Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Image of Lawyers

A well written law student from Delaware temporarily enjoying Carlisle Pennsylvania, Mark Cutrona, has written a nice piece about the decayed public image of lawyers, and suggests steps to help us improve that image.

I agree with Mark's suggested steps, and add just one more:

I believe that the root of the public's misperception of the profession is in its misunderstanding of it. As in many things, one dark side of human nature is to shun or disparage things that are different and insular and particularly those things that are not understood. And so I believe for the image of lawyers to be improved, it is necessary to educate the public as to what we do and how their hard earned dollars are spent.

We can go a long way towards this by dispelling myths, such as: "all the lawyers do is fill out a form, and for this they get way too much money". Almost without exception, my estate planning clients exclaim that the process involves many more legal issues than they had previously imagined. Writing a Last Will and Testament for someone is vastly more complex than filling their name into a blank on a form. But until the public understands this, they will never understand why it costs more than $20 for a Will.

The catch 22 is that to fully educate the public as to the complexities of the paths we attorneys walk with them, we almost have to make lawyers of them all.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Living Wills, in light of Schiavo

We have experienced a surge of client inquiries about Living Wills, Durable Powers of Attorney, Medical Powers of Attorney, and such related documentation in the last several weeks.

Many of these inquirers make reference to the Schiavo case, and say that they are making these plans because they don't want their family to go through what Terri Schiavo's family has been going through.

If there is any good to come from the disaster of the situation in Florida, perhaps it is that it has encouraged others to avoid it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

An Ounce of Planning is Worth a Pound of Probate

Every day I see unfortunate circumstances that have developed because somebody was cutting corners. Many people don't understand the legal process and therefore think that they don't need it. But sooner or later it catches up to them, or their estate, in triplicate.

Here are some areas where I see these sorts of problems most frequently:

1. Person dies owning land, and the family continues on without probating the estate.

2. Person doesn't make a will.

3. Person doesn't make a Durable Power of Attorney.

4. Person makes a homemade will or uses a standardized will form.

5. Person adds another person to a deed for property, without an attorney.

Not every time one of these circumstances occur, is there necessarily catastrophic results. But most of the time I see these circumstances, the problems that result cost many thousands of dollars to repair. All to save a couple of hundred dollars to do it right in the first place. And the cost in dollars is only part of the result in cutting legal corners. The time and aggravation costs to the family are much greater when everything has to be repaired, rather than prepared.