The Missouri State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors met June 15th and 16th to consider legislative proposals offered for technical corrections to SB1. In a prior post, this author took exception to one of the proposals made by a Board member to raise Missouri’s trusting requirement from 85% to 100%. However, a majority of the State Board did not, and voted to include 100% trusting among its proposals to the Missouri Legislature later this year.
While the submitted proposal stated this was ‘a consumer protection matter’, the Board discussion was addressed to the fact insurance funded preneed provides the funeral home a better return. Trust funded preneed was criticized for lacking the investment vehicle to recover the 15% of consumer payments retained by the funeral home when the contract is sold. So, how does the 100% enhance consumer protection?
Historically, trust funded preneed in Missouri has been a liability to industry. When allowed to keep 20% and withdraw all income, funeral homes have been left to service a contract on an amount that may not even cover the costs of merchandise after 15 years.
SB1 takes three key steps towards rectifying that situation. First, the ‘retainage’ the seller may keep has been reduced from 20% to 15%. Second, the trust is now required to accrue all income. Third, and most elusive, SB1 now allows sellers to pool their trusts for investment purposes.
Prior to SB1, sellers were prohibited from commingling their trusts. The accounting systems available in the 1980s were not sophisticated enough to track both consumer and seller funds when multiple sellers were involved.
In the defense of the Board’s position, a trust that averages a gross return of 4% will be hard pressed to pay the funeral home enough to cover its at need prices in 10 years. As more funeral homes are pressed to provide preneed, the growth in ‘guaranteed preneed’ eats into the long-term profitability of the business. An indirect answer to the justification to the 100% trusting requirement.
The weakness in this position lies in the alternative that funeral homes are forced to take: insurance funding and the costs to the consumer.
If the funeral home has to offer preneed, and it has costs associated with providing preneed, then insurance funded preneed becomes the vehicle of choice. One of the knocks on insurance is its costs to the consumer when coverage is purchased with installments.
For the older consumer who cannot afford a single premium policy, the financing of the policy over five or ten years will cause the cost of the funeral to increase substantially.
All forms of preneed are beginning to include separate charges or fees to the consumer. It becomes incumbent upon the consumer to approach the preneed transaction with more questions, including: How much is this going to cost me?