The State Bar of Michigan has successfully halted an Indiana firm from selling "cookie cutter" estate planning documents to Michigan residents who were being charged a thousand dollars or more for these forms.
The Gladwin County Circuit Court last month permanently enjoined Estate Management Services of South Bend, Indiana from preparing legal documents and giving legal advice to Michigan residents. The firm sold estate-planning documents including living trusts, wills and durable power of attorney documents to Michigan seniors who paid between $995 and $ 1,995 each for the forms.
"We're glad that we have been able to take a step to protect Michigan residents from one of the numerous will and trust kit companies operating in Michigan," said Scott S. Brinkmeyer the president of the State Bar of Michigan. "The money these individuals paid for 'cookie cutter' form documents could have been used to buy a specifically tailored product from a Michigan attorney trained and licensed to provide appropriate estate planning services, like the drawing up of a will or trust or any other legal document that determines what happens to assets."
Individuals with simple needs who purchase the cookie cutter forms, Brinkmeyer said, often pay hundreds of dollars more than they would for a basic customized service from a licensed attorney, while others with more complicated estates waste their money on forms that do not accomplish what they intend or need. He also added that the unauthorized practice of law involving will and trust kit cases is a persistent problem, with firms targeting our elderly citizens.
The State Bar worked in conjunction with the Michigan Attorney General's Office, which has also taken legal action against the firm. According to the court order, the Indiana firm may sell standardized legal forms to Michigan residents provided customers are informed in writing that the documents they are getting are not specifically tailored to their situations. Estate Management Services can also sell legal documents provided a licensed Michigan attorney drafts them. An assurance of discontinuance was entered in the action brought by the Michigan Attorney General resolving that matter in a similar fashion.
To report instances of the unauthorized practice of law, contact the State Bar's Assistant Regulation Counsel Victoria Kremski or staff attorney Catherine O'Connell at (800) 968-1442.