Estate Planning: How to Avoid “Trust Mills”

Your estate plan is an essential set of documents prepared with your specific needs in mind.  For that reason, it is important to hire a competent estate planning attorney to ensure that your particular situation is addressed legally and comprehensively.

Unfortunately, companies exist that will take advantage of a person’s or couple’s lack of knowledge about estate plans and the estate planning process to sell services or documents that are unnecessary.  Oftentimes, the documents are boilerplate, one-size-fits-all documents that can be outrageously expensive, but may not even have been prepared or even reviewed by an attorney!  This practice is known as running a “trust mill”, is prohibited in some states, and results in inferior estate planning documents.

For examples of such dubious practices, take a look at the articles linked at the bottom of this page.

Here are a few tips to help you avoid Trust Mills and other poor estate planning arrangements:

  1. Find out who will be preparing your documents and check his/her credentials.  Your documents should only be prepared by an attorney licensed in your state of residence.  In Arizona, you can check to make sure the person is licensed (and in good status) by going to www.azbar.org and entering the attorney’s name in the “Find a Lawyer” field.  When you locate an attorney’s profile, pay special attention to any disciplinary proceedings listed.  For an example, search Prescott Law Group attorney Taylor Nelson’s profile using the link at the end of this post.
  2. Be wary of “scare tactics.”  There is a big difference between explaining the pros and cons of estate planning documents/strategies and attempting to bully a person into submission by recounting dozens of “horror stories” about decade-long probate proceedings and asset-squandering legal battles.  If someone is doing the latter, they are attempting to make you make a decision based on emotion, not logic.  The responsible estate planning attorney will be patient and explain your options calmly and without making wild exaggerations.
  3. Don’t accept “one-size-fits-all” documents.  It’s quite common for attorneys to have a template or form that they have developed over the years for situations that routinely arise from client to client.  This is perfectly normal and can assist in keeping client costs to a minimum.  However, problems arise when a form is used exclusively and not changed to suit the individual needs of the client.
  4. Make the attorney explain the document to you.  Estate plans significantly affect the client and the client’s family.  An attorney should be able to explain the purpose and effect each and every section of each document.  Make him or her do so!  These are YOUR estate plans, and you should know each document’s significance.
  5. Trust your gut.  This is the most important tip.  You are going to be providing intimate details of your life to your attorney.  It is essential that you trust your attorney and believe that your attorney has your best interests in mind and is not simply trying to make a quick buck.  If you feel at all uncomfortable with your legal professional, you need to have the courage to walk away.  There is likely a reason you feel uneasy, and it is not possible to have a healthy attorney-client relationship when the client is suspicious of the attorney.  No matter where you live, there are many attorneys to choose from, and the vast majority of those attorneys are competent professionals.

At Prescott Law Group, we give your estate plans the individualized attention they need.  Attorney Taylor Nelson has limited his practice to Estate Planning for the past five years and will guide you through the process step by step.  You can set up an appointment with Taylor by calling our office at (928) 445-1909.

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