Why Should an Attorney Prepare Estate Planning Documents?
By: Howard S. Krooks, Esq., CELA, CAP
Elder Law Associates Newsletter dated January 5, 2018
We live in an exciting time - there's a ton of information on the Internet and elsewhere in the universe on just about every topic including legal information and forms. You can do everything from filing patents to preparing wills and trusts to drafting contracts using documents and templates online. But should you DIY (do it yourself)?
What’s the Catch?
There’s a lot of good information out there. But there’s also a lot of information and tools which are either subpar, incomplete, or just plain wrong. How will you know the difference? Or, perhaps more importantly, WHEN will you know the difference? When you prepare your own legal documents, you won’t be around to fix them when your family is dealing with an improperly drafted estate plan.
When making the decision whether to DIY or hire an attorney, it comes down to:
1. Your level of confidence, and
2. How high the stakes are.
Trying a new recipe on YouTube? Not much risk. Failing to include or omit a crucial clause in a legal document? Disaster.
Consider a husband and wife who sign a joint power of attorney where they appoint their children as their agents. They do not initial the superpowers, as they are required to do by statute, so these powers are ineffective. The document they chose uses “I create” and “I appoint”, instead of “we” not to mention that a joint power of attorney is not authorized under Florida law. Is the document even valid?. Logistically, what happens if one of them dies – can the survivor revoke it? Will their children be able to help them without going to court?
Legal forms do not come with an attorney’s advice. The form is merely a means to an end – a lawyer’s tool. The primary reason to consult with and retain a lawyer is to provide resolutions to broad family and legal issues. In the elder law, estate and special needs planning areas, the lawyer is your advisor, your problem solver, your social worker, your hand holder, and your counselor.
Do lawyers like DIY forms? Some do because those forms tend to create messes which lawyers are then retained to clean up generating even more fees. Ambiguous last will and testament? Fantastic…estate litigation. Shoddy contract? Great…business litigation.
Hiring a lawyer falls within the old adage of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Either way, we at Elder Law Associates love what we do, and we are eager to help you navigate your elder law, estate planning, and special needs planning issues.