“Saying she netted an illegal $1M profit, former insurance agent Blanche Berenzweig should return the money she collected from a now deceased client's estate, according to a decision by an administrative law judge now heading to the [Wisconsin] state Insurance Commissioner for action.”
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Marshall Murray ordered that a trial be held this fall to determine who should collect the entire $1.6 million estate of LeRoy Ern, a Milwaukee man who lived the life of a hermit. He died of advanced dementia in 2016 at the age of 92. He left everything to Blanche Berenzweig, a now-retired insurance agent who lives in Mequon and Las Vegas. His will was drafted by a lawyer who shared an office with Berenzweig.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, “Insurance agent should give up $1 million received from client's policies, judge recommends,” reports that 11 of Ern's 12 nieces and nephews objected to the will that was drafted in 2009. They said Berenzweig improperly pressured their reclusive uncle.
Ern also gave her power of attorney over his financial and health affairs, if he became incapacitated.
Rachel Pings, an administrative law judge, wrote a proposed order that was filed in the Circuit Court probate case. She says Berenzweig put herself in a position to entirely manage his money and exploited Ern's trust and isolation by knowingly being named as the beneficiary of his annuities, when she had no insurable interest in his life.
"She profited illegally by more than $1 million," Pings wrote.
The order now goes to state Insurance Commissioner who will decide whether to uphold the recommendations that Berenzweig return the annuity proceeds, permanently revoke her insurance license and fine her $3,000. The annuity proceeds are frozen.
Pings' decision says the fact that Berenzweig served as Ern's agent, beneficiary, and power of attorney posed obvious conflicts.
Ern was never close to his nieces and nephews. The relationships grew more distant as his siblings died. He met Berenzweig in 1993, when she helped him purchase an annuity. They became reacquainted in 2008, when Ern was having a problem with that policy.
A friendship developed, and Berenzweig said she vehemently objected to Ern making her the beneficiary of the annuities and the estate but that her client was insistent.
Pings noted in her opinion that insurance regulators consider Berenzweig "an unethical insurance agent who took advantage of her position of trust with a lonely old man, so she could benefit from his sizable estate when he died."
The man’s nieces and nephews are challenging their uncle's entire will, which named Berenzweig the sole beneficiary.
Reference: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (March 12, 2018) “Insurance agent should give up $1 million received from client's policies, judge recommends”