SEATTLE -- Two California-based companies that sold legal service plans, including estate planning, agreed today to stop doing business in Washington and to refund consumers who either failed to receive legal advice from a licensed attorney or bought products as a result of high-pressure sales.
Attorney General Christine Gregoire today entered an Assurance of Discontinuance in King County Superior Court in the case of Family First Advanced Estate Planning, Inc., and Group Legal Services, Inc.
The agreement assures no more living trusts will be sold in Washington by these companies. In the agreement, the companies did not admit violating the Consumer Protection Act, but they did agree to stop doing business in the state.
The Attorney General investigated whether Family First and Group Legal Services, both located in King County, used salespeople to market "living trusts" to consumers without first allowing the consumers to consult with a licensed Washington attorney. Preparing such documents has been determined to constitute the practice of law, which can only be performed by a licensed attorney.
Consumers had also accused the companies of making misrepresentations during sales presentations and engaging in high-pressure sales tactics.
"Senior citizens should get their estate planning advice from an unbiased source, not someone who may simply be trying to scare them into purchases they don't need," said Attorney General Christine Gregoire. "Contrary to the pitches of some salespeople, not everybody needs a living trust."
Seniors should be extremely wary of anyone who knocks on their door or approaches them with proposals for estate planning services. They should consult with an attorney before signing anything.
Under the restitution agreement, Family First must provide the state with a list of its clients, and send each client a letter explaining what to do to receive a refund. The companies deposited $87,000 into an escrow account in Washington to guarantee funds will be available to eligible clients. Some clients could receive a full refund.
In a related investigation by the Washington State Bar Association, attorney Charles B. Allen accepted resignation in lieu of disbarment for his participation in the unauthorized practice of law by failing to properly supervise non-attorneys marketing estate products for Family First and Group Legal Services. This means Allen can no longer practice law in the state of Washington.