By Bernard A. Krooks, Certified Elder Law Attorney
Recently, I met with John who came into my office to discuss estate planning for himself and his wife. They have been married for 42 years and have no children and want to leave their entire estate to various charities when they both pass away. After we were finished discussing all the relevant estate planning issues, he asked “Why should I pay you to take care of these matters for me when I can just go on the internet and print out the forms?”
This was very interesting to me. While I am sure that many people think about this exact question prior to hiring a lawyer, this gentleman actually asked the question. I concluded that he was sincere since he could have just gone on the internet and printed out and signed whatever documents he thought he needed. But he didn’t’ do that.
As I pondered my answer, I tried to think this through as objectively as I could. As you might imagine, this was not easy for someone who has spent his entire professional career (35 years) giving legal advice to others. Of course, I thought it was important to have the right lawyer, but I needed to figure out how to communicate that message to John without sounding defensive.
Often, whether you should hire a lawyer depends on your comfort level and time availability. How important is the matter to you and how much time do you have to spend to make sure you get the job done right. Let’s face it, some estates are more complicated than others. It is certainly possible for a non-lawyer to complete certain legal tasks on their and to do an adequate job. The question is whether it is worth the risk of doing something incorrectly and then having to pay a professional to fix the problem. In most cases, the legal fees to avoid a problem are significantly lower than what it would cost to solve a problem once you have one.
While you might say to yourself that if you do make a mistake, at least you won’t be around to have to deal with it since you will no longer be alive. However, that is not true. The reality is that often the most important part of what we estate planning lawyers do is to help you plan for the rest of your life. We help you address issues such as who will make financial and medical decisions for you in the event you are incapacitated and no longer able to make those decisions for yourself. We also help with planning issues related to long-term care, including where you prefer to receive it and how it will be paid for .
We lawyers understand that most people are rightfully concerned about the likely cost of legal advice. Don’t be afraid to ask how much the legal work will cost. In the estate planning field, much of the work can be done on a flat fee basis so that you know at the outset how much the work will cost. Think about it this way: you worked your entire life to accumulate what you have; isn’t it worth the investment to make sure that your wishes are carried out and that your property and assets go to the people you want?
Bernard A. Krooks, Esq., is a founding partner of Littman Krooks LLP and has been honored as one of the “Best Lawyers” in America for each of the last seven years. He is past President of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) and past President of the New York Chapter of NAELA. Mr. Krooks has also served as chair of the Elder Law Section of the New York State Bar Association. He has been selected as a “New York Super Lawyer” since 2006. Mr. Krooks may be reached at (914-684-2100) or by visiting the firm’s website at www.elderlawnewyork.com.