The Missouri State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors staff has some new faces, and in contrast to most rookies, these newcomers are playing pivotal roles in developing examination procedures for the state’s preneed funeral sellers. The Division of Professional Registration chose personnel with prior auditing experience, but as these ‘rookies’ are learning, there is little in the way of guidelines for the examination of trust funded preneed. Missouri’s preneed heritage only makes their task more difficult.
With one of the nation’s more generous trusting requirements, Missouri is dominated by preneed trusts. Until SB1’s passage in 2009, the State Board lacked rulemaking authority to address the numerous gaps and ambiguities in Chapter 436. Chapter 436 also governed the sale of vaults and burial services, which brought cemeteries into the mix. Allow an industry to operate 25 years without examinations or rules and you get a hodge podge of seller programs, each operating differently from the next guy.
Like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates, the preneed examiner may experience a surprise with each seller he/she visits. While these surprises may not necessarily constitute violations of Chapter 436, they can be challenging when seeking a certain continuity from seller to seller. It is that continuity that will help define the examination procedures to use with the preneed trusts established prior to SB1.
As a consequence, Missouri’s preneed examination procedures remain a work in progress. The initial exams will probably take longer, with the examiners comparing notes and revising the draft procedures with each examination. For the time being, those procedures will focus on whether preneed sellers and providers are complying with new preneed contract and licensing requirements, and with the handling of that the preneed payments are being made to the proper funding agent. One of the procedures to be tested by the examiners will be a consumer letter.
As a part of the final stages of the preneed seller exam, the State Board staff will generate a consumer letter with information from the annual report filed by the seller. The letter will go to each consumer who is making payments on a contract, or who has lapsed in making payments. A sampling (5%) of the seller’s paid in full contracts will also receive the letter. The letter will set out the consumer’s contract number, the sales price and payment balance (as reported by the seller), and the request that the consumer contact the examiner only if the consumer’s records conflict with that data.
As reported by the blog in February, Illinois also has a consumer statement requirement, but it differs from Missouri in that the preneed fiduciary must send out the statement, and provide information about expenses and the trust ‘inventory’.
Funeral directors are fearful that such consumer notices will cause confusion, and lead consumers to believe the funeral home is in trouble. While problems may be encountered, the consumer notice is one of the few procedures available for detecting the small percentage of funeral directors who pocket the consumer’s payments. But if handled correctly, the statement could be used to help to maintain consumer confidence in the funeral home.