Attorney General Hardy Myers today warned older Oregonians about being targets of "living trust mills" and announced the filing of a court action against a North Bend estate planning business for the unauthorized practice of law through the promotion of living trusts.
Named in an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance (AVC), filed today in Coos County Circuit Court, are Asset Protection, Inc., Roger Stewart, president and employees Donald W. Chance, Douglas T. Laird and Barbara V. Kusserow, all of North Bend. The AVC admits no violation of law.
"Only a skilled attorney familiar with estate planning is able to advise a consumer whether a living trust is right for their particular situation," Myers said. "Oftentimes, we hear from families of seniors who were coerced into purchasing living trusts by untrained and unlicensed salespersons either going door-to-door or "hawking" trusts during a free seminar or from a booth at a home improvement show."
Department of Justice investigators found employees of Asset Protection, in client interviews, would ask for personal financial information and then advise clients whether a living trust would be beneficial. If the consumer expressed interest in a living trust, employees would charge a fee for their "educational" service and then refer the client to an attorney for actual preparation of the trust.
"As soon as the employees provided advice as to how the law applied to an individual's financial circumstances, they crossed the line into the practice of law," Myers explained. None of the Asset Protection employees are lawyers or licensed by the Oregon State Bar (OSB) to practice law in the State of Oregon.
Respondents named in the Assurance agreed to not practice law without being licensed and paid $1,000 to the Department of Justice consumer protection and education fund.
Attorney General Myers suggests the following when considering the purchase of a living trust:
Know how living trusts work. A living trust lets the consumer designate a trustee with financial expertise to manage assets and allow for a smooth transition of property when death occurs. Long waiting periods might be avoided but a living trust can't eliminate tax liability and there's no guarantee the trust won't be legally challenged.
Do not purchase a living trust from a salesperson going door-to-door or "hawking" trust services over the phone, on television or the radio, through the mail or from a booth at a products or services fair. Ask for written information in order to compare services and prices.
Ask friends for referrals and shop around. Call at least three lawyers with backgrounds in estate planning. Ask for references and written estimates concerning costs. Remember neither the lowest or highest priced services automatically mean the best value.
Call the Oregon State Bar Lawyer Referral Service for names of estate planning lawyers in Oregon at (503) 684-3763 (Portland area only) or toll-free at 1-800-452-7636.
Call Tel-Law, the Oregon State Bar's legal tape library, at (503) 620-3000 (Portland area only) or toll-free at 1-800-452-4776. Ask for tape 803 on trusts. Written information on living trusts also is available from the Oregon State Bar.
Call the Attorney General's consumer hotline and the Oregon State Bar to check on complaints against lawyers
Consumers wanting information on consumer issues may call the Attorney General's consumer hotline at (503) 378-4320 (Salem area only), (503) 229-5576 (Portland area only) or toll-free at 1-877-877-9392. The Department of Justice is online at www.doj.state.or.us.
Jan Margosian, (503) 947-4333 (media line only) firstname.lastname@example.org