Protecting Yourself from Estate Planning Scams
The media is full of reminders about how important estate planning is. For those living in Florida, with a large population over 65, this message is even more prevalent. Contemplating the need for estate planning is especially common as one gets older, and individuals begin to consider what will happen when they are gone. Often the ads and other sources misrepresent what their standard forms can accomplish or offer recommendations that are dishonest or may even border on fraud. Often “estate planning” is used merely as a marketing device to then pitch you to buy something else. Exploiting a client’s fears might be the means used to sell an unnecessarily complex and expensive estate plan. Avoiding estate planning scams is very important for seniors, and a person must do his/her due diligence when considering how to set up a structure to address present, future, and post-death needs and desires. However, there are some recurring approaches that indicate an estate planning offer is not legitimate, as well as circumstances that can make a person more susceptible to misrepresentation and fraud. Following is a discussion of some tactics that seniors, and anyone else starting the estate planning process should keep in mind, and specific things to avoid in order to reduce the likelihood of becoming ensnared in an estate planning scam.
Common Estate Planning Scams
To properly formulate an appropriate estate plan, a person will need to discuss sensitive family information and confidential personal information to the advisor. The individual chosen to receive this information must be appropriately licensed and trustworthy. Everyone will claim to be honest, including telemarketers offering unsolicited estate planning services over the phone. Unsolicited offers for estate planning services should raise a number of red flags. Picking the best advisor must be done carefully and the decision should be made only after careful consideration. What is the education, specialized training, years of experience, recommendations and ratings of the person you will be working with? Never work with an unknown entity or individual. Some unscrupulous estate planners will charge unreasonably high fees, or recommend creating a new or duplicate estate plan, even though an existing one might be sufficient or could be economically amended or updated. Scam artists often make untrue claims about what a living trust or will can do to protect assets, and often imply or falsely state the need for or benefits of living trusts. Some examples include:
- Living trusts will completely eliminate any tax liability;
- Living trusts can block creditors from reaching assets, even after a legal proceeding is in progress;
- Living trusts can be legally used to disguise the real recipient of trust income; or
- Charitable trusts can be used to hide assets from creditors and/or the government.
Not only can improperly structured estate plans leave the creator and/or heirs at risk of losing control over the disposition of assets, if a trust or other legal document facilitates an illegal purpose, penalties may be imposed, and the governing document entirely invalidated.
Factors that Increase Risk
Individuals and entities looking to sell a shoddy or ill-advised estate plan will often look for specific factors that will increase the likelihood a person will fall for these offers. One issue that is particularly worrisome is the senior waiting until the very last minute to address this issue when his/her capacity may be compromised by illness or age. Being proactive to set up an estate plan before an emergency or other pressing matter arises allows a person to be deliberate and alert to any unseemly issues. Thus, taking time to decide who to work with on an estate plan, and only working with an attorney experienced with estate planning matters, is essential to good outcomes. Further, never make a decision on the spot. A legitimate estate planner will encourage an individual to think about his/her decision. Finally, asking questions about all possible options and the potential outcomes is another way to gauge the level of knowledge and rapport a person can expect from the estate planning attorney, a key element of crafting an effective estate plan.
Speak with a Estate Planning Attorney
Your assets are not a matter you want to leave to a do-it-yourself kit or infomercial on TV. Estates plans require time and knowledge to create, and William Rambaum has decades of experience, allowing him to assess your needs and desires to form a plan that is most suitable. Contact the Oldsmar estate planning law firm to schedule an appointment.