Hi there, my name is Bridget Mackay. I’m an attorney in Petaluma and I practice in the area of estate planning, trust administration and probates, and elder law. And today I have a blog, I want to talk about estate planning scams. We’ve probably all have been involved in or a victim of the scam where you get an email from a friend who’s in London and needs some money wired to them. They’re traveling, and you think, “Huh, I don’t remember that person traveling, but okay,” and you wire money. Those often have gone a little deeper, where it’s a grandchild… Someone posing as someone’s grandchild and phoning a grandparent and getting them to wire them money. We’ve hopefully all figured out that that’s a scam and nobody else is falling for it, but you’d be surprised at some of the scams that are coming out in the estate planning area.

It’s becoming more and more common for people to get flyers in the mail or calls from telemarketers or even advertisements in the newspaper to come to an estate planning event. And then when you get to the event they’ll sell… The person who gives the event or presents on estate planning or making a trust or a will is not an attorney, but they’re actually, usually, people involved in selling annuities or insurance policies. They sell you a trust very inexpensively, typically it’s very inadequate for what you need. But once they get you to buy the trust they get all of your sensitive financial information. And from this… Which is the main thing they were looking for is your financial information, they had no care about how your trust was going or who your trustee was or where it was going, they wanted to get to your assets. They tailor a sales pitch on how to sell some type of product with very high commissions and are typically very bad investments.

How do we protect our elders? Or if you’re elderly and you’ve been getting these calls or have been thinking about going to one of these events, here’s how you avoid getting caught up in it. First, you should work with a qualified estate planning attorney. Be careful of any do-it-yourself wills or trusts, or even trusts that you’re getting done over the phone, talking to, supposedly, an attorney. If you’re working with an attorney in one of these circumstances then check them out. The California State Bar website allows you to go on to… To plug in that attorney’s name and find out if they’re in good standing. Go to their website at www.calbar.ca.gov. Two, you should take your time. Rushing into getting a trust is never a good idea. I understand sometimes there are circumstances in which you need to get it done quick. But if you’re planning ahead, take your time finding the person who’s going to write that, the qualified estate planning attorney, because ultimately this is a relationship. It’s not just a one moment, “I’m going to get my trust done and then I’ll never talk to you again.”

You’ll often want to come back to this person with changes or questions. Never purchase a pre-printed trust kit. You don’t see them so often, but they used to be found in stationery stores and things like that. Take your time, research who you wanna work with and research it from the perspective of you’re gonna have a relationship with this person. Finally, ask a lot of questions. When you get into a meeting with an attorney to make an estate plan they should be able to answer all of your questions and explain to you all of your estate planning options. Moreover, they should be able to answer those questions in a way that you understand the answer. They should explain your options in a way that you understand what you’re choosing. The old adage is true in this case, if you don’t understand what you’re signing, don’t sign it. Finally, remember if a deal to get an estate plan sounds too good to be true, it probably is and it’s probably a scam.

There are plenty of people out there who are running around unlicensed and unqualified, that are offering services for far less than a qualified estate planning attorney would offer to you and if you take them up on it you get what you pay for. You get an inadequate document and probably more troubles than it was worth spending. So at the end of the day, if you follow those three tenets, you should be able to avoid all of those scams out there.