As reported by the Memorial Business Journal*, the Illinois Funeral Directors Association has taken back the helm. For the past three years, the IFDA has been a floundering ship in risk of sinking. The master trust that paved the Association’s growth, has been threatening to bring it down. The IFDA took a crucial step to righting the ship when it relieved the ‘Calvert Group’ as plaintiff in the master trust lawsuits. IFDA leadership still faces several challenges to the Association’s survival, but taking charge of the master trust litigation was crucial. Now they must chart a course for resolution of the litigation. IFDA members will be asked to temper their expectations, and that may require an understanding of the master trust and how it crashed.

The Association built a massive master trust through the participation of hundreds of funeral homes from Chicago to Cairo. The program advisors sought to provide what members wanted: simple contract forms, contract data inputting, no risk investments, a consistent return, immediate payouts, and no tax statements. Those advisors also sought to provide the Association a growing source of revenue to support lobbying efforts, educational programs, conventions and even a museum. While all may have seemed good for twenty years, IFDA Services, as the trustee, was playing by its own set of rules. The architect who designed the master trust exploited a provision in the Illinois law that was intended to allow the small operator to avoid the costs of a corporate fiduciary.

In the absence of institutional oversight, the program was more akin to a defined benefits plan or a fraternal insurance company than a trust. The program architect ignored the fundamental fiduciary duties of the preneed trustee, and treated consumers’ payments as though they belonged to the Association. Having crossed that threshold, the program began purchasing an insurance product that would never have been a suitable investment for a preneed trust. The program has been flawed for many years, with many individuals contributing to its problems.

Many IFDA members are measuring their damages by the “values” reported by IFDA Service before the crash, and will not want to settle for less. But, the reason the Comptroller pulled the plug on the program was because, among other things, the master trust promised more than it could deliver.

 *Reprinted with permission from the July 21, 2011 issue of the Memorial Business Journal. To subscribe please call 609-815-8145.