I was inspired to write this post by Brenda Speer, a solo colleague and fellow blogger in Colorado Springs who practices intellectual property law. Read her post “The Perils of DIY Legal” here. I agree with Brenda about not doing things yourself – even if you think you can and it will save you some money. I’ve had the opportunity to be my own counsel a couple times in the last few years, and I have declined representation both times! DIY for lawyers can also be problematic! Check out “Train Wrecks of Estate Planning” here. This article highlights what happened to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Burger’s will .
According to a recent article, “Half of Americans with Kids Set to Die Without a Will,” but what surprised me was that it was estimated at only 50%, which I thought might have been higher (remember it’s an estimate). Is this a conscious or unconscious decision on people’s parts? As a parent, I think it is more of a conscious decision to not have some plan in place in the event something happens to you or you die (yes, unexpectedly). So that of course brings us to the next question – if you choose not to make a will, do you know how the law of intestacy in Colorado works to divide your estate? Hmm. . . .
How Hard Can It Be To Write a Will – Can’t I Do it Myself?
Okay, you decide to write a will. Do you know what you don’t know? I liked Bernard Krooks’ article “Is Do-It Yourself Estate Planning a Valid Option?” in Forbes. He makes the observation that there is no book Home Surgery for Dummies and that some things are better left to the professionals.
How can you sort through the information you find on the internet? It’s just a form right? I know I’ve filled out the wrong form before, thinking it was the right one . . . and people doing DIY estate planning can do the same thing. What the forms available through Nolo and LegalZoom don’t do is ask any questions about YOUR situation. Isn’t that why you want a will, power of attorney, or other legal document in the first place? Otherwise you can leave it up to the “wait and see” approach that so many people take, and hope that there isn’t a really terrible mess to clean up (legal, financial or emotional) afterward. I also liked this article.
If you use a legal document service – how do you know which document is right for you and whether the form is consistent with Colorado law? The only way to get an appropriate and up-to-date form, reflective of current state law, is to hire an attorney who is familiar with the field of law and current legal developments. Each state has its own probate code and case law, and whether you are concerned with disability planning (powers of attorney, living trusts) or estate planning (wills, testamentary trusts), the law of the state in which you reside is specific and unique. Document assembly services don’t explain this to people because they might expect you to already know that! Your best defense is to be a well-informed consumer.
So here are four pointers to keep in mind –
- It’s too easy to make mistakes if you don’t know what you’re doing
- No legal advice is given with document services – so you don’t know whether you’re getting the right documents with the correct language
- State laws applicable to powers of attorney, estate planning and estate administration are unique to the particular state and they are subject to change
- Correcting mistakes can be expensive – sometimes the “inexpensive” forms can lead to results that are costly
What if I already have a will and just want to change it myself – how hard can that be? Well, Robert Fleming’s article “don’t try this at home” has a good cautionary tale about the importance of amending your will (the legal term is “codicil”) so that it is done correctly and will be upheld.
Keep in mind as well that it is often legal issues that are bound with financial, medical and emotional issues as well – as modern disability (life or longevity) and estate planning involves other people, relying on others to help make decisions in the event of incapacity.
Why is this such a big deal? In Colorado, attorneys are not allowed to say we “specialize” in elder or estate law because Colorado does not have certifications that many others states use. If you are looking for an attorney who has a lot of experience in the field of estate and elder law, do your research and look for someone who “focuses” their practice in this area. Elder law is in many respects a general practice field that is made specific by the client served. There are many legal issues that our legal system and our society have not faced before because we have never had this many 80 and 90 year olds on the face of the planet!
So – tell me again – why talk to an attorney?
Consulting with an attorney has the benefit of talking with an actual human. I am not simply a purveyor of legal documents, I’m not a legal document preparation service – I’m a person with a law license and years of experience. I may not be able to compete with the legal form generating websites on price, but that’s because I offer something different: I am licensed to practice law in Colorado, and I spend time talking with clients to find out what their concerns and unique situations are so that I can recommend a strategy, including the preparation of legal documents, that fits their needs. I suggest that before deciding that a document preparation service is the less expensive alternative, a person should look into what it is they are getting, and what they are not getting. . . . And be sure to call an attorney to see what they have to offer.
©Barbara Cashman, LLC www.DenverElderLaw.org