Minnesota Attorney General's Office
1400 Bremer Tower
445 Minnesota Street
St. Paul, MN 55101
M - F 8 am - 5 pm
Monday, February 3, 2014
MINNESOTA ATTORNEY GENERAL FILES SUIT AGAINST “TRUST MILL” THAT CHARGED SENIOR CITIZENS $2,300 FOR TRUSTS AND WILLS PREPARED BY ARIZONA NON-ATTORNEY
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson today filed a lawsuit against Heritage Partners, LLC, a Minnesota company, for operating a “trust mill” through which senior citizens and future retirees were charged $2,295 for living trusts, wills, and related documents that were supposed to be prepared by an “experienced estate planning attorney.” Instead, Heritage had the legal documents prepared by an Arizona man—also named as a defendant in the lawsuit—who is not licensed as an attorney in Minnesota or Arizona and who was previously enjoined from setting up sham business trusts in a lawsuit brought by the federal government.
“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,” said Attorney General Swanson.
Through flyers and newspaper ads, Heritage invites senior citizens and people approaching retirement throughout Minnesota to “free” dinners at popular local steakhouses to learn more about estate planning, probate, and trusts. At the dinners, Heritage extolls the virtues of living trusts and exaggerates the dangers of dying without a trust. Heritage salesmen—who are insurance agents—then arrange individual meetings at prospective clients’ homes. During the home visits, the sales agents recommend that clients purchase a trust, will, and related documents from Heritage, usually for $2,295.
Heritage tells clients that the trusts, wills, and other documents will be prepared by an “experienced estate planning attorney” and states this in its contracts with consumers. Instead, Heritage uses an Arizona man—Dennis Harold Lawrence and his company Legal-Ease, L.L.C.—to prepare the trusts and wills. In 2005, the Internal Revenue Service filed a lawsuit against Lawrence for running a fraudulent trust scheme in which he obtained sales leads from insurance agents and then sold trusts to businesses to unlawfully shield them from taxes. The IRS called those trusts “shams.” Lawrence was permanently enjoined from operating that trust scheme in 2006. Even though Lawrence is not licensed as an attorney in Minnesota or Arizona, he tells Heritage customers and leads them to believe that he is an attorney. Lawrence is certified as a “legal document preparer” in Arizona, but that does not allow him to provide legal advice. Minnesota law defines as the unauthorized practice of law the drafting of wills and trusts and giving of associated advice by non- attorneys.
Heritage portrays itself as an estate planning firm that specializes in trusts, wills, and probate avoidance. It was formed in 2010 by Anthony J. Friendshuh and operates from Friendshuh’s home. Friendshuh is an insurance agent, as are the salesmen who sell the trusts and wills to Heritage clients. Heritage masks and minimizes its status as an insurance agency and its intent to sell insurance by first focusing the client on the preparation of a living trust and estate plan. After Heritage gets its “foot in the door” with a trust, it tries to sell the client more expensive insurance products.
Heritage sold over 500 trusts and estate plans to residents of Minnesota that were prepared by Lawrence, at a cost of over $1 million, according to documents produced by Heritage to the Attorney General’s Office during its investigation.
A trust is a complex legal instrument governed by each state’s laws and not subject to a “one size fits all” approach or needed by or suitable for every client. The trusts sold by Heritage are boilerplate documents that are similar or identical from one client to the next.
The lawsuit was filed in Hennepin County District Court. It alleges that both Heritage and Lawrence engaged in consumer fraud and deceptive trade practices, that Heritage violated Minnesota’s three-day right to cancel law for in-home sales and the fiduciary duty statute for financial planners, and that Lawrence engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in Minnesota. It seeks injunctive relief and restitution for consumers.
People may report complaints to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office by calling (651) 296 3353 or (800) 657 3787. People may also download a Complaint Form from the Attorney General’s Office website by clicking here and mail the completed form to the Attorney General’s Office at: 1400 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 2131.