Almost a year to the date after SB1 was signed into law, one of the NPS sister companies was forced to close its doors. The recent Kansas City Star article about Mt. Washington Forever Funeral Home and Cemetery describes a situation that confused and disheartened the families who purchased Mt. Washington preneed contracts. The Missouri Attorney General’s subsequent press release offers little hope to the purchasers of preneed funeral contracts. While the press release offers some encouragement to preneed cemetery purchasers, those families also face the prospect of losing the funds paid to the cemetery.
Many consumers will lose some, or all, of the funds they paid Mt. Washington towards preneed contracts, and question why Missouri regulators did not act sooner. While operators and consumers both tend to view death care regulators as the ‘cops’, these state agencies lack both the authority or budget to summarily close businesses that break the law.
Within the next few weeks, both the Office of Endowed Care Cemeteries and the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors will release to their respective industries new reporting requirements. Similar to reporting requirements imposed in Nebraska and Iowa, the Missouri regulators will begin seeking individual contract data from operators, and confirming data from preneed fiduciaries. These new reporting requirements will allow the regulators to begin identifying other potential Mt. Washingtons. But, regulators alone cannot protect every consumer. In the case of Mt. Washington, consumers have complained they were caught completely off guard by the closure.
If operator compliance reports were made available to the public, consumers could also assume a role in policing the preneed industry. In this vein, the OECC has expressed an interest in using the reporting requirements to form a grading system for operators’ compliance with state law requirements.
Such systems already exist in other states, Texas for one. Using a system that ranges from 1 (the highest level of compliance) to 5 (the lowest level of compliance), the operator is graded routinely on a number of issues. Such a system must be fair and equitable, and provide operators the opportunity to address issues. But once the process has been completed, the grades are then made public. Consumers are then able to access an operator’s audit report and grade to assess how safe the operator’s preneed funds are.
Rather than rely wholly upon the regulator, consumers must make inquiries before signing the contract and writing the check. If regulators do not make information available to the public, then consumers should begin asking their funeral home or cemetery whether certain types of information is available, and if so, can copies be provided:
- A copy of the death care operator’s current audit/examination report
- A summary of the annual report filed with the state regulator
- A summary of the current trustee report or insurance statement
- A contact name and email address with whom inquiries can be made of the preneed fiduciary or insurance carrier.
The Missouri Attorney General has advised Mt. Washington consumers to contact the AG’s office to file a complaint. Mt. Washington consumers also need to make inquiries to the Missouri funeral home regulator and/or the Missouri cemetery regulator.