Recession and Preneed

The "R" word is back again. We're only three years removed from the housing bubble burst, but a sense of normalcy seemed to be returning to the death care industry. It wasn't necessarily a return to the old ways, not with the increase in cremations and regulations. But, many operators were coming to grips with the changes that needed to be made. This past week's events suggest the nation's economy has entered another turbulent period that could last several years. The debt-ceiling crisis, cuts to government spending, and foreign debt problems impacted US government bonds, foreign bond markets and the stock market. That's bad news for insurance companies, preneed trusts and perpetual care trusts. Regardless of what type of funding a death care operator uses, the two-year economic forecast has to be concerning. The costs to servicing a guaranteed contract will likely outpace the funding growth. Insurance companies will attempt to adjust through premium rate changes. But, can the consumer afford the premiums? As reported by the Wall Street Journal a year ago, consumers are finding they cannot afford the multiple pay policy, and if they have to cancel, the cash surrender value is a fraction of the amount paid. We panned this article when published because it tried to characterize preneed as an investment, and for the elder attorney's naïveté. However, the concluding recommendation has merit. A final expense trust provides both the consumer and death care operator a funding alternative that can meet their respective needs: affordability, flexibility, protections and higher cancellation refunds. But, it is not practical advice to tell the consumer to start up his/her own trust. Rather, this is an opportunity for death care operators to offer a product matched to the times.

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