Do-It-Yourself Legal Forms: I Can’t Afford a Lawyer

I hear it pretty regularly – “I can’t afford a lawyer” so I’m just going to do this myself.  After all, it’s just a form, right?  Well, maybe.

I understand that going to an estate planning or elder law attorney can be expensive.  Depending on what you need, if you are single or married, if you have children or they are grown, the fees for estate planning can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.  I hear all the time how people think they can save money by downloading a form online and filling it out yourself.  Of course, if you do it yourself, and you make a mistake, it could be even more costly.

For instance, if you make a mistake on your durable power of attorney (you didn’t sign it correctly, so it is invalid) or you do not have the right provisions to allow your agent to make certain decisions, and your family may end up in guardianship court, asking a court to declare you incompetent and appointing someone to take over and make decisions for you.  You think estate planning is expensive?  Wait until you have to make your way through the maze of guardianship – that is likely to cost you thousands of dollars.  Or, make a mistake with your Will, and you might accidentally disinherit someone, or leave assets to someone that you were not intending to leave assets to – all because you did not understand the terms and why certain provisions are included.

When does it make sense to do it yourself?  Most states have health care proxy designations (or durable medical power of attorney for health care) and living will forms online – click here to see Florida forms – http://www.floridahealthfinder.gov/reports-guides/advance-directives.aspx.   This lets you appoint someone who can make health care decisions on your behalf, and it is pretty simple to name who you want.  Also, living wills are used to let a doctor know that you do not want to be kept alive by artificial means if you are terminal, end-stage or in a persistent vegetative state (these terms can vary from state to state).  These are fairly straightforward.  You should also make sure that your health care proxy contains a HIPAA release which gives your doctor and medical providers permission to share details of your health condition with the person named as health care surrogate.

When is it dangerous to do it yourself?  Last Will and Testaments, trusts, and powers of attorney can be complicated, especially where there is money involved, second marriages, or rifts between family members.  Even if you have a modest estate, it is a good idea to hire an attorney because he or she know what questions to ask to make sure that the important issues are covered and no stone is left unturned.

To schedule a complimentary phone consultation with Attorney Laurie Ohall, please contact her office at 813.438.8503.