Offers that sound too good to be true usually are. The unscrupulous try to draw you in and then sell you services that are not appropriate for you. Unfortunately, as with almost any other product or service, there are scam artists, often called a “trust mill,” that purport to offer estate planning services at a bargain.
These scam artists market estate planning services using scare tactics and bargain-basement prices. They started out selling off-the-shelf revocable living trusts. Their newest scam includes charitable remainder trusts. The Attorneys General of states all around the country, from Pennsylvania to California, investigated these operations and have closed them down. However, operations seem to pop up even faster than they can be closed down.
These trust mills prey on retired people and make their living from defrauding seniors of money they worked a lifetime to save. Trust mills often use phone solicitation or public seminars to draw you in. Typically, the speaker at the seminar is not an attorney. Often, the trust mill representative will meet with you in your home to gather your information. The documents are generated and purportedly “reviewed” by an attorney, whom you may never even meet.
What’s in it for the trust mill?
Typically, trust mills charge low fees for preparing a cookie-cutter plan that may not consider your individual circumstances and may not even be based on the laws of your state. However, most trust mills are not in business for the money they get from selling a revocable trust or charitable remainder trust or other estate planning documents. Often, they use estate planning as a way of gaining your confidence and learning information about your assets. They use this information to sell you annuities, long-term care insurance, and other insurance or financial products with large commissions.
How do you recognize legitimate services?
Legitimate, quality estate planning services are offered only by an attorney who is licensed to practice in your state. The attorney should focus his or her practice on estate planning and elder law. They may give public seminars in which the attorney provides basic information to the public. Most importantly, the attorney will meet with you to discuss your goals, your family, and your situation. The attorney will draft a document that is specifically tailored to achieve your goals.
After you have signed your documents, the attorney or his or her assistant will assist you in “funding” or transferring assets into your trust. If you have questions, either while your plan is being prepared or later, you can call the attorney. While the attorney may enlist the assistance of paralegals or others, the attorney will be involved in oversight of each stage of the process and will be available to answer your questions.
Many reputable estate planning firms will discuss how insurance and other financial products may fit within your overall estate plan and goals and should be accommodated by your estate plan. This is a vast difference from the traveling insurance salesman of the trust mill. With a legitimate estate planning attorney, you, your goals, and your family come first.
If you think you have encountered a trust mill, ask if the attorney will meet with you and if you can meet at the attorney’s office. If the answer is no, immediately report the organization to your state Attorney General’s office. You will be helping to protect scores of seniors in your state and perhaps across the country who are not as savvy as you are and who might otherwise be scammed.
A legitimate, quality estate planning attorney will welcome your scrutiny and will be there for you to rely on as your circumstances change and you move along life’s road.
Compliments of the McGee Law Firm, Attorney Brandon McGee
Written By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
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