Thursday, September 4, 2008

Living Trust Scams

Beware of Living Trust Scams

Many con artists are targeting older Texans with a variety of false claims to sell unnecessary Living Trusts. Not only do these Living Trusts fail to accomplish the goals being advertised, they can often result in increased costs and exposure of your assets to creditors or taxes.

Some of their false claims are:

• Living Trusts will avoid estate/inheritance taxes. Unless you and your spouse’s combined assets are greater than $1 Million, your property will NOT be subject to federal or state inheritance or estate taxes. If they are within the taxable range, a well-prepared estate plan (including a tax-planned will), can achieve the same effect as a Living Trust, for a lower costs without unintended consequences mentioned below.
• Living Trusts will protect your assets from creditors. Actually, this claim is simply a lie. Assets in a Living Trusts are subject to the claims of your creditors before and after your death. There are several legitimate ways to maximize the protections afforded under Texas law to debtors, but these should always be discussed with a licensed attorney and/or a certified public accountant.
• Living Trusts will avoid the excessive time and expense of probate. There are a variety of ways to reduce the necessity for probate and simplify the probate process in Texas. It cannot be repeated enough – probate is NOT an “evil” process; probate is the legal method for passing clear title to your heirs by discharging your existing debts in an orderly fashion and providing your heirs with legal exceptions designed to protect your exempt assets from certain creditors. In fact, the failure to probate your estate through one of Texas’ simplified methods could result in increased costs to your heirs, because it can lead to conflicting claims to your property, often years after you have passed.
• Living Trusts help you qualify for public benefits. Again, this claim is simply wrong. Assets in a Living Trust are included in calculating your ability to qualify for public assistance, including nursing home Medicaid benefits.

Although most do not need one, certain people can benefit from a Living Trust; however, that Living Trust must be tailored to meet the requirements of Texas law. Before responding to an advertisement or salesperson concerning any Living Trust, ALWAYS consult with a licensed attorney with experience in estate planning and probate law, as well as an accountant, banker or financial advisor whom you trust. Don’t make an immediate decision. Any legitimate company or salesperson will understand that you need to take some time and seek professional advice before making important decisions concerning your finances. If you feel pressured, it’s probably a scam!!