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Monday, May 23, 2016

Ok, that's enough! Stop giving legal advice if you're not a lawyer.

On Friday, I had to yell at someone in a bank. Well, I suppose I didn't have to, but that is pretty much what happened. You tell me whether you'd have done the same.

On Friday I met with a client who is around 90 years old. She has never been married, has no kids, and no siblings. She is close with a couple of cousins that she trusts. She has a very small estate, and wants a will to deal with it, which of course I agreed to prepare for her. She also wanted an Enduring Power of Attorney and Advance Healthcare Directive.

Within two hours of leaving our meeting, the client called me and said she no longer wanted the Enduring Power of Attorney. She had gone to the bank after our meeting and when she mentioned why she had been to see me, the bank person advised her not to get a POA. When I asked why, she said the "girl at the bank" had said someone could steal her money.

She didn't know the person's name, so when I phoned the branch manager in a fury, I wasn't sure exactly who to blame. But I left no doubt in his mind that I was not going to accept his staff giving legal advice to my clients. I wrung a promise out of him that he would find out who had talked to  my client and would reprimand her.

I know I'm a bit of a hurricane on wheels when I get angry, which is extremely rare, but I felt justified. I gave advice to a woman after hearing the details of her life, understanding her goals, and forming an opinion based on my many years of experience. I simply could not believe that someone with zero legal training at all would scare my client out of taking a step that I had strongly advised. I felt that someone had taken advantage of the fears of a vulnerable woman and it really upset me.

This is an ongoing problem. People give advice that they have absolutely no business giving. You will recall that recently I blogged about a person whose financial advisor had drafted his will. It's similar in the sense that people with no legal training whatsoever are giving advice as if they did. Unfortunately, the people hearing the advice don't always seem to know the difference, as the person giving advice has some appearance of being in a position of knowledge.

It absolutely galls me that people are being led astray by interfering individuals talking about things they have only heard second-hand, or possibly third or fourth hand.They either scare people, such as they did with my client, or lull them into a completely false sense of security, like the fellow whose will was drafted by an untrained person.

I wonder how many families are going to be destroyed by the incompetent wills drafted by that unscrupulous financial advisor who will clearly do or say pretty much anything to impress his clients? I wonder how much money will be wasted when applications have to be made to the court for trusteeship of adults because their bank tellers advised them not to use POAs? There should be consequences for this kind of dangerous behaviour.

I can't stop every person who pretends they have legal knowledge they don't, but I can make sure that this particular banker stops giving out fake legal advice.


  1. Lynne, what you did sounds reasonable but there is a genuine concern out there. I am going to go off topic a bit here. Lawyers in general do not have a good reputation. I am going through a situation where lawyers have misbehaved. I have documentation. Fighting lawyers is almost impossible. Who can they really go to not to mention the cost etc. You recently wrote that you no longer litigated and that you had no stomach for it. This is your playground. What chance do the rest of us have. Lynne, I wish all lawyers were like you. You give a great deal. Your blog has provided me with a great deal of information. It's my impression that few lawyer's educate their clients. I know from example.

    1. I guess it depends on the lawyer, as you said. I know so many really good lawyers who care about their clients a great deal, and take the time to educate them and find out what they need. But I guess it's like any profession or group, in the sense that there are going to be bad apples along with the good.


  2. With all due respect to your rant, I'm wondering a couple of things. 1. Did you thoroughly explain to this lady that an Enduring POA means that someone could in fact misappropriate funds. If you did not, that teller was giving her new information. Or maybe the teller was alarming her with understandable language! 2. If you did warn her reasonably, then the lady may have had a re-think, even though the teller's advice was unprofessional and inappropriate. The level of capability to make such decisions may however, be in question. It may not be you, but sometimes lawyers miss details too.

  3. CRA was wondering about a will that was drafted and certified by a notary, stating the will wasn't clear enough. To me, I thought it was but I trust lawyers and notaries know what they are doing, especially if they have been in the business for decades.

    And I think this is a good reminder of the challenges one faces in dealing with estates and wills, even a simple POA. Unless a lawyer tags along with you, someone will always make you have doubts or give you a hard time.


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