Constantly in the news, it seems like there is a new scam making headlines.
Perhaps most familiar is Bernie Madoff and his infamous Ponzi scheme. Many people have also heard about the “grandparent scam.” In this swindle, the scammer calls posing as the victim’s grandchild, claiming to be traveling in a foreign country and in distress. The scammer convinces the victim to wire them money. The “grandchild” hangs up, and the funds are gone forever.
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.
Estate planning can be complicated. These are some ways to avoid being scammed:
- Work with a qualified estate planning attorney. Be careful of websites that offer DIY wills. Estate planning is a complex area of law, and the rules vary from state to state. Only a licensed, experienced estate planning attorney is qualified to prepare an estate plan. Before working with any estate planning professional, make sure he or she is licensed to practice law in your state. This is as simple as checking the state’s Bar (http://www.americanbar.org/groups/bar_services/resources/state_local_bar_associations.html) to ensure the person is listed as an active member in good standing.
- Take enough time. Legitimate estate planning attorneys understand the need for additional information about their services. This is especially true when attending an estate planning seminar. NEVER feel pressured to buy products or services “on the spot” – and never, ever purchase a pre-printed Living Trust “kit.”
- Ask lots of questions. A qualified estate planning attorney has years of legal training and experience. He or she should be able to explain all planning options, as well as the potential outcomes for each option. What’s more, the attorney should be able to explain these things in easy to understand language. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if it is the language is too hard to understand, don’t sign it.
Finally, it pays to remember the old adage if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Someone who is unlicensed or unqualified might offer a bargain-basement price, but what value is really being received? Too often, it is an estate plan that turns out to be ineffective or even counter to actual wishes. What’s worse, families might not even realize there is a problem until after the person’s death, when it is too late to correct the mistake. By then, life savings could have passed to unintended recipients, estates could be on the hook for unnecessary taxes and fees, and loved ones could find themselves in the midst of unnecessary confusion and conflict.
A qualified estate planning attorney will work to put a plan in place that will carry out wishes and meet family’s needs, without any nasty last-minute surprises.
If you live in Montgomery County, Philadelphia Pennsylvania or the Main Line and would like to discuss your estate plan, click here.