Who’s in Your Corner: Your Estate Planner, Your Estate Plan and You

Discussing a Document

The Attorney General for Minnesota, Lori Swanson, has recently opened a new chapter in an ongoing battle waged by her office: specifically, taking on so-called “trust mills,” the Owatonna People’s Press reported. Swanson’s ongoing pursuit highlights the importance, for anyone considering creating an estate plan, of ensuring the partner you select to help you can provide all the service you need to achieve success in your planning.

According to the Minnesota authorities, Heritage Partners, located just outside Minneapolis, convened seminars in area restaurants, where they marketed and sold generic estate planning documents to the company’s customers (mostly seniors) as a pretext to attempt subsequently to sell them insurance products. “Trust mill” refers to a company that uses illegal tactics and nonlawyers to sell estate planning documents to its customers. The legal documents Heritage customers received were prepared by a man who was not a licensed attorney.

Swanson has, in the past, pursued several other companies for acts of fraud and deceptive trade practices related to living trusts. Here in Wisconsin, authorities have wrestled with similar concerns. A few years ago, the Wisconsin Bar asked the Supreme Court to change the rules regarding engaging in the practice of law without a license, in part as a result of the bar’s concern about companies it considered “trust mills.”

People who use the services of a fraudulent company run many risks. If Minnesota authorities are correct, Heritage’s customers received estate planning documents written by someone who potentially knew nothing about Minnesota law or estate planning law in general. This is a very dangerous prospect. Often times, the legal work needed to “fix” a poorly written plan can take more time and cost more money than creating a new plan. These problems with your plan can become even more complex, and sometimes irreparable if they are not discovered until after you die.

Not all companies who assist people with their estate plans are fraudsters. Some are legal businesses providing a legitimate referral to a properly licensed attorney who will advise you and draft your legal documents. Even still, you should investigate the service very carefully, giving strong consideration to whether this type of arrangement truly meets all of your estate planning needs and gives you sufficient access to your attorney to form the necessary relationship for success.

Estate planning is not simply a discrete task that you complete, check off your “to-do” list, and move on. This is especially true if you have a living trust. Living trusts require proper funding in order to function as intended. Purchasing an estate planner’s services that give you a living trust but no help with trust funding may leave you exposed to serious problems. Having a qualified Wisconsin estate planning attorney ensures that your living trust is funded properly can make the difference between avoiding probate, or being subjected to it.

Estate planning also often requires regular maintenance beyond just the completion of trust funding. Life changes may necessitate a trust amendment, a will codicil, a new power of attorney, or any of a number of legal documents. Forging a partnership with a Wisconsin attorney you know and trust can help foster the sort of ongoing dialogue necessary to ensure your plan continues to represent your desires and objectives as your progress through life’s twists and turns.

To make sure that the assistance you get with your estate plan includes all the services you really need, talk to Madison estate planning attorney Daniel J. Krause of Krause Donovan Estate Law Partners, LLC. Our office provides estate plans for our clients and ensures our clients’ trusts are properly funded for one low flat fee. Contact Attorney Daniel J. Krause today.

Reach us through our website or call our office at (608) 344-5491 to schedule your confidential, no-obligation initial consultation.

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