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Law firm files class-action lawsuit for estate planning UPL

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A Logansport law firm has filed a class-action lawsuit against an Indianapolis company that the state’s highest court last year determined engaged in the Unauthorized Practice of Law, suing on behalf of thousands of residents for what attorneys estimate could be $10 million to $20 million in damages.

Filed Monday in Fulton Circuit Court, the lawsuit by Starr Austen & Miller alleges constructive fraud, contractual claim violations, conversion, and disgorgement of fees due to UPL. The suit currently names Donald A. Bonnell of Kewanna as the sole plaintiff, but it contends a larger class of 2,000 or more people could have valid claims against United Financial Systems Corporation.

The company is the subject of a UPL case brought by the Indiana State Bar Association in late 2008 and ruled on by the state justices in April 2010. The court decided the company was illegally practicing law in what has been described as a trust mill for preparing and selling estate planning documents and services to people.

In State of Indiana, Ex. Rel. Indiana State Bar Association v. United Financial Systems Corp., No. 84S00-0810-MS-551, the Indiana Supreme Court determined that UFSC should have known what it was doing was UPL and ordered that disgorgement of fees the company received from its UPL should be returned. All of the Indiana estate plan customers going back to 1995 were to be notified of the decision, but the company refused to pay those refunds immediately and the justices in December ordered UFSC to notify those customers and return the fees as previously ordered.

An exact figure of refunds or claims isn’t outlined in the order or in court filings. However, the court’s ruling provided context for the potential amount: from October 2006 through May 2009, the company’s Indiana business included 1,306 estate plans grossing more than $2.7 million. Nationally, 18.8 percent of UFSC’s total income was reported to have come from estate planning services in this state.

The new lawsuit picks up where that UPL action left off, though Bonnell was not a party to the ISBA action and, as of now, none of the potential plaintiffs were involved in that suit, according to attorney Mario Massillamany.

The attorneys estimated that damages could be as high as $10 million to $20 million, though that number depends on the ultimate number of plaintiffs. Bonnell’s damages alone encompass about $2,495 for the estate planning services.

Specifically, the suit targets how UFSC’s non-attorney agents delivered the estate plan documents and supervised their execution without a lawyer being present. Bonnell contacted the company in 2002 for estate planning services after seeing an advertisement from an AARP publication, and a non-attorney arranged a meeting with him where they went over marketing materials and signed an agreement. Among the terms of that agreement were that UFSC “would not interfere with the attorney’s independent professional judgment,” but at the meeting the non-attorney agent made the legal determination and recommendation as to what estate plan Bonnell needed. While a “panel attorney” later reviewed the documents, Bonnell alleges that a lawyer never appeared at the meetings.

“With utter disregard and recklessness, UFSC concealed the fact that it could not make the determination as to what estate plan is proper for the Plaintiff nor prepare the estate planning documents for Plaintiff, from that UFSC’s knowledge of the concealment can be inferred,” the suit says. “UFSC concealed its inability to create and implement an estate plan with the intent to mislead Plaintiff into reliance upon UFSC’s omission. As a result of the foregoing, Plaintiff has suffered or will suffer damages by having to incur legal fees for an analysis, revision, or replacement of the UFSC estate plan documents by an Indiana licensed attorney.”

The first and only time Bonnell has received notice about the UPL decision was on Jan. 17, 2011, according to the lawsuit, and he has still not recovered the fees ordered for refund from the Indiana Supreme Court. The suit says that a notice the company sent includes the language, “the purpose of this notice is to provide each customer with the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding their estate planning needs and take any other action that may be appropriate.”

Naming the company, the other defendants in the case are Richard and Jane Follett, Richard L. Follett II, Beau R. Follett, Jody Waugh, Raymond C. Phillips, Linda Dishong, L. Kay Larsen, John Joyce, Gary Lovelady, Sharon Dorsey, Sherry Jordan, Douglas J. Lalama, Andrew Mark Eads, Katie Jackel, and James Boyles.

