SAINT PAUL, Minn. (Legal Newsline) - Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed a lawsuit on Monday against a Minnesota company that allegedly operated a trust mill in which retirees were charged upfront fees for trusts prepared by a non-attorney.
Heritage Partners LLC allegedly charged seniors and future retirees $2,295 for living trusts, wills and related documents that were supposed to be prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney. Heritage allegedly had the documents prepared by an Arizona man, Dennis Lawrence, who is not licensed as an attorney in Minnesota or Arizona.
Lawrence, the owner of Legal-Ease LLC, was previously enjoined from setting up sham business trusts in a lawsuit filed by the Internal Revenue Service.
"With an aging population, many people are thinking of estate planning, and they should be on guard against 'trust mills' that churn out legal documents with the ulterior motive of selling insurance products," Swanson said.
Heritage allegedly advertised free dinners at local steakhouses to teach seniors and individuals approaching retirement about estate planning, trusts and probate. The Heritage salesmen allegedly set up individual meetings at the homes of prospective clients and recommended that clients purchase a trust, will and related documents from Heritage for $2,295.
While Heritage portrays itself as an estate planning firm, it allegedly masks and minimizes its status as an insurance agency with an intent to sell insurance by focusing the client on the preparation of a living trust and estate plan. Heritage allegedly sold more than 500 trusts and estate plans at a cost of more than $1 million to Minnesotans that were prepared illegally by Lawrence.
Swanson's lawsuit alleges that Heritage and Lawrence engaged in consumer fraud and deceptive trade practices. The suit further alleges that Lawrence prepared legal documents despite being unauthorized to practice law in Minnesota. The lawsuit seeks restitution for consumers and injunctive relief.