Why should you pay a lawyer to do something that you could do yourself for free?
I get asked that question from time to time. And my answer is, you shouldn’t. I certainly wouldn’t. However, there may be good reasons you haven’t considered why you can’t really do it yourself.
Some things are worth paying for, and people regularly find that out the hard way. I had a genius friend who wanted a “floating television” – a TV mounted on the wall, with the power cable hidden in the wall (i.e., running through the wall). An electrician quoted him a fee he considered too high, so he decided to run the cable through the wall himself. He was a pretty handy guy, and it was just a matter of drilling some holes. Right?
Wrong. His amateur electrical work started a fire, and also voided his insurance coverage, so he had to pay for the damage himself.
I know a little about cars and do some basic maintenance myself. But for serious problems, I take my car to a mechanic, because I don’t want to find out that I fixed my brakes wrong when I’m going 70mph on the highway and my car won’t stop.
In the same way, people who write their own wills or trusts, or do their own Medicaid planning, may be setting themselves up for problems down the road. The classic example is someone who reads about Medicaid on the internet and then deeds their house away to their kids to protect against future nursing home costs. Three years later they go into a nursing home and apply for Medicaid, only to find out that there’s now a three-year gift penalty because of the house.
Likewise, if you write your will yourself or download it off the internet, it may not do what you think it does. And no one may realize that until it’s too late to change it – because you’ve already passed away or lost capacity. Your DIY will might result in thousands in taxes that could have been avoided, or in your property being distributed in a way you wouldn’t want, or to someone who can’t manage it responsibly.
That’s not to say you can never do certain things yourself. For a truly simple and straightforward will, you may be okay with something you got online, and for a simple and straightforward Medicaid application you may be okay doing it yourself. However, in our experience, “simple and straightforward” is rare – there usually is some kind of complicating factor in each situation, and you probably won’t recognize it without seeing an experienced lawyer.
Making sure your affairs can be taken care of if you become incapacitated, taking care of your loved ones after you die, making sure you are able to pay for long term care and don’t leave your family impoverished or riddled with debt – these are all important concerns, and in my view, it’s worth paying to get done right. To me, the right question isn’t whether a lawyer is worth the money. It’s whether your family and your peace of mind are worth the money.