Beware the Trust Mills and Their Peddlers

A very good Times Herald article sheds light on the problematic practice of non-attorneys pushing estate planning documents on unsuspecting consumers.  Not surprising, this advice is given for the non-attorney’s own financial gain.  There’s big money in peddling “estate plans” on an unsuspecting public.

In Michigan, our State Bar has received numerous complains regarding estate plan salespersons practicing law without an attorney license by giving legal advice. The Michigan Attorney General and the Michigan Office of Financial and Insurance Services have received numerous complaints about deceptive sales practices by annuity and life insurance sales persons.  To counter these predators, the State Bar of Michigan Elder Law and Disability Rights Section and the Probate and Estate Planning Section have been promoting “A Living Trust Education Initiative,” the goal of which is to educate Michiganders about deceptive estate planning schemes and what to look out for.

These predators, commonly known as “trust mill peddlers,” use two primary schemes to separate you from your money. The first scheme is a free lunch or dinner presentation under the guise of providing “estate planning” or similar information.  (Who can pass up a free meal?)  The second is the home visit generated by a lead card mailed to you offering free estate planning information that you fill out and mail back to them. Some will even use a combination of the two.

Once they get in front of you, trust mill peddlers will attempt to sell you a trust plan without learning about your situation or your assets and income. They tell you they don’t need to know the specifics of your situation, your family, or how you want your assets distributed after your death, because they know what you need and their trust plan will protect you.  They will often times employ scare tactics to get you to buy their trust plan. Their ultimate goal, however, isn’t to provide you with an estate plan. It’s to get you to purchase expensive annuities, life insurance, and other investment products through the companies they represent, on the basis that the trust plan will work best with these products (which generate high commission income and fees for them).

So, how do you protect yourself from the trust mill peddlers? Most importantly, always rely upon trusted, knowledgeable, and licensed legal, insurance, investment, and tax professionals to help you with your financial and legal affairs. If you do not know any yourself, ask a friend or relative for a referral.  Second, avoid the common tactics used by trust mill peddlers, such as informational meetings including a meal, lead cards sent to you in the mail offering free estate planning information, and non-attorneys coming to your home to sell you an estate or trust plan.

Read the entire article here.