Today, the State Bar of Michigan hosted a seminar for seniors at 28 venues across the State of Michigan educating seniors about living trusts, how to avoid estate planning mistakes, and how to avoid deceptive sales tactics of non-lawyers selling cookie-cutter living trust documents and annuities. Each location had at least 1 or 2 volunteer speakers who presented the materials that were prepared by the State Bar of Michigan’s Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee, Elder Law and Disability Rights Section, and Probate and Estate Planning Sections. I co-presented these materials with the Chair of the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee, Christopher Hastings, at the Senior Neighborhood Center located in Lowell, Kent County, Michigan.
We discussed the types of deceptive sales practices you should avoid. Examples of the deceptive sales practices include:
1. Free informational seminars, often including a free meal, being offered by non-lawyers about living trusts, Medicaid-friendly annuities, annuities that help qualify for Veteran’s benefits, or other things.
2. Post-cards from non-lawyers offering free advice on how to reduce or eliminate your estate taxes and avoid probate if you just return it with your name, address, and telephone number.
3. Unsolicited phone calls from non-lawyers about estate planning.
4. Home visits from a non-lawyer salesperson with the premise of offering free information.
Often, you’ll be told that you need a trust because your will is no good and without a trust you’ll lose your privacy, your heirs will lose out, and everything you have will be lost to taxes, attorney fees, and court costs. Once they convince you to purchase a cookie-cutter trust document they claim will be tailored to fit your needs, they will convince you to purchase a high commission annuity that likely makes no sense for you and costs a lot to get out of.
Another more recent example of these types of deceptive sales practices is salespersons, disguised as volunteers of a veterans service non-profit organization, selling unneeded annuities to purportedly help veterans apply for and qualify for veterans benefits (VA Aid and Attendance).
Next we discussed the types of goals a Michigan Estate Planning lawyer has when assisting clients develop an estate plan, none of which include making a commission on a sale:
1. Educating clients about effective estate planning methods, including probate-avoidance techniques.
2. Exploring options for long term care benefits.
3. Discussing and drafting documents that specifically express your individual wishes.
We also discussed the types of advice all Michigan Estate Planning lawyers will generally provide when working with a client on estate planning, which includes advice on Medicaid benefits, Medicare benefits, VA benefits, special needs trusts, long-term care planning, estate tax planning, avoiding uncapping of property taxes, financial durable powers of attorney, probate-avoidance tools, and health care advance directives.
Seniors were left with the final suggestion that they should never rely on insurance and/or securities salespersons to give them competent advice about their estate planning needs. Instead, seniors can trust an estate planning lawyer, who doesn’t use the deceptive sales techniques described above, to advise them about estate planning options that are in their best interest and to carry out their wishes for the benefit of the people they care about.
For more information, see the State Bar of Michigan’s website at www.michbar.org, or contact attorney Melisa Mysliwiec in our Trusts and Estates Department at 616-301-0800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.