If a cemetery wanted to sell a vault on a preneed basis, it had to comply with Chapter 436. Chapter 214 did not contemplate trust funded preneed.
Section 214.387 takes a page from the ‘old’ version of Chapter 436 by requiring Missouri cemeteries to deposit 80% of a consumer’s payments to an escrow account or a trust if the preneed contract defers delivery. Last year’s model of 214.387 first established the new trusting requirement, but did so with confusing language. So in a sense, Missouri cemeteries went from zero to eighty last year without guidelines.
SCS SB754 attempts to provide some of those guidelines, but it misses a few beats.
The 80% trusting requirement will be one of the highest in the country. Many states’ cemetery laws trust on the wholesale costs of merchandise. This poses an audit nightmare (ask the Kansas Secretary of State). The wholesale threshold is crossed somewhere around 40 to 50% of retail. Consequently, the cemetery laws generally have lower trusting requirements than that imposed on funeral homes. But the second piece of the puzzle for cemetery trusting is the income accrual provisions.
Cemeteries have cash flow requirements that differ from that of a funeral home. States’ cemetery laws reflect this by permitting the disbursement of preneed trust income. Typically, the higher the trusting percentage, the more likely income disbursements will be allowed. But, there are exceptions (Iowa for example).
So, it’s no surprise that 214.387 contemplates income distributions. However, the bill only authorizes income disbursements from escrow accounts. The bill does not include a corresponding authority for preneed trusts.
Another glitch in 214.387 would provide consumers a refund that would include half of the income earned on the account. If escrow accounts are distributing income to cemeteries, then someone would have to ‘come out of pocket’ for refunds to the consumer.
The quick solution to these 214.387 issues would be to allow both types of accounts to distribute half the annual income, leaving the balance of income in the account until the contract is canceled or performed. As such, the Missouri law would provide higher trusting safeguards than most other states.