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  • August 06, 2022 12:12 PM | Caroline Bowers (Administrator)

    The Preneed Bank Trust in Wisconsin: A Dinosaur That Needs to Go Extinct -Michael D. Sharkey, Esq., CFSP

    Before I did my apprenticeship and went to mortuary school I trained to be a biologist. I was particularly interested in natural selection and the manner and methods by which any given species would evolve into existence, thrive, maintain, decline, or go extinct. Just as species evolve and fill a niche, a particular environmental condition in which the species thrives, they also fall out of favor when those conditions change. One thing that the study of biology and geology teaches is that conditions always change after the passage of enough time, and new species rise to fill new niches while others go extinct in those changed conditions. There is a lesson to be learned in that, and this article discusses how that lesson should be applied to traditional preneed bank trusts.

    Fast forward from those days as a biology student to the present day. As General Counsel to the WFDA, I am normally excited to answer the phone from the members of WFDA. Troubleshooting the many problems that come up for Wisconsin funeral directors and finding solutions for them truly brings me happiness.

    There is one exception to this and one call I do not enjoy: Hearing about problems with a preneed bank trust. It is a dinosaur that has outlived its niche due to changes in conditions. The traditional preneed bank trust is a creature that, because of changes to the nature of banking itself, is relegated to the fossil record. The modern banking environment is nothing like it was just a mere 20 years ago.

    At just about every one of the last ten or so WFDA Conventions I have discussed, even cajoled, our members to move away from the traditional preneed bank trust. The time for this antiquated dinosaur to finally go extinct is here. The year is 2022 and preneed bank trusts need to go the way of embalming with arsenic.

    The days of the “home town” bank have all but disappeared. Local banks have been bought up by regional banks. Regional banks have been bought up by national banks. National banks are being bought up by international financial conglomerates. The vice president at the bank down the street from your funeral home is now beholden to the corporate overlords at “Big Bank” in New York, London, or even Zurich. The “local bank” officer whose mom you buried and who you see at church no longer has the ability to help you when there is a problem with a preneed bank trust. The “policies and procedures” of “Big Bank” are made thousands of miles away by people the local bank officers will never meet.

    Put bluntly, these Big Banks simply do not want to work with funeral homes. Far too often I take calls from WFDA members who either cannot access bank trust funds or to whom the bank will not even provide basic information. Funeral directors in Wisconsin share their frustrations with me and ask for my help… and there is often little I can do. The common theme is the bank being obstinate, if not openly problematic.

    Time and again, I hear the same thing reported to me by our members. On average, the conversation goes like this:

    Funeral director: “Hello, I have the Smith family coming in this morning to make arrangements for their mother, Jane Smith. She passed away last night. Her preneed account number is ABC123. Can you please tell me how much is in her burial trust account?”

    Bank: “I will need a Death Certificate in order to provide that information.”

    Funeral director: “I’m not asking that you release the funds. I just need to know the current amount. The family is coming in to make arrangements for their mom this morning. I won’t have a Death Certificate for a week at best. I need to know the amount in the account so that the family can make informed decisions.”

    Bank: “I will need a Death Certificate in order to release that information.”

    Funeral director: “But the family is coming in this morning to make arrangements for their mom. I need to know the amount of funds we have to work with.”

    Bank: “I will need a Death Certificate in order to release that information.”

    Imagine the embarrassment and frustration of a funeral director who has a family coming in for arrangements and the bank will not tell the funeral director how much money is in the preneed trust. The funeral home was the one that suggested the bank trust, but now is powerless to provide the basic financial information to the family.

    There are ways to avoid this problem.

    Instead, using one of the many non-bank preneed funding providers places the funeral director in a position of empowerment where there will not be the embarrassment and frustration of being unable to provide needed information to the family. A simple and quick call to one of the many non-bank preneed funding companies and the funeral director is ready to advise the family as to the funds available.

    The traditional banks’ lack of cooperation is not the only problem confronting funeral directors and families. As a mortuary law practitioner, I am aware of several situations in Wisconsin where banks have turned preneed funds over to the unclaimed property division of the state. Some of these banks turn preneed funds over to unclaimed property after a mere twenty years.

    Imagine trying to serve a family only to find out that mom’s preneed fund was turned over to a state bureaucracy as abandoned funds because mom didn’t pass away within the bank’s preferred timeframe. Mom’s longevity was an inconvenience for the bank… and a huge embarrassment for you and a serious problem for the family that you are trying to serve.

    The solution: There are companies that want to work with funeral homes to provide proper, ethical, and comprehensive preneed funding. These companies show up at funeral director conventions to interact with you- the funeral director. These companies sponsor profuneral service programs, contribute to pro-funeral service organizations, and- unlike the banks- want to work with you.

