News | Regulation & Enforcement

For Immediate Release: October 01, 2009
Source:
NEMS Daily Journal

Unearthing facts

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann's aggressive investigations and assessments of alleged substantial criminality involving numerous pre-need burial and perpetual-care cemetery contracts should help reassure Mississippians whose stress about final arrangements has been pushed beyond the breaking point.

Scores turned out in Booneville on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss contracts involving Prentiss Memorial Gardens in Baldwyn and Liberty Memorial Gardens in Booneville, two cemeteries in receivership and under state protection. Pinecrest Memorial Park in Calhoun City and Sunset Memorial Gardens in Laurel also are involved in cases in which owners allegedly converted trust funds to their own names, leaving the trusts virtually penniless and unable to fulfill commitments.

Few issues add more stress for individuals and families than complications about funeral and burial arrangements. Those situations, fraught with emotion, also have become increasingly expensive, an issue for careful planning with a need for steady assurance that investments are safe.

The Booneville meetings, and another set for today in Calhoun City, will help the receiver sell the cemeteries and stabilize, at least in part, the contracts of stakeholders.

Knowing the potential assets in contracts will provide the receiver with helpful information for marketing the properties.

Pam Weaver, director of communications in the secretary of state's office, said the record-keeping of the former cemetery owners is so shoddy that it cannot be determined precisely how many stakeholders are involved. As the holders of contracts come forward, the contracts can be counted as potential value for new owners.

The contractees have been encouraged to make regular payments to the receiver in a secure state-administered trust until a new owner is secured.

The process makes no guarantee that stakeholders will be made whole at the end. People with contracts for plots and perpetual care are more likely to realize full benefit, but contracts that include burial vaults probably won't be fully recoverable, officials said, even with a sale.

While the hearings in Booneville and the one today in Calhoun City are expected to draw many stakeholders, the process will remain open for direct contact with the secretary of state's office. The mailing address is P.O. Box 136, Jackson, MS 39205. Telephone assistance is available by calling (601) 359-6361, and documentation information can be e-mailed to administrator@sos.state.ms.us.

A separate criminal investigation by the Attorney general's office is in process, but the timetable is uncertain.

We believe a wider investigation, beyond the scope of the four cemeteries involved in this process, should be undertaken to examine the whole pre-need industry statewide, for reassurance, if nothing more.



column