The ‘deadline’ for Missouri preneed sellers to ‘voluntarily’ report their pre-SB1 trust funded sales is a mere two weeks away. Again, this is a voluntary report. As such, missing the ‘deadline’ or failing to use the Board’s form carries no penalty to the preneed seller. So, why file?

The reason expressed by one State Board member was that the report would give preneed sellers the opportunity to demonstrate their trust was appropriately funded. Funeral directors active before the 2009 Missouri Legislature advised their legislators that the actions of NPS were not reflective of the industry as a whole. Legislators were informed that the vast majority of funeral homes put the consumers’ funds in the bank.

Missouri preneed sellers have three funding options: joint accounts, trusts and insurance. The issue of whether joint accounts are properly funded was addressed with the first provider renewal reporting filed this past October 31st. With insurance premiums posted to an insurance carrier, the Board decided trust funding would be their second priority.

The voluntary trust report is the opportunity for those sellers to put their money where their mouth is. Granted, the financial examinations proposed by the Division are far more intrusive than what had been discussed. But, the failure to back up the talk to the legislature will ring hollow in the face of the Board’s initial efforts to back up the industry’s representations.

Individually, funeral homes need to approach the voluntary reporting as another step in organizing their records in a manner to expedite the eventual financial exam. The goal is to get the exam over with a minimum of disruption and problems.

While many sellers are professing to be ‘as clean as a whistle’, most sellers will have issues. In the absence of regular oversight and guidance, funeral directors were left to interpret the law on their own. Mistakes were made, and the State Board would rather help correct those mistakes than pursue disciplinary actions that clog the administrative hearings docket. Accordingly, sellers could use the voluntary trust report to identify any issues they may have, and to outline their own corrective plan. Be a problem solver.

For those sellers who decide to make the Board examiners earn their keep, the expense of oversight will be pushed higher. The $36 per contract fee will prove inadequate, and the discussion will turn to increased fees. If the data should prove that a disproportionate amount of examination time was spent on small sellers who made no effort to comply, the larger preneed sellers will force the cost of the system to be more equitable. Under Illinois law, the preneed regulator has the authority to tag such a seller with a $20,000 audit fee. That represents 555 preneed contract fees that must be borne by the seller, not the trust or the preneed consumers.