California funeral directors face a September 13th deadline that could have substantial financial consequences, including the repayment of trust distributions.

A July 1st letter sent by the California’s Cemetery & Funeral Bureau to funeral homes in the California Master Trust outlined the regulator’s rejection of the Association responses regarding the Master Trust audit. An impatient Bureau gave funeral directors 3 weeks to respond. That deadline was quickly extended to August 11th. Then the week before the August 11th deadline, the Bureau granted another extension to September 13th.  On the eve of the deadline, there is nothing on the Bureau’s website to suggest another extension is in the offering.

The Bureau is demanding several significant changes to be made to the administration of the California Master Trust. But one demand that may prove problematic for the Association will be the Bureau’s demand that funeral homes repay to consumers’ trusts the administration fees that have been paid out over the years. The Bureau has rejected the Association’s proposal for prospective procedures to document the fees.

Within the past year, Nebraska preneed sellers were also called upon to replenish trusts for the method in which income taxes were paid. The Nebraska examinations also went back several years, and involved substantial amounts.

With new reporting requirements, Missouri funeral homes will also have to explain trust and joint account shortages. Some Missouri funeral directors have failed to appreciate how Missouri law distinguishes between trusting and joint accounts. Missouri’s old preneed law allowed sellers who used trusts to retain 20% of the consumer’s payments, and to withdraw income (subject to the mark to market) requirement. Those provisions don’t apply to joint accounts. With regard to the new Missouri law, sellers also need to grasp that the 10% sales expense is permitted only with regard to trust contracts that are guaranteed. With regard to Pre-SB1 trusts, sellers could be held accountable for income, taxes and expense distributions that cause the trust to drop below aggregate deposits.

Illinois preneed sellers have a similar limitation on their claim to the 5/15% permitted under their preneed law. While the lawsuits that have embroiled the IFDA claim about 1/3 of the master trust’s contracts were non-guaranteed, it’s not clear the funeral homes made that distinction when claiming their ‘administrative fee’.

For those funeral directors who participate in a master trust, the California drama is worth watching. While the Association is crucial to negotiating a resolution, the Bureau has taken its fight to the individual funeral homes. Will other state’s regulators follow suit?