How hard can it be to set up a will or a trust? All you've got to do is get a form and fill in the blanks, right?" That question was recently posed to me. In last week's article, I began to answer the question and, in the process, decided to devote three articles to the subject. Today's article is No. 2 of three.
Boilerplate forms are dangerous in the hands of people who do not know what the boilerplate language means from a legal point-of-view, what words are missing that should be included, and what words are included that should be omitted.Be on guard when choosing someone to plan your estate and set up your will, trust, power of attorney, living will, or any other estate-planning documents. Just because he or she has some forms that "look" legal doesn't mean that person knows how to use the forms to fit your specific family situation, and it doesn't mean that the forms are right for the job.
Consider this. You want to fly to Denver, but you want the lowest fare possible. I have a shiny new airplane and a pilot's uniform, and I offer to save you 50 percent off what the airlines charge. What is your first concern? My qualifications as a pilot, or the cost? Am I licensed? Am I qualified to carry extra passengers and luggage? Will the upcoming weather pose problems that I am qualified to handle? Similarly, estate planning should be done by a people properly licensed and trained to take care of the needs posed by your family situation.
Licensing is a requirement intended to protect consumers from people who don't know what they're doing.
Here is an example. A man (we'll call him Jim) hired a professional person (accountant) To set up a trust for him and his wife. The accountant did not have legal training and was not a licensed attorney, but he did have some legal forms. He filled in the forms and had Jim and his wife sign them. He charged Jim much less than "the going rate." Then Jim's wife died. Jim came to our firm was some serious concerns. Jim told us that after he and his wife had signed the forms, he later noticed that they had transferred their home to the "John & Jane Doe Trust." The error was obvious, so Jim went back to the non-attorney to have the mistake fixed. Here is where the mistake grew larger. The non-attorney prepared a new deed to transfer the home from the "John & Jane Doe Trust" to the trust of Jim and his wife. To accomplish that, he had Jim and his wife sign the new deed as "John Doe" and "Jane Doe" and he notarized their signatures attesting to the whole world that John and Jane Doe personally signed the deed in his presence. Then the non-attorney recorded this new "forged" deed with the county recorder. That's when Jim came to see us.
Mistakes can happen but, when they do, they have to be fixed legally, not illegally. We were able to fix the problem for Jim, but it took a fair amount of work, and he paid us several hundred dollars to do it right.
The moral of the story is this. When a non-attorney provides you with estate planning advice or documents, you may pay less, but you're probably going to get what you pay for. Worse, you're doing business with someone who may be in violation of your state's laws. In most states (including Utah), it is against the law to act as an attorney without a license.
In next week's article, we'll point out a few more dangers that estate-planning consumers should be aware of, and we'll point out some things that non-attorneys can properly and lawfully do in conjunction with a licensed attorney as part of the estate-planning process.
To arrange a no-cost private consultation on this or other estate-planning subjects, or to get information about an upcoming no-cost seminar, contact Holmgren at the Salt Lake law firm of Holmgren & Mitton, L.C. 1-801-366-9966 or e-mail to [email protected] Also contact Holmgren if you have a question or issue you would like to see addressed in an upcoming article.