Recent document disclosures are reflecting that several factors contributed to the WFDA’s master trust deficiency (and the appointment of a receiver). Certain of those factors relate to the fees paid to fund managers and the association’s sponsorship charges. Those factors are relevant to other association master trusts, and we will explore them in subsequent posts. However, the ‘straw’ that broke this camel’s back came straight from the National Prearranged Services’ playbook.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported that it was the formation of a life insurance company by the WFDA’s Wisconsin Funeral Trust that prompted a regulatory audit by the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance. In 2009, the WFDA used the master trust to set up an insurance company to provide its members a preneed funding alternative to the trust. Wisconsin law requires 100% of the consumer payments to be deposited to trust. In contrast, insurance funding provides funeral homes commissions to offset the costs of a preneed program. This same reality led National Prearranged Services to form a life insurance company. NPS needed an insurance program in order to expand into 100% trusting states. To jumpstart that insurance program, NPS tapped its Missouri and Texas preneed trusts.
NPS exploited a provision of the Missouri law that exculpated the trustee from investment oversight when an independent investment advisor was appointed by the seller. Held harmless by state law, NPS trustees may not have looked further than the statements the seller provided. NPS then appointed an investment advisor that directed the trusts into policies issued by the sister insurance company. In a similar fashion, the WFDA amended its master trust agreement in 2009 to remove the trustee’s investment responsibilities and authorities, and to vest investment control in the fund manager of the WFDA’s choice. And to top that move off, the amendment made information about the trust and parties confidential. If the trustee was unhappy with the situation, it could resign, but it could not make “any public communication that may be reasonably considered derogatory or disparaging to the Association, the Trust, the successor Trustee or any party relating to the Trust.”
There are indications the WFDA funeral trust had been struggling for years to keep up with promised return. But, over the course of three years, the WFDA made radical changes that culminated in the formation of the insurance company. Who was the driving force behind those changes? When advice was sought in 2007 to allow the trust to diversify its assets, the legal opinion was directed to the WFDA executive director Scott Peterson, not the corporate fiduciary.