The State Bar of Michigan has issued a warning to the public: be careful about purchasing estate planning documents from will and trust "kit" companies engaging in direct solicitation. Complaints from Michigan residents who were harmed by the claims of these companies have prompted the Bar to air a series of public service radio ads across the state. The risks of buying "services" from these companies include loss of Medicaid eligibility, increased tax exposure, and expensive delays in probating an estate.
"The State Bar of Michigan is taking a major step to protect the public from those who victimize vulnerable persons who are in need of a lawyer. If we can prevent just one person from being harmed, we will consider our efforts to be successful," said Bruce W. Neckers, president of the State Bar of Michigan.
The companies that consumers are warned against offer "cookie cutter" documents and solicit people in person through direct mail and other means. These "one size fits all" plans run a significant risk that a buyers' estate plan wishes ultimately will not be carried out. Often, after purchasing documents, people are persuaded to move their investments into high-risk vehicles that generate large commissions for the agents.
The person most qualified to provide estate planning services, like drawing up a will or trust or any other legal document that determines what happens to assets, is a licensed Michigan attorney.
Citizens are urged to look for warning signs such as the following:
- An ad or salesperson promising the consumer will "save on legal fees"
- The use of a salesperson. The ethics rules governing attorneys do not permit the use of salespersons
- Encouragement to purchase other products such as investment or insurance
- A "first step" in the program that is anything other than a one-on-one meeting with a licensed attorney
- An offer to purchase the fill-in-the blank forms or an estate planning kit
- No permanent local office
The State Bar's radio campaign is a joint effort of the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee, the Probate and Estate Planning Section, and the Elder Law and Disability Rights Section. The American Association of Retired Persons also assisted in the development of the ad and the State Bar will be coordinating future efforts on the issue with AARP. For more information contact the State Bar of Michigan or call the Attorney General's Consumer Affairs Division hotline at (517) 373 1140.