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Thursday, April 22, 2010

What do lawyers know that you don't know?

This morning I had a painful, confrontational meeting with a person who didn't like the fact that I suggested improvements to her home-made Will, even though she had asked for input. Along with other problems, the Will didn't contain any powers for the executor and trustee. She didn't see why she needed them. I did.

I'm always surprised when non-lawyers not only assume they know as much about Wills as Wills lawyers do, but when they're willing to argue about it, that spills over into astonishment.

Remember a story in the news about a medical assistant who accidentally killed her friend by doing liposuction on the friend when the medical clinic was closed? The assistant had seen the doctor do the operation many times, in fact had helped plenty of times, and it looked familiar to her, so she felt confident that she could do what the doctor did. And the friend thought that saving a few bucks would be wonderful.

Sure it looked easy. That's because the knowledge that the assistant had was only superficial. She knew the basics. One of the things she didn't know was how to control damage. She didn't know how to react if things went wrong. Her friend paid the price.

The same thing happens with Wills. People have seen Wills before, they look familiar, and hey we all speak English so it can't be that hard to fill in a few blanks. Just as with the liposection assistant, the person making his or her own Will does not know how to limit the potential danger.

There is one difference. The assistant who messed up the liposuction became aware pretty quickly that she'd made a tragic mistake. When a person makes a home-made Will, he or she doesn't usually ever know there's a mistake. Their loved ones left behind know it though, and they pay the price for that person saving a few dollars.

When I need specialized help, whether it's a doctor, plumber, mechanic or chef, I want the person who knows what he or she is doing. I don't want "help" from someone who watched the real expert do the job a few times, or someone who saw a show about it on TV. However, I know that many other people are willing to take this risk. It's not really about money, because we all know that people with bad Wills end up with their families fighting it out in court. It's really about failing to understand that there is more to a Will than the superficialities.

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