    I go to funeral director conventions and seminars all over the country. I have yet to see a traditional Big Bank promote funeral service… or even so much as have a booth by which to interact with funeral directors. It is not just that the bank does not care about you or your families… they consider preneed accounts annoying (at best). Note that I have yet to use the word “insurance” and am using the term non-bank preneed funding provider or a variation on that unofficial moniker. While preneed insurance is certainly one of the available options, there are non-insurance funding options (often called a trust company) which are also available to you and the families you serve. Many of these folks either focus solely on funeral service or have a division that is dedicated to preened funding. They are happy to work with funeral homes and families to fund preneed accounts and can be found actively supporting funeral service. The institutional knowledge many of these companies have allows them to specifically tailor their services pursuant to state preneed regulations. This is quite different than banks which tend only to think about traditional accounts and do not want to concern themselves with preneed regulations. I make no recommendation as to what option is best for your business or your families. Talk to all of them and make your own informed decisions. That said, I will state that in Wisconsin 99% of the time a non-bank funding option is better than the traditional bank option.

    Generally speaking, the conscientious Wisconsin funeral director should not be writing preneed bank trust funds going forward- those funds should be placed with the non-bank preneed funding companies that want to work with you and have the best interests of the families you serve in mind. When preneeds that are already at banks can be converted over to non-bank funding sources (which may or may not be easy to do depending on the circumstances) they should be.

    In conclusion, the dinosaur of the traditional bank preneed needs to go extinct. Do not be the funeral home that clings to the antiquated ways of yesteryear that work against your professionalism and which are not in the best interest of your families. In other words- do not let your reputation go extinct with traditional bank preneeds. New and better ways to fund preneeds have emerged and should be embraced by Wisconsin funeral directors- doing such is in the best interest of the families you serve. You have put too much work and dedication into this beloved Dismal Trade of ours to become part of the fossil record.

    Michael D. Sharkey is a licensed funeral director and attorney who specializes in mortuary law and civil litigation. He serves as General Counsel to the Academy of Professional Funeral Service Practice and the Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Washington State Funeral Directors Associations. Sharkey is an equity Shareholder at the Minneapolis law firm Cousineau, Van Bergen, McNee & Malone, where he serves as Chair of the Mortuary Law Practice Group.

    This article is dedicated to my colleague Jenna Krenz, WFDA Past President, who inspired me to write about traditional banks and preneed trust funding. My thanks to her. 

  • July 22, 2022 8:53 AM | Caroline Bowers (Administrator)

    On July 13, 2022, we hosted a Wisconsin's Funeral and Cemetery Aids Program (WFCAP) webinar. Speakers from WFCAP reviewed the program along with the WFCAP manual updates that were released in May 2022. The webinar recording and PowerPoint are now available on the WFDA website to review and share with your staff. Only those who attended the live presentation will receive continuing education credit. 

    We are grateful to the WFCAP team for taking time to answer our questions. That portion of the webinar begins at minute 35:32 in the recording. Questions covered death certificates, General Price Listings (GPL), discounts, application process, ME/Coroner fees and more. 

    Visit Our WFCAP Resources Page

  • July 20, 2022 9:47 AM | Caroline Bowers (Administrator)

    MADISON, WI – Steve Lazarczyk, Matthew Myrhum, James Klemmer, and Joel Walters have been newly elected to provide vision and leadership in the coming year on the Wisconsin Funeral Directors  Association (WFDA) Executive Board of Directors.  

    Steve Lazarczyk will serve as Board President for the 2022-2023 year. Steve is a licensed funeral director and owner of Lazarczyk Family Funeral Homes in Lake Geneva and Delavan. He has served on the WFDA Executive Board for three years, previously serving as Secretary/Treasurer, Vice President and President-Elect. 

    Matthew Myrhum will serve as President-Elect, moving into the role of Board President in the 2023-2024 year. Matthew is a licensed funeral director and owner of Myrhum-Patten Funeral Home in West Bend. He has been on the WFDA Executive Board for two years previously serving as Secretary/Treasurer and Vice President.  

    James Klemmer will serve as Vice President after serving one year as the Secretary/Treasurer for the  WFDA Executive Board. James is licensed funeral director of Heritage Funeral Home in Milwaukee. 

    Joel Walters will serve his first term on the WFDA Executive Board as Secretary/Treasurer. He  previously served on the WFDA Board of Directors as the Fox River Valley District Representative. Joel is a licensed funeral director of Muehl-Boettcher Funeral Home in Seymour. 

    James Wolfe has moved from WFDA Board President to the Immediate Past President position  for the association. He has served on the WFDA Executive Board for four years as Secretary/Treasurer,  Vice President, President-Elect and President. James is a licensed funeral director and owner of Apfel Wolfe Funeral Home in Janesville.

