Monday, February 19, 2018

Beware of The Trust Mill

When you hit a certain age you can bet on receiving some sort of invite in the mail offering you a free dinner at lovely restaurant close to your home, served with a side lecture on 101 ways to avoid probate.  Now I love a free meal, but proceed with caution, it  may be a trust mill.

What's a trust mill?  It's usually an LLC that sets up shop in an area for several months, fires off a mass mailing to people over a certain age, gives you free food and attempts to scare you into a Living Revocable Trust.  This sales pitch is likely to contain lies, all designed to get you to sign up for a $5,000 or more trust document.  And chances are fairly good the speakers are not attorneys.

I'm not alone in my dislike of trust mills.  This was recently posted on a Wisconsin Estate Planners Listserve:
"Thought all you fine people should know the truth:  I have a nice lady whose elderly parents are about to become victims of a trust mill.  These fine folks tell the elderly that they should stay away from lawyers because probate costs 8% of the estate and takes 2 years."

  • Lie number one, Wisconsin has a probate fee of 0.2 percent, not 8%
  • Lie number two, probate can take as little as 90 days, but more like 8-12 months depending on the time of death.  My mother died on 2/16/14.....I had to wait until February 2015 so that final income tax returns could be filed.
  • Lie number three, not all assets will go through probate.  Many assets have direct beneficiaries: retirement accounts, bank accounts, life insurance, even real estate in Wisconsin can have a TOD Deed in place.  And the older population often rents and has fewer financial instruments if they have consolidated.
  • Lie number four, the folks running Trust Mills are most likely not attorneys and cannot actually help you fund the trust (that means putting assets into the trust, if that isn't done probate would happen any way).  When in doubt if the person is an attorney ask them for his/her State Bar Number.  A real attorney can recite that number in a flash, we type it all the time.

Being the first in my family to attend college and the child of blue-collar workers, I know people work hard for their money.  It really bothers me to see this type of company roll into town and siphon off $5k or more from people who just didn't know the facts about probate in Wisconsin.

Windmills are lovely, especially when you stumble across one in Sweden.  Trust mills are not so lovely.  Consumer beware.

Photo my M. Gustafson Gervasi - Malmo, Sweden, March 2016