Ohio Fells Another Trust Mill – UPDATE

My last post pointed to a Columbus Bar Association press release about Columbus Bar Assn. v. Am. Family Prepaid Legal Corp., Slip Opinion No. 2009-Ohio-5336, (available here as a PDF). In that case the Ohio Supreme Court found that “American Family Prepaid Legal Corporation (“American Family”) and its various allied entities and associates – after being pursued by the Columbus Bar since 2002 – were found to have practiced law without a license and to have used scare tactics, misinformation and false promises to induce thousands of individuals in Ohio and other states to purchase living trust packages and other estate planning documents at inflated prices.”

Game over right? Maybe not.

Two Motions for Reconsideration were filed this last Monday (10/26) by Defendants alleging that they were denied due process as the result of alleged collusion. You can read the press release here. Please also make your own decisions about the motions’ merits…

So, whats the big deal with these cases? Why have I dedicated so much screen space to cases like this? Because companies whose sales pitches involve misstating the tax code in order to make a buck, make it more difficult for an already leery society to trust actual estate planning lawyers who are sincerely interested in helping people work with the code to preserve and pass on their estate. Because providing poorly thought-out estate plans can often cause more harm than doing nothing. Because the most susceptible among us deserve nothing short of our most earnest efforts to protect their legacies. Because these legacies belong to the greatest generation whose passage we are now bearing witness to; a generation that lived through the great depression, that beat down Hitler through the Rising Sun only to return home to work their butts off to make this country the greatest power for good the world has ever known. Because fidelity to our humanity demands that we care as much now for those helpless multitudes who raised us as they cared for us when we were helpless ourselves. And because there is a special place in hell for those who prey on the fears of the elderly for their own gain. [Caveat: I’ve never read any of the materials offered by Defendants so I do not have any first-hand knowledge of their merit… But I’m sure they’re terrible.]

It should also be pointed out that this isn’t the first time Mr. Norman has gotten a legal spanking for lying to the elderly – apparently they’re his favorite targets… According to this story in the LA Times, in 1993 “Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert C. Gannon Jr. charged that officials with Vanguard Assisted Care Inc. pose ‘a continuing threat to the consumers of the state [of California] in that more elderly individuals and senior citizens may be misled and enticed into purchasing’ the company’s companion-care plan.” “Named in the lawsuit were Vanguard’s President Stanley Norman; his son and company Vice President Jeffrey L. Norman; and company consultant Barbara Bufty.”

From its offices in Lake Forest, Vanguard salespeople have been selling the companion-care plan, particularly to residents of the nearby Leisure World retirement community in Laguna Hills. Under an agreement, senior citizens must make an initial $6,600 payment to qualify for the plan’s benefits. They also must make co-payments when they call for an in-home worker to help them with housecleaning, preparing meals or getting to doctor’s appointments.

Pretty nasty stuff.

Once again, I applaud the Columbus Bar Association for their hard-fought victory in this case.

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