Saturday, September 26, 2009

Where burial societies go to die

The NY Times has a story on burial societies, cooperatives set up by immigrants in the 1800s and early 1900s to buy and maintain cemeteries. Membership came with burial rights. But the members of the remaining burial societies are aging, and as the society administrators die, it is hard to find replacements: With Demise of Jewish Burial Societies, Resting Places Are in Turmoil .

Various public agencies have gotten involved, e.g. in NY, the New York State Division of Cemeteries exercises general supervision over cemeteries, while the New York State Insurance Department supervises insurance companies. A burial society is both. The Insurance Department's Liquidation Bureau protects consumers who hold policies with failed insurance companies, and its office of Miscellaneous Estates has taken over the administration of some of the burial societies, until their last members are buried.

"Mark G. Peters, who heads the quasi-public Liquidation Bureau...said the government viewed burial societies as a type of insurer. “They may be a historically anachronistic insurance product,” he said, “but we are essentially the only safety net for people still depending on these societies.” "

At a time when the appropriate role of regulators for a variety of markets, including insurance markets, is under new scrutiny, it's reassuring to hear of a fairly unobtrusive regulator stepping up to do the job for which it was designed.

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