Maybe it’s a response to shrinking state budgets, or the fact that the tracking of preneed funds is becoming more effective, but state and local prosecutors are assuming an expanding role in the enforcement of preneed laws.

While a recent report released by the Missouri State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors reflects a drop in the number of preneed complaints that it handled in 2010 (44 complaints after a spike in 187 complaints in 2008 and 127 complaints in 2009), the Missouri Attorney General’s Office reports having handled 887 preneed complaints in 2010. One of those complaints ended with a former Butler, Missouri funeral operator being sentenced to seven years in prison.

As previously reported in this blog, the new Illinois Comptroller responded very quickly to a preneed complaint by referring a funeral home to the State Attorney’s office for prosecution. In 2009, the Kansas cemetery regulator worked with local prosecutors when a Hutchinson cemetery acknowledged that funds were missing from both a preneed trust and a permanent maintenance trust.

Here in the Midwest, a death care operator could go years without an audit. While some states required some form of preneed reporting, there was little evidence those reports were being reviewed. Consequently, the operator who may have had trouble making payroll had little fear of prosecution so long as the preneed contracts were being serviced. That is changing.

Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska have implemented (or will implement) new reporting requirements (and in some cases, audits). If trusts are found to be deficient or empty, regulators seem to be more willing to turn the matter over to a prosecutor who has a vested interest in protecting voters with an empty preneed account.