I was speaking with a new client recently regarding an estate settlement matter. This client was referred to me following the death of his wife. He needed assistance in the settlement of her estate. When I asked him if his wife had a Will, he pulled out a big black binder about the size of two dictionaries. When I looked through the book, it was clear what had happened.
This client had set up a living trust. Upon closer inspection, the trust documents were not signed properly, the signatures were not notarized, and many of the pages had blanks for the names that were handwritten. It became clear to me that this client was a victim of a living trust mill.
Living trust mills are typically staffed by non-lawyer salespersons who take advantage of a consumer’s reluctance to retain attorneys and sell the victim a pre-packaged bundle of trusts for a substantial fee. The trusts rarely accomplish the stated goals and are merely used as a pretense to gain access to the individual’s financial information and sell them insurance or annuity contracts.
This is defined by nearly every state in the United States as the unauthorized practice of law. In fact, there have been several cases decided over the last several years against these companies and advertising strategies.
Cleveland Bar Association v. Sharp Estate Services, Inc.
In this case, it was determined that Sharp Estate Services was engaging in the unauthorized practice of law and was ordered to pay a civil penalty of $1,027,260.00.
Cincinnati Bar Association v. Mid-South Estate Planning
In this case, Mid-South Estate Planning was ordered to pay a civil penalty of $17,500 for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.
State of California v. Family First Advanced Estate Planning, et al.
In this cse, the State of California Attorney General and California Insurance Commissioner filed suit against a number of defendants including Family First Advanced Estate Planning, Family First Insurance Services, American Investors Life Insurance Company, Inc., Group Legal Services, Inc., Senior Law Practice Group, P.C., Thomas R. Lee, Nick A. Michaels, John Owen, Thomas R. Lee, 200 other unnamed defendants alleging $110 million in damages. In the end, the case settled where $7.2 million was paid by the defendants in the form of a civil penalty.
Columbus Bar Association v. Am. Family Prepaid Legal Corp.
In this case, the Court imposed a $6.3 million civil penalty for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law in the selling of “living trusts.”
The warning that these cases provide are that estate planning is not a one size fits all approach, and a form living trust will rarely be sufficient or appropriate for the family based upon their particular family circumstances and goals they have for their family. Estate planning advice and your decision regarding estate planning should only be determined after speaking with an attorney about your unique situation.
You should refrain from accepting legal advice or legal services from non-attorneys. First, it’s against the law. But more importantly, it will likely not serve your family well when it comes time for them to rely on that plan.
When it comes time to engage in estate, legacy, and end of life planning, make sure you obtain legal advice from a knowledgeable, experienced, and competent attorney in the area of estate planning, wills, ad trusts. Only then, can you be assured that the plan you set up for your family will work when they need it the most.
If you are interested in speaking with our office about estate planning and establishing the perfect plan that will work for your family when they need it the most, please contact us at (615) 472-2482 or fill out the contact form below to schedule an initial consultation.