I have been getting spam from Mike Cox, the Michigan Attorney General. He is touting his Internet outreach effort, “SeniorBrigade: A Michigan Seniors Website.” I visited SeniorBrigade.com and it is pathetic. Articles like “Reverse Mortgages” and “How to Reduce Telemarketing Calls and Junk Mail” offer generic information of little substance. More disturbing are the do-it-yourself legal forms he offers. It is obvious that Cox created this website to have an excuse for sending emails from government computers in support of his campaign for governor. Unfortunately, he hired a hack to design the website and choose content. It would have been better if he had not bothered.
The articles Cox offers on the SeniorBrigade website provide little helpful information. For example, the article called “Reverse Mortgages” probably came from the reverse mortgage industry. It glosses over the problems with reverse mortgages.
A reverse mortgage, more properly called a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), is a complex financial arrangement that is only helpful for a very small portion of the population. There are dangerous pitfalls for persons who sign reverse mortgages and many agents who sell them do not properly explain those pitfalls. For example, an HECM must be paid off if the borrower fails to physically occupy the property because of physical or mental illness for twelve consecutive months and no other borrower occupies the premises. Since a borrower must be at least 62, this means that if a son or daughter moved in with the borrower, that person could not be a borrower and would have to pay off the HECM or leave if the borrower went into a nursing facility for a year.
The one-year grace period cannot be relied on, though. If the borrower went into an assisted-living facility for health reasons, the mortgage company might foreclose sooner under a claim that the property was no longer the borrower’s principal residence. The foreclosure my be improper, but unless the family could hire legal counsel, they would be toast.
The namby-pamby articles are not the worst aspect of this dismal effort at public education. SeniorBrigade.com offers fill-in-the-blanks, generic powers of attorney and wills. These forms are neither particularly good nor particularly bad. The ghastly part is that the state’s foremost attorney is handing out free legal documents without even suggesting that it would be wise to consult an attorney about these important matters. Powers of attorney and wills are serious undertakings that have major legal consequences. Unwise decisions in signing them can result in five-figure legal bills or loss of substantial portions of the person’s estate when the mistakes become known five, 10, or 20 years later.
Part of the disclaimer, in small print at the end of the health-care and financial powers of attorney, suggests that the documents are not even provided for use. It states, “This document is an informational guide, intended to aid the reader as to the types of issues that should be raised in consultation with an attorney, financial advisor, or healthcare provider, and/or with an appropriate representative of a public or private agency.” There are two problems with this statement. First, it is a falsehood to say that the form is an “informational guide.” It is a DIY legal instrument and it is offered as such.
Secondly, it is incredible that the attorney general would tell citizens that they should consult anyone but an attorney about executing serious legal documents. It appears that Mike Cox is trying to resurrect “We the People,” the defunct anti-attorney legal self-help organization that was engaging in unauthorized practice of law before it went bankrupt.
Mike Cox is the Attorney General of the State of Michigan. If he decides to create a website to inform citizens, he should do it competently and he should not make legal documents available without advising citizens that they should consult an attorney before taking such a serious step. Furthermore, equating a consultation with a financial adviser with legal advice from an attorney is simply bizarre. It detracts from the warning elsewhere on SeniorBrigate.com about purchasing a trust package from a sales agent.
Putting these forms on the internet for free, especially without telling citizens that it would be better to consult an attorney, is an abnegation of the Attorney General’s position. It is like the Surgeon General telling people that it is healthy to live on a diet of candy bars and TV dinners. Mike Cox knows better than that, which raises the question of what he is trying to do.
John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
law-business.com ©2010 John B. Payne, Attorney