person holding documents with the word scam written on them

Estate Planning Scams and How to Avoid Them

Estate planning is a crucial aspect of securing your assets and ensuring a smooth transition for your loved ones after you’re gone. Unfortunately, however, there are many scams out there that target individuals looking to create or update their estate plans. Telemarketers, title fraud, living trust mills, and even DIY templates can prevent your final wishes from being met. In this post, we list the four most common estate planning scams and explain how to avoid them. 

Four Common Estate Planning Scams to Avoid

1: Telemarketers

Telemarketer scams that try to access personal information have been around for years. Scammers that want to gain access to your financial accounts may try to do so by collecting your estate planning information. If a cold caller poses as an estate planning expert with an exceptional deal on their services, there’s a good chance that it’s a scam. Telemarketers also like to pressure you into making hasty decisions, playing on your fears or emotions. 

Here’s how to avoid telemarketer scams:

  • Never share personal information over the phone.
  • Verify the legitimacy of the company before you make any commitments by looking over its website, reading reviews, and verifying that its address and phone number are legitimate. 
  • Don’t make a commitment—always consult a certified estate planning attorney for advice. 

2: Title Fraud

Title fraud is when someone steals your identity and attempts to transfer the title of your home, vehicle, or other property without your knowledge. They may send unsolicited offers, deals, and requests in an attempt to get you to unknowingly sign over ownership of your property. 

This type of scammer uses your personal information to forge a deed that uses your home as collateral on a second mortgage or a line of credit. Or they can use a fraudulent deed to sell vacant property such as your vacation home, leaving you unaware until it’s too late. Even though you didn’t do anything wrong, title fraud can leave you with significant debt, and even cause you to lose ownership of your property. 

Here’s how you can avoid title fraud scams:

  • Regularly check your property records and credit report for any unauthorized changes.
  • Sign up for a title alert service (such as Maricopa Title Alert) that notifies you whenever a document is recorded under your name.
  • Shred bills and other documents that contain your personal information, and never share personal information over the phone.
  • Use a reputable title insurance company to protect your titled property.
  • Take immediate action if you stop receiving bills in the mail—this could mean that your address was changed without your consent.
  • Report any suspicious activity to law enforcement immediately.  

3: Living Trust Mills

Living trust mills are organizations or individuals that pressure people into funding living trusts whether they actually need one or not. They may use scary language, confusing legal jargon, and even false arguments to try to convince you to set up a trust. They often use generic templates that do not cover your unique needs and might not even meet legal requirements, putting your entire estate at risk. 

You can avoid living trust mills by:

  • Choosing a qualified and experienced estate planning attorney to set up your trust.
  • Saying not to one-size-fits-all solutions. Whether you choose a living trust or a will, your estate plan should be personalized to your individual needs.
  • Researching the estate planning firm before engaging with any of their services. 

4: DIY Templates

There are many do-it-yourself (DIY) estate planning templates available online, and using them might seem like a quick and affordable way to get your affairs in order. However, DIY templates can have some disastrous consequences for your estate plan. Generic templates may not be tailored to your state’s laws, and errors in the documents can render them invalid. Plus, these templates don’t take any unique circumstances into account, such as having a special needs child or a blended family

To avoid the dangers of DIY templates, it’s best to consult an estate planning attorney. Even if an online template seems legitimate, only a legal professional can guarantee that your estate plan will be effective when the time comes.

Create a Secure Estate Plan with Phelps LaClair

Protecting your estate from scammers requires careful consideration and some assistance from an experienced professional. The attorneys at Phelps LaClair have been helping Arizona families create sound estate plans for over 40 years. From setting up a living trust to reviewing your will, to granting power of attorney, we can help you with all of your estate planning needs. Give us a call at 480-892-2488 today to schedule a free consultation. 


Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (1/23/2024). Photo by Leeloo The First on Pexels

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