I stand corrected.

A representative of the Michigan Funeral Directors Association advises that their request for proposal for a new investment advisor for the master trust has resulted in the selection of a firm that will not only assume a true fiduciary relationship to funeral directors and consumers, but that will also guide the Association towards a target date investment strategy. Such an investment strategy would represent a true demarcation from the approach I was so critical of in a March post about the Michigan RFP.

Too often, the fiduciary’s approach to preneed investment has been to offer three investment options to the funeral director. The fiduciary may even allow the funeral director to choose an asset allocation among the investment options. Little regard is given to the experience and sophistication the funeral director possesses with regard to financial and investment considerations. While Michigan law imposes a separate investment standard on non-guaranteed contracts, that is not the case in most states. Consequently, the two types of contracts are typically pooled in the same trust, and invested similarly. This presents a problem for the funeral directors that either take chances with the market or are ultra conservative. Another flawed investment approach is to allow income reporting to be the exclusive consideration.

Corporate fiduciaries have struggled with the delegation of investment responsibilities of the preneed trust. The uniform trust code contemplates the delegation of the investment responsibilities, and may even require such when the fiduciary lacks the expertise to properly invest the trust. But, it is virtually impossible to transfer the liability of that delegation. Applicable statutes contemplate notice and consent of the trust beneficiaries. The investment risk lies with the consumer who has purchased a non-guaranteed contract. With guaranteed contracts, the investment risk is assumed primarily by the funeral director. However, that risk is shifted to the consumer if the contract is ‘re-written’ when the purchaser’s survivors select a different arrangement at the time of need. The investment risk is also transferred when the funeral home goes out of business and the preneed contracts are not assumed by a successor entity.

Depending upon the factors incorporated by the investment strategy, the target date plan can provide a better model for the death care industry.