AG Ferguson sues estate-planning company for misleading hundreds of WA seniors

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a consumer protection lawsuit Thursday against CLA Estate Services, Inc. and CLA USA, Inc. for misleading hundreds of Washington seniors about estate planning.

The Texas-based company enticed seniors with a "free lunch" if they attended estate planning workshops. During the workshops, CLA salespeople then encouraged the seniors to set up living trusts and buy CLA's Lifetime Estate Plan packages.

The company was actually trying to obtain detailed financial information from the seniors, and then sell them complex financial products they did not understand.

According to Ferguson, CLA did not adequately disclose that these products could lock up seniors’ assets for years and carried hefty penalties for early withdrawal. These products earned CLA millions in commissions at substantial cost to consumers.

Since 2009, CLA has conducted more than 700 “free lunch” seminars, attended by more than 11,000 Washingtonians. In Washington alone, the company sold more than 1,200 Lifetime Estate Plans earning CLA more than $2.6 million, and sold more than 700 annuities earning CLA more than $4.5 million in commissions.

“CLA’s business model is a classic ‘trust mill’ scheme.” Ferguson said. “The company made a profit off deceptively marketing estate planning and financial products to retirement-age Washington consumers. I am holding individuals and businesses that prey on seniors accountable.”

Consumers who wish to file a complaint regarding CLA Estate Services, Inc., CLA USA, Inc., and Mitchell Johnson are encouraged to contact the Attorney General’s Office.