Living Trust…without a lawyer?


The term “living trust” is pretty common and has been the subject of marketing efforts for estate planning by a wide array of folks, many, if not most of them, non-attorneys. These are living trust mills. They will often market a living trust which is generic and call it a “Loving Trust.” Now, it may have been originally prepared by an attorney, but there’s no guarantee of that. There will be an appointment set up. Thereafter, an individual who is not a lawyer, will come to the home, explain the living trust and why it is needed. He or she will collect the advance fee, and then leaves with the information he or she has collected. The documents will be prepared, and soon thereafter, the representative will bring the documents making up the living trust to the home for the signatures of the clients.

Living Trust Documents Often Too Complicated

Sadly, these documents are often bloated, and are way too complicated for the client to begin to comprehend. I once had a client come into my office and angrily toss a 3-ring binder onto my desk and say, “I have no idea what this means! Can you help me understand it or get rid of it?” I had not prepared the living trust. It came from one of the living trust mills in a nearby state. She did not comprehend why she needed the trust and the will, and really wanted to get rid of the living trust. I explained the difference between a will and a trust and we ended up modifying the living trust by putting it into plain English that she could understand.

Beware of Living Trust Mills

Many of these living trust mills operate outside the boundaries of the law. Far too many of them are not licensed to practice law. If you are ever confronted with someone who is pitching you a living trust, or a “loving trust,” the first thing you need to ask is to meet with the lawyer at some point in the process. Ask this question: “Who is the lawyer who prepared this?” And then, ask to meet with the attorney. Often, no such person exists.
Typically, they will tell you that if you actually meet with the attorney, it will cost you more. But, I’ve seen the prices these folks who operate these living trust mills charge. While you’d pay similar fees for an attorney to draft the living trust, you’d get the extra value of knowing it was prepared by a professional. You’d also have the comfort of knowing that if you needed to make any changes, or ask any questions, the attorney would be available, whereas these guys often can’t be found.

A lawyer who prepares a living trust will be around to answer questions

Many of us (attorneys) will often answer simple questions about a living trust we’ve done for a client, over the phone, and not charge for that advice. Good luck trying to get changes made to your trust with the living trust mill folks. They will usually not be available and do not wish to have anything to do with you. They’ve got their money, and as far as they are concerned, you’re history.

A Living Trust should not be signed without consulting your attorney.

Bottom line: Before you sign a document purporting to be your “Loving Trust” or “Living Trust,” consult with a lawyer. The document may contain some surprises for you that you had not known, and that had you known, you’d have not allowed.(For some more information on living trusts, listen to my podcast on Living Trust)

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