    ABOUT WFDA 

    Founded in 1881, The Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association (WFDA) is the largest state trade  association assisting funeral service professionals in Wisconsin. WFDA supports members with funeral  service news and resources, continuing education, legislative advocacy, and access to a network of professionals to help them better serve their communities. 

    Link to the official Press Release

  • July 14, 2022 10:28 AM | Caroline Bowers (Administrator)

    The Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association (WFDA) acknowledges and appreciates the contributions of outgoing Board Member and Past President, Jenna M. Krenz, CFSP, of Portage. 

    In 2008, Jenna M. Krenz began her career with Pflanz Mantey Mendrala Funeral Home in Portage & Poynette, WI, where she continues to serve the community as a Licensed Funeral Director and Certified Funeral Service Practitioner (CFSP). 

    She first became involved in the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association through the WFDA Central District, which covers funeral homes in Juneau, Adams, Waushara, Marquette, Sauk, Green Lake and Columbia counties.   

    Jenna served on the WFDA Executive Board of Directors for five years. In 2018, Jenna held the office of the WFDA Secretary & Treasurer and in 2019, Vice President of the WFDA.  In 2020, she served as President-Elect and in April 2020, she volunteered to become the funeral director liaison for the State of Wisconsin Covid Task Force.  

    During her Presidency in 2021, she strived to make sure all funeral directors had the Personal Protective Equipment needed to serve their communities and helped obtain priority vaccination status for funeral directors as vaccines became available. Her commitment to representing and serving funeral directors in Wisconsin during the pandemic was invaluable. 

    In 141 years of the WFDA, Jenna’s the 4th female President and is one of the youngest to have served. 

    As the Immediate Past President in 2022, she was instrumental in creating the first Professional Women’s Conference for funeral directors in Wisconsin. She continues to serve as the Chairperson for WFDA Professional Women’s Conference Committee, as well as the WFDA Annual COnvention Committee.

    Jenna also serves as the Secretary of the WFDA Leadership Development Foundation. This WFDA Leadership Development Foundation was established in 2021 to advance the profession of funeral service and support the continuing education and leadership development of member funeral directors.

    ABOUT WFDA 

    Founded in 1881, The Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association (WFDA) is the largest state trade  association assisting funeral service professionals in Wisconsin. WFDA supports members with funeral service news and resources, continuing education, legislative advocacy, and access to a  network of professionals to help them better serve their communities. 

    View Press Release

  • April 25, 2022 10:10 AM | Caroline Bowers (Administrator)

    Read about the event here!


  • November 19, 2021 3:15 PM | Caroline Bowers (Administrator)


  • November 04, 2021 9:15 AM | Caroline Bowers (Administrator)

    Funeral Director Examining Board Renewal

    Your Funeral Director license expires on December 14, 2021.

    The Department of Safety and Professional Services offers a fast and secure online license/credential renewal.

    You may renew your license online here:

    License Renewal Online

    If you do not know your PIN, please use the PIN Look-up link on the login page:

    Pin Look-up

    If you are unable to renew online, please email the Department of Safety and Professional Services at least 15 business days prior to the expiration date of your license/credential to request a renewal form be mailed or e-mailed to you.

    CE Requirements:

    The Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing requires each funeral director to complete at least 15 hours of approved continuing education during each biennial renewal period. The next biennium ends December 14, 2021.

    At least 3 hours must be in each of the following subject categories:

    1. Grief counseling or communication.
    2. Professional conduct, business ethics or legal aspects specifically related to practice in the profession.
    3. Business management concepts relating specifically to delivery of services to a consumer.
    4. Technical or practical aspects of the profession.

    MORE INFORMATION

    • No more than 7 hours may be acquired through in-service continuing education programs sponsored by a funeral establishment.
    • No more than 2 hours may be acquired for presentation of any continuing education program by a funeral director.
    • No more than 10 hours may be acquired through participation in non-contact home study programs.
  • November 04, 2021 8:51 AM | Caroline Bowers (Administrator)

    Want to update your contact information with WFDA? Need to check your continuing education credits? This is all possible through the WFDA website. We have created this step by step guide for how to access your account and where to find the information you need. 

    WFDA Member Profile Guide 2021.pdf

  • July 22, 2021 2:07 PM | Caroline Bowers (Administrator)

    Alkaline hydrolysis is not currently offered to Wisconsin families. However, legislation is currently being reviewed to give Wisconsin families more choice when it comes to memorializing their loved ones.

    Learn more about alkaline hydrolysis here.

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WISCONSIN FUNERAL DIRECTORS ASSOCIATION

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