Do You Really Need an Attorney?
By Leu & Peirce, PLLC
Creating a Will and a solid estate plan is one of the most important things you can do for your loved ones. However, according to a recent survey, only four in ten American adults have a Will and less than that have powers of attorney in place. One of the things we hear most often when providing education about Wills and other legal documents is: “Why do I need an attorney? Can’t I just do this myself?” While we understand the desire to save money, we know that the do-it-yourself approach can end up costing your loved ones more time and money in the long run, even in a “simple” estate.
The biggest obstacle to overcome when preparing a good estate plan, is ensuring that all of the necessary documents are included. In addition to a Will, everyone over the age of 18 needs the following legal documents in place to ensure maximum control and protection over their assets and their future:
- Durable Power of Attorney
- Medical Power of Attorney
- Authorization to Release Medical Information
- Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates (Living Will)
- Declaration of Guardian in the Event of Later Incapacity
These documents are vital to a well-rounded estate plan. This is particularly true for the documents designed to protect you during your lifetime. Although often overlooked, a Durable Power of Attorney and a Medical Power of Attorney are critical parts of long-term care planning, because they designate the person or persons who will be acting for you in the event you are unable to handle your own financial and health care decisions. Without these documents, no one, not even your parents, spouse, or adult children, is legally authorized to handle your finances or make medical decisions for you.
An experienced attorney who practices in this area of the law understands each of these documents thoroughly and how they should be developed to fit your particular circumstances, wishes, and family dynamics. As with any legal document, these documents should only be executed after great contemplation, discussion, and reflection. Each person and situation is unique and you should not rely on a generic form to guide these important decisions. Additionally, as your life situation changes, so should your estate planning documents. It is generally a good idea to have your documents reviewed by an attorney upon life-changing events, or every five years to ensure your estate plan still reflects your wishes and is consistent with your goals.
“But I don’t have any assets,” or “My creditors will take my estate,” or “I’m not old enough” are other reasons we hear when counseling the public on the importance of estate planning. The bottom line is everyone has an estate to plan for and protect. Everyone has at least one asset – a bank account, a car, maybe a house – even if its encumbered by debt. It doesn’t matter if you have one or one million assets, the necessity to have a well thought out, complete estate plan with all of the documents, is the same. Despite our better judgment, an 18-year old is the same kind of adult as an 80-year old, and although the estate plan maybe different, the importance of having legal documents in place is equal.
Advice on these documents, as well as other legal issues, such as eligibility for long-term care Medicaid benefits, should be provided by an attorney who works in this area on a daily basis. There is a reason that professionals like attorneys and doctors are licensed and specialized – they are providing important services, governed by certain standards, and they are required to obtain continual education in their areas of expertise. Such licensing is intended to provide protection to the public. That protection is lost, though, when unlicensed, and unauthorized, persons provide advice on the same matters.
Seek qualified professional advice and take the time to build relationships with people you trust to help you plan for your future. You are doing your family an invaluable service when you prepare and complete a plan before you need it.
Lori Leu, Erin Peirce, Lauren Olson, Laura Chavero, and Brisha Gardner are Elder Law attorneys with Leu & Peirce, PLLC, with offices in Texas.