When Missouri’s endowed care law was passed in 1994, all cemeteries were required to register with the Office of Endowed Care Cemeteries. Cemeteries can seek licensing as either an endowed care cemetery or a non-endowed cemetery, or the cemetery could claim it was exempt from Chapter 214 pursuant to the definition of “Cemetery” pursuant to RSMo Section 214.270(4):
(4) “Cemetery”, property restricted in use for the interment of the human dead by formal dedication or reservation by deed but shall not include any of the foregoing held or operated by the state or federal government or any political subdivision thereof, any incorporated city or town, any county or any religious organization, cemetery association or fraternal society holding the same for sale solely to members and their immediate families;
The Missouri Endowed Care Act also provided definitions of cemetery association, fraternal cemetery and religious cemetery:
(5) “Cemetery association”, any number of persons who shall have associated themselves by articles of agreement in writing as a not-for-profit association or organization, whether incorporated or unincorporated, formed for the purpose of ownership, preservation, care, maintenance, adornment and administration of a cemetery. Cemetery associations shall be governed by a board of directors. Directors shall serve without compensation;
(22) “Fraternal cemetery”, a cemetery owned, operated, controlled or managed by any fraternal organization or auxiliary organizations thereof, in which the sale of burial space is restricted solely to its members and their immediate families;
(36) “Religious cemetery”, a cemetery owned, operated, controlled or managed by any church, convention of churches, religious order or affiliated auxiliary thereof in which the sale of burial space is restricted solely to its members and their immediate families;
The original intent behind the 1994 amendments to Chapter 214 was to provide consumers information and disclosures regarding whether a cemetery did or did not maintain a care fund for future maintenance. The law change would not force a cemetery to establish a care fund, but if it did not that fact had to be disclosed to the consumer at the cemetery gate and on its documents.
The law changes recognized that certain types of cemeteries were dependent on outside sources of funding for future maintenance, and therefore could be excluded from Chapter 214. Cemetery associations are non-profit organizations with a single purpose of providing care and raising funds for their cemetery. Fraternal cemeteries have a very similar purpose, but are also recognized by state law as having a charitable purpose. Religious cemeteries obviously would rely upon a specific church, parish or synagogue for support.
Currently, 1,118 Missouri cemeteries are registered pursuant to the requirements of the state’s endowed care law. Approximately 90% of all registered cemeteries have claimed they are exempt from Chapter 214. However, the number of “exempt cemeteries” is probably much greater that those registered with Missouri’s Office of Endowed Care Cemeteries. Our review of the registered cemeteries did not include any of Kansas City’s prominent religious cemeteries. While a number of Jewish Cemeteries in the St. Louis area are registered, few other prominent religious cemeteries in St. Louis or Springfield are registered.
Our clients include a number of cemetery associations, some of which have made the decision to remain off the regulator’s radar screen. Invariably, representation of a cemetery association will almost certainly lead to a discussion regarding declining revenues and the need to invade their care fund. It is our personal experience that the association’s board will be reluctant to share their financial difficulties with the cemetery membership, let alone with a state regulator.
This begs the question whether Missouri’s endowed care law is of much benefit to the state’s cemetery consumer. A very small number of cemeteries are jumping hurdles for compliance with Chapter 214, but the vast majority of cemetery consumers have no access to information needed to determine whether their cemetery is in a position to provide adequate care for years to come. Should Missouri consider a simpler, more comprehensive cemetery care fund law?
In our next post we will examine how the Chapter 214 exemption puts Missouri religious cemeteries at a preneed disadvantage.