Howell funeral homes fined, licenses suspended

By Bill Colvard - bcolvard@MtAiryNews.com
Howell -

Howell Funeral Service and Howell Funeral Services of Pilot Mountain (doing business as Howell-Nelson Funeral Service and Crematory) have been charged by the N.C. Board of Funeral Service with violations of laws and rules involving preneed funeral planning.

The businesses accepted and signed consent orders in which they admitted to the violations and accepted the disciplinary action of the state board.

Both funeral homes’ preneed permits and all connected sales licenses were suspended for three years, but the board issued a stay on the suspensions if certain conditions are met. They were each fined $3,000.

The funeral director’s licenses of the licensed manager of Howell-Nelson, Ralph Howell, and the licensed manager of Howell Funeral Service, Donald Rierson, were also suspended for three years, and those suspensions can also be stayed if required conditions are met.

Catherine Lee, general counsel to the board of Funeral Service, defined “preneed” as when one prepays for service before the time of death. The prepayments are handled either as trust accounts by a financial institution or as an insurance policy by an insurance company.

Funeral homes offering the service act as intermediaries and are required to follow rules and regulations, several of which the state alleged were violated, according to Lee.

When asked if the two funeral homes had so far complied with the consent order’s demands, general counsel Lee said, “There are no outstanding disciplinary orders.”

Representatives of Howell-Nelson and Howell-Funeral Service were not immediately available for comment. Lee, declined to speak about specifics of individual cases before the board but directed The News to the board’s website, ncbfs.org, where the consent orders are posted. Those orders are summarized below.

Howell-Nelson

Howell-Nelson’s difficulties with the board began with consumer complaints on Aug. 24.

In the first complaint, a customer alleged that she had made a preneed purchase from Howell-Nelson on Dec. 23, 2016. The customer said her check was not cashed until May 2017, and at the time of filing the complaint, her $20 check for the filing fee had not been cashed. The contract had not been registered with the state board.

Howell-Nelson responded to the board in September that the check for the filing fee was lost in the mail and that they mailed the check for the insurance policy to the wrong address.

At the time the consent order was signed on March 14, 2018, the board had still not received the $20 filing fee or a $25 late fee.

In a second complaint, a customer purchased a preneed contract as power of attorney for her mother on Nov. 10, 2016, and the check she remitted to pay for the insurance policy was not cashed until March 2017. At the time of filing her complaint on Sept. 11, 2017, her check for the filing fee had not been received by the state board. This contract had also not been filed.

After those complaints were received, Board Inspector Darrell Cagle conducted an inspection of the funeral home and their preneed business in September and also conducted a crematory inspection in November.

Cagle reported the following violations of the board’s statutes and rules:

  • The most recent financial statements for insurance policies were not available for review.
  • Records showed evidence of comingling entrusted preneed funds and general funds.
  • No beneficiary designation document was retained in contract files in two cases.
  • No documentation was available to determine the final disposition of preneed contract funds for three closed contract files.
  • No evidence that proper credit for cash advance/sales tax was found in a closed file.
  • No correctly completed at-need statement of funeral goods and services was found in four individual files.
  • Certificates of performance were not retained in six individual files. Certificates of performance were not filed with the board in four cases.
  • Records showed that a refund of $357.20 due to an estate had not been paid.
  • Records showed that $1,213.31 due to an estate was paid instead to the purchaser of the preneed contract.
  • Signed death certificates were not retained in three instances.
  • Three cremation files were not found.
  • Two cremations were not reported to the board in Aug. 2017 cremation report.
  • Despite four attempts to contact Howell-Nelson by mail regarding failure to submit certificates of performance for several individuals with their 2016 Preneed Annual Report, the required certificates had still not been provided as of March 14.

The consent order adopted by the board, accepted by by Howell-Nelson, and signed by Ralph D. Howell as its licensed manager, suspended the funeral home’s preneed permit and all connected sales licenses and its crematory permit for three years, but stayed the suspension if several conditions were met.

The conditions are that the funeral home must admit to the violations. They must pass a re-audit within six months of the effective date of the consent order without substantial deficiencies or the stay of suspension will be lifted until a hearing can be held.

The funeral home will be on probation during the suspension period and must submit to and pass an audit before the probation period is lifted. Within 10 days of the effective date of the consent order, all unfiled preneed contracts must be filed and unpaid filing and late fees must be paid. Howell-Nelson must not violate any other rules during the suspension period, must respond to all communications from the board in a timely manner, comply with all terms of the consent order and pay a penalty of $3,000 within 30 days of the consent order taking effect.

Ralph Howell’s funeral director license was also suspended for three years, but the suspension was stayed if Howell met certain conditions. Those conditions are to admit to the violations, be placed on probation for three years, not violate any rules during the probation period, respond timely to all communication from the board and its staff, and comply with all terms of the consent order.

The consent order became effective on March 14 when it was signed by Ralph Howell and NC Board of Funeral Service Board President Matt Staton.

Howell Funeral Service

Howell Funeral Service and its licensed manager, Donald Rierson, were subjected to a funeral home examination and a preneed examination by Inspector Darrell Cagle in Sept. 2017. During the examination, Cagle found the following violations of rules and statutes:

  • The most recent financial statements for insurance policies were not available for review.
  • Records showed evidence of comingling entrusted preneed funds and operating funds.
  • No beneficiary designation document was retained in contract files in one case.
  • Credit for cash advance/sales tax was not calculated in one closed individual file.
  • No correctly completed at-need statement of funeral goods and services was found in three individual files.
  • Certificates of performance were not retained in three individual files. Certificates of performance were not filed with the board in three cases.
  • Despite five attempts to contact Howell Funeral Service by mail regarding failure to submit certificates of performance for several individuals with their 2016 Annual Report, the required certificates had still not been provided as of March 14.

The consent order adopted by the board, accepted by by Howell Funeral Service, and signed by Donald Rierson as its licensed manager, suspended the funeral home’s preneed permit and all connected sales licenses, but stayed the suspension if the same conditions were met as the Mount Airy location.

Similarly, Donald Rierson’s funeral director license was suspended for three years, but the suspension is stayed if Rierson meets the same conditions as Ralph Howell.

The consent order became effective on March 14 when it was signed by Rierson and Staton.

Howell
https://www.thestokesnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Ralph-Howell.jpgHowell
Licenses suspended

By Bill Colvard

bcolvard@MtAiryNews.com

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.