TV celebs - not always the best source for your estate advice


One of my favorite TV personalities is Suze Orman. She is a financial advisor and has a show where she answers callers’ questions on how to deal with their financial issues and problems. She advises people on how to set up budgets, reduce debt and other assorted financial issues. Her advice has helped a number of people I know who just couldn’t get their finances under control.

However, I often disagree with her on her estate planning document recommendations, particularly her advice on Revocable Living Trusts.

In some states, such as California, Living Trusts are very popular because California has a complex, lengthy and costly probate process. In Pennsylvania, we do not have the same type of process and for 95% of our clients, a Will is a much better option than a Living Trust which often offers no benefits and yet costs ten times more.

For clients with unique circumstances, such as someone who can no longer manage their money and do not have a relative or trusted friend to do so, or someone who owns real estate in another state with a difficult probate process such as California, a Living Trust may be recommended. But for the vast majority of Pennsylvanians, Living Trusts are not needed or necessary.

TV celebrities also recommend reverse mortgages. We have clients who purchased a reverse mortgage or were getting ready to buy one, and were not told about the fees or the settlement/closing costs or the possibility of losing their home if they fall behind on taxes, maintenance or homeowners insurance. A 60- or 90-second commercial cannot cover details, especially when dealing with a very complicated product like a reverse mortgage. What sounds good on a commercial may not always be good for your particular situation.

With any major purchase, be careful who you rely on. We have seen 95-year-olds buy products that offer no benefit but also 45-year-olds who have been scammed. When seeking advice, try to find someone who lives in the community, has a good reputation, strong qualifications and who has been around for a long time. Sometimes asking friends and family can be helpful. Don’t only rely on TV personalities--their job is to get you interested, but your job is to make an educated decision that helps you, not harms you.

Jan L Brown and Associates is a law firm founded in 1993 to help families. The firm has over 49 years of combined experience and practices exclusively in the areas of estate planning, probate and elder law. Estate planning includes Wills, Powers of Attorneys, Living Wills, Trusts, Tax Planning, Special Needs Trusts and Guardianships. Elder law addresses the legal issues of seniors, their families and those who care for them including obtaining benefits, such as Medicare, Medicaid and VA benefits and protecting assets from nursing home care costs. The information presented is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice as every client and situation is different and requires specific review and analysis. If you would like an appointment, please call (717) 541- 5550.