Lawsuit Charges Annuity Sellers With Elder Abuse

In December 2004, two California senior citizens organizations have filed a lawsuit charging five companies that sell annuities to seniors with elder abuse, among other crimes.

The lawsuit, reported in, charges the companies with operating "living trust mills" that target seniors as sales prospects for annuities that often do not mature until after their buyer's death. The organizations filing the lawsuit -- the Institute on Aging and California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR)-- say seniors are lured to estate planning seminars where they are subjected to high-pressure sales pitches to purchase annuities that come with severe tax penalties, exorbitant surrender charges, and long maturation dates.

The companies, American Equity Investment Life Insurance Company, based in Iowa; American Investment Life Insurance Company, based in Kansas; AmeriEstate Legal Plan, Inc., based in Irvine, CA; Estate Preservation, Inc., based in El Segundo, CA; and Gentry Group, Inc., based in Texas, are charged with elder abuse, false advertising, and violating California's Unfair Business Practices law. The suit was filed in San Francisco Superior Court.

The organizations are joined in the lawsuit by several individual seniors who say they have been victims of deceptive marketing practices.

"Unless you have a life expectancy of 110, buying an annuity at age 70 or 80 is not a good idea," said David Werdegar, M.D., President and CEO of the Institute on Aging. "These so-called estate planning companies are, we believe, misrepresenting the nature of the services they are providing. We are joining others to tell them they are not going to get away with it any longer."

"We believe that these companies are in the business of elder abuse, it's that simple," said Patricia McGinnis, Executive Director of CANHR. "They trick vulnerable people into acting against their own best interests. It is not only unconscionable, it is illegal, and we think the time has come for the courts to act."

CANHR's Web site notes that "Thousands of ethical California estate planning attorneys execute living trusts for their clients every day, just as thousand of ethical insurance agents sell annuities as part of a comprehensive estate plan. This lawsuit is about deceptive marketing practices and elder fiduciary abuse."