Estate planning scams come in many different forms. A fraudulent scheme can originate with an unsolicited phone call, email, postal letter, or even a door-to-door salesman. Sometimes a scam is even advertised online, on television, or in print media. The scammers may offer in-home visits to explain estate planning or other products or free meals and presentations to lure unsuspecting victims.
A scam often involves providing a form that they represent as constituting all or part of an estate plan. In recent years, living trusts have been a popular target of estate planning fraud. But a scammer may focus on other forms, such as a last will and testament or power of attorney.
Sometimes, the scammer claims that a specific product, like an annuity or life insurance policy, is essential for your estate plan. Other times, the fraudster tells you that you need to pay them to get a copy of an official government document for your estate plan.
Regardless of the nature of the scam, scammers use scare tactics, misrepresent facts and laws, falsify their own position (such as claiming to be an attorney or government representative), and charge outlandish fees. In some cases, their only goal is to get access to your financial information so they can use it to carry out the fraud.
Several years ago, scam operations called living trust mills swept the country, including the State of Michigan. The fraudsters offered free meals and presentations, where they intimidated attendees with scare tactics. They then told those in attendance that their living trust form would solve all the problems highlighted by the presentation.
While a living trust is a legitimate and valuable estate planning tool, the truth is that a living trust is not appropriate for everyone and every estate plan. No one should create a living trust without consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney. In addition, a living trust should be written to accommodate each person’s unique individual circumstances and goals. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all living trust. Despite these facts, the scammers running the living trust mills duped many people into paying a lot of money for a living trust form the fraudsters provided.
The living trust mill problem became so pervasive that the Michigan Attorney General issued a consumer advisory about it. Attorneys from the State Bar of Michigan made an all-out effort to warn likely targets of the scams. Even the Federal Trade Commission published a notification about the scam on their website.
While the free meal approach abated during the pandemic, scammers have not stopped their efforts to intimidate people into purchasing estate planning forms they don’t need. Fraudsters also continue to develop schemes that manipulate victims into disclosing financial information under the guise of giving estate planning advice.
In recent years, do-it-yourself forms for estate plans and individual estate planning documents have become readily available. Not all do-it-yourself services are scams, but some of them are.
Regardless of whether a DIY form or service is part of a scam, the fact is that you should never create an estate plan before talking with a reputable, experienced estate planning attorney. The do-it-yourself approach works in many situations, but it is a serious mistake to use it to make an estate plan. Establishing a relationship with a local attorney is the best approach, because your lawyer can help you create the right estate plan and assist with revisions when necessary.
Getting assistance from a reputable estate planning lawyer is the only way to protect against estate planning scams. Follow these three simple rules to protect yourself: Never sign any legal document that you do not understand. Never sign an estate planning document without advice from a trustworthy lawyer with legitimate credentials. Never provide financial information or details to someone you do not know, regardless of how much they pressure or intimidate you.
Beware of all unsolicited calls, emails, letters, and other contacts offering to help you with your estate plan. Any such contact is likely to be some type of fraud or scam. Making false claims about their identity and affiliations are common tactics for estate planning scammers. It doesn’t matter who the person claims to be, or whether they claim to have a recommendation from a well-known organization. Do not take the bait. Instead, reach out to a reputable lawyer when you want help with estate planning.
Our estate planning attorneys at the law firm of Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras, P.C., are available to help with all your estate planning needs. We provide a full range of services relating to estate planning and elder law.
We’ve been serving clients in Oakland County and beyond for more than 40 years. Our clients count on our commitment, experience, and credentials when they turn to us for their legal needs. Call us today at (248) 494-4577 or use our online form to talk with our experienced estate and probate attorneys.