Microsoft’s early efforts to force regular program updates were a nightmare. Like a gremlin that visited at night, the update often changed default settings that you never completely understood in the first place. Sometimes the update would impact the compatibility of other critical programs. To avoid the hassle of these updates, I toggled off the Microsoft updates for several years. And then when a drive failed, dozens and dozens of MS patches and updates had to be downloaded and installed, costing me time and expense.

The preneed regulatory systems set up by various state legislatures in the 1980’s have begun to crash for the same reason: a failure to update. Preneed has changed since the days when bonds paid double digit returns and preneed programs were the fad. California was no different from most states where preneed opponents outnumbered preneed proponents. Legislative compromises favored the traditional operators who opposed preneed, and the resulting law was disjunctive and confusing.

As time passed, more and more California funeral homes began to offer preneed. In most cases, it started as an accommodation to the consumer who sought to put funds aside. Eventually, competition not only drove all funeral homes to offer some form of preneed, it also drove them to factor preneed into their business plan. The investment markets also became more complex.

But, the California funeral industry left the preneed law update toggled off, and instead, stretched the law’s ambiguities the best it could to “authorize” new business practices. And, the preneed regulators (first the State Board, and now the Bureau) often played the same game. The Bureau and the CFDA are now locked in a lawsuit (over an antiquated law) that will leave both sides bruised and defensive. The posture taken by the AG suggests the fight could be nasty. But the facts suggest, the State should look to make prospective changes.

NPS exploited the weaknesses of Missouri’s 1986 law, and that company’s collapse gave Missouri regulators the ammunition required to force a new preneed operating system on its funeral industry. The 2009 law has its flaws, and needs changes (other than those in SB340), but preneed life continues in Missouri. Missouri regulators would like to go back in time to change some of the prior law’s flaws, but the push to make retroactive changes has been measured.

In Illinois, the IFDA put together a master trust and an insurance program that pushed the envelope beyond the Comptroller’s tolerance. The Comptroller’s responded much in the same vein as the California regulators did. While entrenched in a lawsuit, the Comptroller pushed his legislative agenda through the legislature. But, Illinois got more of a preneed system patch than a new operating system. Eventually, Illinois is due for a significant preneed system upgrade.

Nebraska is another state that may be due for some form of a preneed update. With a reporting system based on tax cost basis, preneed regulators want to introduce market value into the computation for income distributions. The objective has merit, but the 1987 law can only be stretched so far.

Getting a preneed law that works for both operators and regulators will never be a “one and done” project. Occasional updates will be required.