The Supreme Court of Ohio fined two companies (American Family Prepaid Legal Corporation, and Heritage Marketing and Insurance Services, Inc.) for unauthorized practice of law. The Columbus Bar Association accused the companies of operating a “trust mill.” The companies purportedly targeted thousands of senior citizens in Ohio. The court imposed almost $6.4 million in fines.
A “trust mill” is a company that takes fill-in-the-blank documents and sells them for thousands of dollars. The documents are usually poorly drafted, one-size-fits-all, and not specific to state law. Most trust mills are operated by non-lawyers, which is illegal, unauthorized practice of law. Sometimes the company has an attorney claim to “supervise” the creation of the trust. In reality, that attorney has little involvement in drafting the boilerplate document or counseling the client. Often the company’s real intention is to sell financial products, and the “trust” is just a way for the company to get in the door.
Estate planning should not be about a one-size-fits-all boilerplate document. It should be counseling, careful drafting, funding, maintenance and updating the plan, and a continuing relationship with the clients.