Retirees Rooked By Annuities

Eighty-seven-year-old Mary Lynch is a spry Pennsylvania grandmother who still keeps busy with a needle, reports CBS News Correspondent Trish Regan.

Three years ago, an estate-planning group sold her a kit to prepare a "living trust" – a document that can be legally used to avoid some inheritance expenses.

"If you have this living trust, you have no court cost," says her son John, reading some of the claims of the kit. "You pay nothing in probate, nothing for a will."

Sounds like a good deal?

"A very good deal," says Mary, "like I'd be saving money."

Except, says her son John, "You know it's a bunch of lies."

Mary and John now say the estate-planning group's kit was a trap.

"It's a vehicle to find out the financial information of senior citizens," John says. "And once they do that, they can target, like let's say, your mom and hard-pressure sell, to buy this annuity and earn a 10-percent commission."

An annuity guarantees fixed cash payments in the future. Mary signed over her entire life's savings, $65,000.

That's a big mistake for someone in her eighties because annuities don't start paying until well into the future, says financial planner Ric Edelman.

"Because of the way they operate regarding tax law, you generally need to own an annuity for 15 to 20 years for it to make economic sense,'' said Edelman.

Mary says she didn't understand that her annuity payments wouldn't start for 40 years, when she'd be 125 years old; that early withdrawals could be subject to a stiff penalty; and that the "estate planner" was really an insurance salesman.

"It's an impression that they create," says Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett. "They really don't tell the individuals that they are selling to, that, 'I'm really an insurance salesman. I'm getting a commission on this.'"

Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit against the insurance company Amerus and estate planning associates, claiming they "misled consumers" using "scare tactics" to sell annuities to "elderly consumers, who may never personally benefit."

Citing the lawsuit, both companies declined to talk with CBS.

"I think they took advantage of us because we trusted them," says Mary Lynch. "I think they should be put out of business."

Mary's fighting to get her money back and hoping her story keeps other seniors from tying up their savings in a place it doesn't belong.

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