As you may see from past blog posts, I get many ideas about what to write in my posts from the phone calls I receive on a weekly basis. I get at least one phone call a week (usually, it is more than that) wanting to know how much it costs for a Durable Power of Attorney, or how much it costs to do a particular document. Here is what I would like you to know when you call an attorney and ask a question like that: would you call your doctor and say, I have a headache, how much for a prescription to get rid of the headache? Or, my foot hurts, I think I broke it, how much for the cast? No? Well, first of all, you would not get past the receptionist answering the phone who will most definitely tell you that you need to come in and be evaluated. Just like a doctor cannot prescribe medication or medical advice by just talking to you over the phone, an estate planning or elder law attorney needs to see you and evaluate your financial situation before they can make recommendations.
I know what you are thinking – you just want to see what I have so you can charge me more money. Nope, that is not it at all. I charge the same fees for planning for someone with $100,000 as I do for someone with $1 million when the only thing he or she wants are “basic documents” which are a Last Will and Testament, Durable Power of Attorney, Living Will and Health Care Surrogate Designation. The difference being that there may be more planning that has to be done for someone with $1 million than there is for someone with $100,000 (in other words, they may need more than just basic documents).
So, why do I offer a free phone consultation? I understand that most people have never had to go to an attorney and are not sure what to expect. When I do the phone consultation, I try to answer general questions (and sometimes I am able to help the person realize that they do not need an attorney and I can point them in the right direction for whatever their need may be). But the point of the phone consultation is so that the potential client can feel relaxed and know that, whatever their issue or concern is, that I will be able to handle it when they get here. I won’t say to them, “Hmm, I’m not sure about x, y or z – I cannot help you” and yet they are charged for a consultation.
Another thing that you can expect when you go to see an estate planning or elder law attorney is that they will ask you to fill out an intake form (kind of like what you do when you go to a doctor) which asks questions about your financial estate planning goals such as do you want to avoid probate, is long term nursing home care a concern, are estate taxes an issue,you’re your concerns such as whether you have disabled children, or children that cannot handle finances. The intake form also asks you to list your assets, your income, and the names of those you want to serve in certain capacities, such as personal representative (or executor), agent under your Durable Power of Attorney or health care surrogate. These questions are necessary to make sure that the attorney addresses all issues (even things you may not think were an issue). Just like a doctor, who has to find out about your medical history and evaluate your health, an estate planning/elder law attorney has to ask the right questions to address all the possible financial issues.
Here is an example: Jane calls the office to tell me that she met with a financial planner for her mom and dad, and his recommendation was that they do something with the house so that it does not go through probate after mom and dad die. Mom is in a nursing home undergoing rehabilitation because she fell and broke her hip. Dad is still living in the home. Jane wants to know how much is the cost to do a deed to put her and her brother on the house? She isn’t sure what kind of a deed she needs, but she knows she needs one. Here’s the problem that Jane hasn’t mentioned – her brother has all kinds of creditor issues, and mom and dad cannot continue to live on their own and will need assisted living care soon. These are issues that affect what kind of planning needs to be done and this is why it is not always easy to answer the question over the phone, “How much will this cost?” The answer may be, “It depends.”
Would you like additional guidance from a knowledgable attorney? Schedule a complimentary phone consultation with Attorney Laurie Ohall by calling 813.438.8503 or online.