Beware of Nonlawyers Acting Like Lawyers

When people think about creating an estate plan, they may think it just involves getting a set of forms that convey their wishes regarding their finances, health, and what will happen to their stuff when they die. Although the documents that comprise an estate plan may seem like simple forms, these important estate planning tools are the legally binding way for clients to manage their affairs during their incapacity (when they cannot manage their own affairs) or their death. Relying on nonlawyers to help with estate planning forms or provide legal advice can pose significant risks. Many professions should not provide legal advice, but it is not uncommon for some to cross into legal territory when they have related fields of expertise. Individuals in these professions must recognize the boundaries of their expertise and refer clients to qualified legal professionals when estate planning advice is needed. Additionally, consumers should be aware of these limitations and seek legal help.

Reasons to Be Cautious and Contact an Estate Planning Attorney

Many different types of professionals play important roles in the estate planning process. Some aspects of the process, however, should be handled only by lawyers. Nonlawyer professionals do not have the same legal training and expertise that a licensed and experienced estate planning attorney has. Estate planning requires an understanding of complex legal issues, including tax implications, property rights, and family law considerations. Relying on individuals who do not have the right qualifications may result in oversights or incorrect applications of law.

Other types of professionals can provide crucial information about your finances, insurance policies, property, and other relevant issues that contribute to a comprehensive estate plan. They can also offer expert advice regarding investment strategies, financial products that can enhance your estate plan, and important tax consequences.

Nonlawyers often provide generic estate planning solutions that are merely templates and do not address your specific needs and circumstances. Estate planning is highly individualized, and a one-size-fits-all approach may not adequately protect your money and property or meet your goals. Attorneys know which questions to ask to prevent or navigate specific legal problems and provide alternative strategies.

Estate planning laws and probate procedures also vary significantly from one jurisdiction to another. Nonlawyers may not be well-versed in the specific laws of Wisconsin, leading to incomplete or inappropriate legal documents that may not be legally valid or effective. Between improperly drafted documents and outdated documents that must be updated as your circumstances change, there is sure to be disappointment when you need your estate plan to work.

In addition, communication with attorneys is protected by attorney-client privilege, which ensures confidentiality. Most nonlawyers cannot offer the same level of privacy, potentially jeopardizing sensitive information and creating legal risks.

How to Find a Reputable Estate Planning Attorney

Finding a reliable and experienced estate planning attorney is crucial for ensuring that your wishes are properly documented, legally protected, and enforceable. Here are some general strategies to help you find a reputable estate planning attorney, regardless of your location:

  • Referrals from friends, family, colleagues, or other professionals you trust for recommendations. After you have compiled a list of potential attorneys, search online for reviews and testimonials from previous clients to gain insight and find the right fit
  • Online legal directories. Find attorneys based on their practice area, location, and client reviews
  • Professional organizations that focus on estate planning attorney memberships
  • Local legal aid organizations or pro bono services: some attorneys offer reduced fees or pro bono services for individuals with limited financial resources

Crafting the right plan for your unique situation requires working with a professional. If you have questions about the estate planning process or are ready to get started, give us a call.

Posted in: Estate Planning