In the Matter of the Disciplinary Proceedings Against Shepard (Wash. No. 200,720-1, Sept. 9, 2010). Washington’s high court found an attorney who participated in a so-called “trust mill” aided in the unauthorized practice of law and suspended him for two years. The attorney in this case entered into a business arrangement with Steven Cuccia, a non-lawyer who promoted living trusts to the elderly as part of an insurance “scheme”. The attorney, Richard Shepard, would “review” the trusts for a low flat fee. Mr. Shepard never discussed his “clients” estate planning needs or reviewed their assets. There was a problem with the trusts. After the State Bar started looking into the matter, Shepard alerted the clients to have their estate plans and trusts reviewed by competent counsel. The Bar found Mr. Shepard had violated several rules of professional ethics. He lent his name and credibility to Mr. Cuccia’s operation, enabling him to bilk unsuspecting seniors. Mr. Shepard was lucky not to be disbarred.
Lesson for attorneys: Don’t get involved in this sort of thing.
Lesson for the public: Beware! If the attorney’s fees are too low, it’s too good to be true. No estate planning attorney should handle your case without meeting with you and discussing your case, or at least reviewing your assets and your family situation. Also, beware of anyone, even an attorney, who tells you the living trust is the answer to all of your problems. Every case is different.
For a more thorough discussion of the relative advantages and disadvantages of revocable living trusts, click here to order our short pamphlet entitled “Understanding Estate Planning in Mississippi.”