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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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