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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 like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

        2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

        3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

        4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

        5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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