A Trust Betrayed?

old man hugging grandchild CBS

The latest scam to bilk the elderly is a scheme to cheat them out of so-called "living trusts" that are supposed to protect their assets.

As CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod reports, in too many cases it is a trust betrayed.

"It was very frustrating," said Judy Kulinski, whose 82-year-old father-in-law's life savings -- close to $1 million -- attracted the attention of a now-defunct company called United Senior Alliance (USA) in Milwaukee.

"I think he liked it when they came to the house," she said. "They were out a lot. These people, they looked like they were right out of high school."

USA put a hard sell on her father-in-law, Walter Kulinski, to establish a living trust -- as an alternative to a traditional will -- by overstating its tax advantages.

Living trusts can be beneficial when specifically tailored by lawyers. But Walter Kulinski signed a questionable boilerplate document that placed $280,000 in trust: putting it in a 30-year annuity that paid a 10 percent commission to USA salesmen.

"A 30-year annuity for an 82-year-old gentlemen?" asked Bill Omeichen of the Wisconsin Consumer Protection Bureau. Walter Kulinski would have to have been 112 to collect fully on the trust.

Omeichen went after USA and its chief executive Scott Kann and found out how hard it is to prosecute.

"That's part of what the con artists are hoping," he said. "That the people they victimize are so vulnerable -- to the point that they do not make very good witnesses in court."

And even if the targets of the scheme were able to offer accurate accounts of how companies like USA work, there's another obstacle to prosecution: their tactics may not always be illegal.

"I called the cops and they didn't want to do anything," said Judith Kulinski. "They said since Walter signed everything willingly and he let them into his house willingly there wasn't anything they could do."

Luckily for the Kulinskis, USA slipped up in misrepresenting its credentials and gave Oemichen an opening. Still, the best he could do was recover most of Walter Kulinski's money.

Had they not made those missteps, USA might have walked away clean, something Omeichen calls "a very scary prospect."

  • Joel Roberts

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