Legal Ethics

Lawyer who used nonlawyers to sell living trusts is suspended in New Jersey

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A lawyer who was disbarred in Pennsylvania for using nonlawyers to market and explain living trusts to elderly people has received a two-year suspension in New Jersey for the same conduct.

The New Jersey Supreme Court suspended Barry Bohmueller for two years, but he cannot seek reinstatement until he is reinstated to law practice in Pennsylvania, according to the New Jersey Supreme Court’s order issued last Thursday. Law360 covered the case.

The New Jersey Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Review’s recommendation last July had cited the findings of the Disciplinary Board in Pennsylvania, where Bohmueller was disbarred in 2015.

Bohmueller had hired a company operated by a nonlawyer called Estate Planning Advisors to promote and sell living trusts on Bohmueller’s behalf. The conduct occurred between 2000 and 2004.

The company, known as EPA, marketed the living trusts at restaurant seminars providing a free meal to seniors who attended. Those who expressed an interest in living trusts received a visit at their homes from nonlaywer sales agents. Nonlawyers also delivered the trusts and explained them, according to the Pennsylvania findings.

The sales agents carried Bohmueller’s business card and fee agreements, and used his status as a lawyer to persuade potential clients to obtain living trusts, according to the Pennsylvania findings. The sales agents’ ultimate goal, however, was to sell annuities to the seniors, Pennsylvania had found.

One woman who bought an annuity from an EPA sales agent was 83 years old, and the annuity would not begin to pay out until the woman was 96. Another couple was told the estimated costs of probating their estate totaled about $70,000, when the actual cost was $700 to $800, according to the findings.

The Disciplinary Review Board in New Jersey said Bohmueller had violated several state ethics rules, including rules requiring discussion of a matter with clients to allow them to make informed decisions, and banning lawyers from assisting nonlawyers in the practice of law.

In mitigation, the board noted that Bohmueller had no prior record of misconduct.

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