Downloading Legal Forms vs. Retaining An Attorney


            In the age of the various internet services and the accessibility of legal forms, individuals can obtain forms such as a last will and testament or a durable power of attorney and forgo retaining an attorney.  By doing so people believe they are saving legal fees, which could be true; however, if these forms are completed incorrectly or if ambiguous language is used, it may be too late to correct the mistake or the cost of the correction may be more than if an attorney was retained in the first place.  Below are two examples of how incorrectly completing a downloadable form could possibly cause problems.

            A last will and testament is a legal document which provides information regarding how you would like your assets to be distributed upon your death and who you would like to handle the distribution.  When a downloaded last will and testament is used and has errors of formality or ambiguous language, it will be too late to correct the mistake easily if the maker of the will, the testator, is deceased.  The heirs and beneficiaries will in all likelihood have to prove to a judge the intent of the testator or show that all beneficiaries and heirs are in agreement with a certain interpretation.  Doing so could be timely and costly, especially if there is discord among the beneficiaries and heirs.  Retaining an attorney to prepare a last a will and testament greatly minimizes the occurrence of errors that often arise when lay individuals prepare wills for themselves.

            A durable power of attorney is a legal document that enables an individual to designate another person to act on his or her behalf, even in the event the individual becomes disabled or incapacitated.  If an individual does not have a durable power of attorney and loses capacity, a court ordered guardianship will most likely be necessary, which could be costly and time consuming.  If an individual downloads a form they believe will survive incapacity, but is not the correct form, or if they incorrectly complete the form, a court ordered guardianship will most likely be necessary if the individual does lose mental capacity.  A guardianship action can be costly, timely, and could possibly cause conflict within a family.  Again, retaining an attorney to prepare a durable power of attorney significantly reduces the mistakes that could happen when lay individuals obtain forms on their own.

            In conclusion, a small investment in retaining an attorney to prepare legal documents, whether it be the documents referred to herein or a contract or a lease, is a wise choice if you wish to obtain the legal expertise and experience of a practitioner who prepares these documents on a regular basis.