Seniors Beware of Living Trust Scams!


living trust scamAre you a Senior that has been invited to a “Living Trust Seminar” recently? If so, make sure that it is an attorney-driven event.  Non-law firms, often annuity salespersons, have been hosting seminars focusing on wills, trusts, long-term care and estate planning.  Sometimes, they will have a lawyer come and speak to add legitimacy and knowledge but that is sometimes not their purpose.  Often, these seminars are designed to sell some financial product, not to give legal information.  These non-attorney seminars can be dangerous and may amount to the illegal unlicensed practice of law.  There are also legitimate, extremely useful legal seminars that can be very helpful to you.  This article explains how to tell the real seminars from the dangerous ones.

You should know that free breakfast, lunch or dinner “trust seminars” hosted by non-attorneys have come under the scrutiny of the Attorney General in California, and also in Michigan, Minnesota, Texas and Washington State. To protect consumers, the Florida Supreme Court has recently issued an opinion clarifying that certain types of long-term care planning amount to the unlicensed practice of law.

Living trusts are often very helpful estate planning and asset protection tools that can avoid excess taxation, avoid considerable probate expenses, create an incapacity plan and help people qualify for need-based assistance programs.  But living trusts are not for everyone.  Many of these asset protection seminars put on by unscrupulous non-lawyers encourage the elderly to use revocable living trusts without discussing the downside such as the cost, or not having a qualified trustee, or not having enough assets to warrant the establishment of a trust and without the ability or will to explain legal alternatives.  As part of the living trust discussion, financial products are often discussed.  Some living trust seminars over-hyped by aggressive non-lawyer marketers take advantage of Seniors by using scare tactics about avoiding probate and are nothing more than scams. Florida, unfortunately has many fraudsters that prey on the elderly as well.

Protecting assets is important especially if you have reason to fear those assets will be no free lunch squandered quickly and irresponsibly by heirs, if you anticipate the contesting of your will, if property is located in multiple jurisdictions, or if you want to ensure assets are kept within the family.  Living trusts can also help protect assets against the cost of long-term care by helping people to legally qualify for Medicaid, V.A. benefits and other important programs.  Probate can also be avoided but ONLY if the living trust is used correctly and very often, due to a lack of proper legal guidance or follow-through, they are not.  The advantages must be weighed against the costs and the time it takes to administer a trust.  Scott Solkoff Esq., a South Florida Elder Law Attorney specializing in estates and trusts, and founder of Solkoff Legal, P.A., points out, “There are many good reasons for establishing trusts. The primary reason is to protect assets and privacy, but state trust law can be complex and there is no one-size-fits-all template.”  Scott has served as Chair of the Florida Bar’s Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Committee of the Elder Law Section, so he is very aware of all the scams out there.

According to Scott, there is more to estate planning than writing a will, and more to elder law planning than power of attorney and advance directives. In the right hands, a living trust is an estate planning tool. Of course you want your assets distributed according to your wishes, but Scott suggests, “… also focusing on long-term care needs, incapacity planning, asset preservation, and access to health care. Once you have dealt with lifetime needs, successful estate planning techniques transfers your assets to your beneficiaries quickly and usually with minimal tax consequences. A revocable living trust provides for disability and can ensure that if you become mentally or physically incapacitated your assets will remain available for your use. But it is imperative that Seniors only use an attorney who has experience in these areas.”  A revocable living trust can save taxes and is usually less expensive to administer than a Will after death.

Contact Us: Regal believes that Seniors should be able to “age in place” if they so choose, and to maintain their quality of life and independence with long term care at home. This can be optimal medically and physically, and accomplished with the services of an accredited Home Health Agency, but the costs need to be considered. Be sure to integrate long term care planning into your estate planning to cover the costs of private duty nursing, caregivers, and care managers. Doing so with an attorney and the proper legal advice can help ensure that you or your Senior loved ones will be able to get the proper level of care if and when the time comes. For more information on long term care services available in the home or in a facility, please contact Ferial Andre, RN, CCM, CDP, at 561-499-8382 or ferialandre@regalcares.com.

This article should not be considered medical, financial, or legal advice.

Scott Solkoff, Esq. is a Florida Bar Board Certified specialist in Elder Law. The firm he founded, Solkoff Legal, P.A., is a law firm which exclusively represents the elderly, people with disabilities and their caregivers. The firm provides estate and trust services, elder law and asset protection planning, as well as guardianship. Scott has been elected a Fellow of the prestigious American College of Trusts and Estate Counsel (ACTEC). Scott has served as Chair of The Florida Bar’s Elder Law Section, as President of the Academy of Florida Elder Law Attorneys, and as a Director of both the Florida State Guardianship Association and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Widely recognized as an expert in his field, Scott is also a frequent speaker and has given presentations on elder law issues across the United States, and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. A graduate of the University of Florida, Scott earned his juris doctor degree, cum laude, at Nova Southeastern University.  He can be reached at 561-733-4242 or clientservices@solkoff.com