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SENIOR ADVOCATE

By Liza Horvath

 

Skimping on Legal Fees Can Cost You

 

No one likes to pay legal fees. Similarly, few of us enjoy spending time in lawyer’s offices, answering personal questions and making plans for what we want to happen if we divorce, become ill or die – these are really “not fun” topics. Similarly, young folks – the ones you see with babies in a stroller playing games on mom’s IPhone while she shops – are extremely resistant to going into law offices to get needed planning done. Recognizing this, opportunists have made fortunes providing websites where you can access forms for wills, trusts, corporations and partnerships along with “advice” on how the documents should be completed  – all for what appears to be a reasonable cost.

 

What is truly surprising is the hubris it must take for a lay person, albeit one that may have gone to college or is otherwise educated, to access one of these services and proceed to prepare an estate plan. Remember, the estate field is the most highly litigated field of law. After law school, most estate attorneys go on to attend two, sometimes more, years of continuing education or graduate school just to better understand a continually evolving, deeply complex, area of our legal system.

 

Some litigation attorneys, when asked about on-line legal forms, will chuckle and say, “That’s my future bread and butter,” meaning they predict (and rightfully count on) many litigation opportunities from self-written, poorly constructed estate plans – many of which come from do-it-yourself legal services sites. Sadly, they may be right. Aside from the already voluminous amount of court trials on estates and trusts topics, poorly written self-made documents will surely continue to fuel legal battles.

 

Ann Aldrich used an online “E-Z Legal Form” to create her will. Unfortunately, the form lacked certain clauses and, at her death and seemingly contrary to what Aldrich wanted, a niece successfully sued the estate and received assets that Aldrich most likely intended for a brother – one who was desperately in need of funds for his personal support. A concurring opinion in this case noted that, “the cost cutting measures and do-it-yourself legal forms are not always the cheapest method when the results lead to very costly and time consuming litigation.” – Well said.

 

Almost more important than a well drafted estate plan is the relationship you create with a lawyer or other adviser when you begin to answer all those invasive, personal questions. The advisor is not just getting information, they are learning about your life, the things you hold dear, the good and bad interactions you may have had with children, family or business partners. The lawyer or advisor – if they are good at what they are doing – will continually be considering where your vulnerabilities lie, how you may perhaps be “attacked” by disinherited child and the likelihood of success for such an attack. Finally, a good advisor will help you see the strengths of your plans – along with any weaknesses – and help minimize or even extinguish disadvantages that may be present in your planning.

 

While Ann Aldrich’s true intentions seemed evident in the documents – that she wanted her brother to receive her estate, a court of law must uphold “the law” and the Florida court that heard and ruled on the Aldrich case had to base its ruling on what legal forms existed – irrespective of how badly they were written.

 

Take the time, spend the money and get a plan – along with a relationship with a trusted advisor that will truly provide the outcome you desire. It will not be the cheapest plan – but hopefully it will work.

Liza Horvath has over 30 years experience in the estate planning and trust fields and is the president of Monterey Trust Management, a financial and trust management company. This is not intended to be legal or tax advice. If you have a questions call (831)646-5262 or email liza@montereytrust.com

 


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