The next round of legislative proposals have been posted to the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors website. At the top of the list is whether the trusting requirement should be raised from 85% to 100%. The proponent believes this will enhance consumer protections. He is not alone.
The Illinois Legislature heard the same from Rep. Dan Brady last year. And, the Funeral Consumers Alliance has been advocating the same position for years. But, does this requirement truly enhance consumer protection?
Competition dictates the type of preneed program a funeral home maintains. Metropolitan funeral homes often have no choice but to maintain proactive programs that require training, marketing, management and dedicated staffing. To offset program costs, the funeral home must receive revenue from the preneed sale. Setting the trusting requirement at 100% forces the funeral home towards insurance products, and their commissions. A legislative agenda that forecloses the trusting option makes little sense when insurance played a major factor in both the NPS and IFDA failures.
For the consumer’s perspective, a major weakness in the old Missouri law was the preneed seller’s right to withdraw income from the preneed trust. Without the accrual of income, the preneed contract became less portable as it aged. While SB1 may have other trust issues to address, it did fix the income accrual issue.
Some have argued that SB1 did not go far enough in providing the consumer refund rights to the income earned by a trust. The seller of the guaranteed contract is afforded the right to retain the income on cancellation because he takes the risks associated with the price guaranties. But prior to SB1, there was little authority for the non-guaranteed contract. If the preneed purchaser places a premium on refund rights, then the non-guaranteed contract authorized by SB1 is the better option.
With regard to Illinois law, the glaring weakness regarded the self-trusting provision and the lack of fiduciary oversight. With trusting already set at 95%, many larger funeral homes were already dependent on insurance funding. Deprived of revenues to maintain a trust program, funeral homes relied upon the IFDA. The lack of oversight and transparency lead to abuses by past IFDA leadership.
SB1682 took the crucial steps of requiring corporate fiduciaries, and imposing the prudent investor rule. But a question remains about who should provide oversight to the preneed fiduciary.
So, how does 100% trusting further enhance consumer protections in either Missouri or Illinois?
The debate over insurance versus trust has been waging for twenty years. While each has its strengths and weaknesses, the death care industry has done little to offer the consumer meaningful options for funding and price guarantees. Establishing barriers to either form of funding (or to non-guaranteed contracts) will do little to enhance consumer protections.