Constantly in the news, it seems like there is a new scam making headlines. One surprising area in which scams are becoming more common is estate planning. Each year, more people fall victim to unscrupulous and unqualified sellers of ineffective estate planning documents. Often, these scammers are door-to-door salesmen or telemarketers.
By Stephen K Lehnardt
Estate planning is a very personal and essential process to protect your loved ones and your assets. And all it takes is a scammer to mess that all up, and unlike the elaborate scam set up in The Sting, today’s estate planning stings are simply a convincing pitch backed up with official-looking documents. Following are a few things to keep in mind when considering your estate planning options.
- Find and Engage a qualified estate planning attorney. “Do-It-Yourself” is very popular these days—from home improvement to filing taxes. Hundreds of websites offer DIY wills and trusts. Beware! Estate planning is not a point-and-click or fill-in-the-blank proposition. Estate Planning is a complex tangle of laws with different rules depending on where you live, what you own, and what you do. Hire a licensed, experienced estate planning attorney to prepare your estate plan.
- Take Your Time. Everyone is in a rush these days. Everything has to be instant or on-demand. An experienced and qualified estate planning attorneys will not rush—and that is a good thing. He or she will take the time necessary to get to know you and your goals for estate planning. Likewise, you should know that you have the ability to ask questions and to seek additional information about their services. If you attend an estate planning seminar, do not feel pressured into purchasing products or services on the spot, and never join the rush-to-the-back-of-the-room to purchase the pre-printed or pre-fabricated "Living Trust Kit.” Likewise, despite slick advertising, online Will or Trust document preparation cannot identify, analyze and respond to your situation and needs. Sure, you save money and time upfront by doing it online, but your loved ones and your property deserve more than this, and will pay much much more when the plan doesn’t work later.
- Ask Questions.A qualified estate planning attorney will have years of legal training and experience, and will be able to explain all applicable planning scenarios and potential outcomes in easy-to-understand language. The article suggests that if the language is too difficult to understand, do not sign it.
Lastly, if someone tells you , "Anyone can write a will," or "You don't need to be an attorney," be assured that person does not have the training, education, and experience to do a thorough job. An unlicensed or unqualified "professional" may be able to offer you a screaming deal, but recall the old adage: "You get what you pay for." Families that use such services do not discover the real problems with what they purchased until after the person’s death—when it is too late to correct mistakes. This can mean assets passing to unintended recipients, unnecessary taxes and fees, and heated fights between loved ones.
A qualified estate planning attorney will team with you to create an appropriate plan that meets your objectives and your family’s needs—without any pressuring sales job.
For more information in Liberty, MO and the Kansas City Area about effective planning for your estate and to access free information and tools to organize your estate, visit our elder law and estate planning website.