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  • Not surprised
    I worked for this company from 1998 to 2001. I am in utter disbelief and shock, but really not surprised. For a single mom trying to support her kids, they made me feel like a part of their family... I began as a sub-contractor simply setting appointments for the "Trust Agents" and was quickly hired in as a permanent employee as a "Trust Division Coordinator". For 2 1/2 years they were like family to me... allowing me to bring in one of my kids whenever they were out of school. They paid for me to go to a reputable insurance licensing school and for my exam and subsequent licensing in Life & Health Insurance in Indiana. Promoting me to "Financial Division Coordinator". They gave me pay advances when I had financial issues, taking it out in minor amounts on a weekly basis. However, towards the end of my employment, I began to wonder if in fact what they were doing was legal. After all, they were sending sales agents, some licensed in Insurance and others not, into the homes of the elderly and having random attorneys (3 were there during my employment) preparing these legal documents. Ironically the majority of these attorneys were pretty much fresh from passing the Indiana Bar. The last 2 attorneys that were in the office while I was employed left because they didn't feel right having such limited contact with these clients. The Folletts lived nicely... I was a bit envious of them. But as I said I began to question a lot of their practices. But when my children's father passed away, they were there for me, giving me a week off from work paid to deal with everything. But as I began to start questioning things again, they opted to take a statement of a grieving widow (I was taking care of my ill ex-husband during my employment) and use it against me resulting in them terminating me when I refused to quit. They went so far as to blackball me with employment prospects all because I filed for unemployment. I ended up not appealing the unemployment decision because I found work within a 2 month period. Anyway.... while I was shocked when I recently googled UFSC just for fun to find out about all of this.... Wish I had heard about this a few years back... I could have given some ammunition to those whom they duped... But in all fairness, of all of the primary Family Partnership members, Jayne Follett's brother, James Boyles was the most honest and trustworthy of the bunch. The rest were simply all about making themselves rich... which from the looks of many of their Facebook pages... they're still living off of their deception of the elderly. Thank goodness my grandmother didn't have an estate big enough to be conned by this. I almost convinced her to do a Living Trust with them many years ago... I'm now grateful that they wouldn't do one for her....
  • employed n lied
    this company is now in lakewood ranch fl they hired me to call on people they had me snowed until i started to feel funny of there tactis n investigated n found out what they r about call the state of fl state of financial regulatin maybe they can help get this out as i am calling fl attorney general i feel like they tried tto make me apart of there scams glad i woke up to there scam
  • UFSC
    I heard that UFSC filed for bankruptcy. What now?
    • USFC Indiana Supreme Court Order-Refund
      I have received my refund on my USFC Living Trust Will. Through the Indiana Attorney General's office and paid by the State of Indiana Auditors office by check.
      Thank you to all involved in getting this matter settled for me.
      Sincerely,
      Jo Ann Taylor
      Ellettsville, IN
    • Refund
      Letter from UFSC to me dated December 23, 2010 stating if I wanted a refund from them on my Revocable Living Trust Will, it would be refunded within 30 days.
      My timely letter to UFSC requesting a total refund from them on December 30, 2010.
      UFSC can not any longer be reached by phone, by customers, waiting on their "timely" refunds.

      As Per Indiana Supreme Court Decision, NO.94S00-0810-MS-551. Filed April 14, 2010.

      I have contacted the Indiana State Attorney General's office and made them aware of my situation. Sent them ALL documents as requested.

      I have contacted one of the Lawyers involved in the ABA against UFSC a few months ago.

      I am sitting here not being able to get my Will updated and legally completed with an attorney, because UFSC is witholding my money from me.

      Plus I hear NO kind of ACTIONS being taken against this company. Not knowing what is going on. Is there anyone out there who can keep me informed on this matter?
      Can I also get in on the Class Action Suit? If so, does it cost me?
      And WHY SHOULD UNFC NOT BE MADE TO PAY TO THESE CUSTOMERS WHO HAVE NOT RECEIVED THEIR REFUNDS..."INTEREST" ON THIS MONEY, AS THEY HAVE BEEN USING AND COLLECTING INTERST FROM "OUR MONEY?"

      Where do I go from here?

      It is now June 30th, 2011 and I have heard nothing from them or anyone else about this case. NO REFUND has been issued. I have now waited 6 months on my refund money. HELP!
      Thank You,
      Jo Ann
      • Other states too
        This company now goes by "Alliance America" and is based in FL. They are in several other states as well, including TX. They need to be stopped because they are doing the same exact thing here in TX!
        • Refund
          My aunt of 96 years old got a trust with these people. How do we get refund???
        • Refund
          I sent UFSC a request for a refund in early Jan,2011. Thier letter stated that such a request would be processed within 30 days of reciept of such request. It has been 20 plus days since they recieved my request and I have not heard from them. What sould I do?
          Thank you Richard

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        1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

        2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

        3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

        4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

        5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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