I received a voice mail from a former client. The message indicated he needed to do some estate planning. He wasn't sure if he needed a living will or just a will, but he definitely needed something.
Now I was pretty sure what he meant was a living trust or a will, but I returned the call just to make sure. As I suspected, the client used the wrong name for the documents.
This sort of thing happens fairly frequently. A few years ago I received a letter from a gentleman who wanted to know why I was such a big proponent of living wills when an article he had read suggested they were the most over-used estate planning document out there. He even enclosed a copy of the article with his letter. The problem was the article wasn't referring to living wills; it was referring to living trusts.
A thorough estate plan consists of a lot of documents and a lot of them sound alike. Living wills sound like living trusts and a lot like just plain old wills. Although they share a similar name, each of these documents does different things.
I know this stuff can be complicated. When you execute an estate plan, there will likely be a stack of documents sitting on the table waiting for your signature. It's easy to become confused. However, it's important to know what you are signing and why.
I know there is a temptation to rely on the attorney. If the attorney says you need it, who are you to doubt him. After all, he's the one who spent years in law school. I'm the same way whenever I go see my doctor. If my doctor tells me I need something, who am I to question his opinion? He's the dude in the lab coat, and I'm just the guy who isn't feeling well.
If you feel this sort of intimidation, it's important to understand the attorney needs you to ask questions. No attorney wants to send a client out the door with an estate plan they don't understand or know why the need it. Trust me, the attorney would rather answer 10 silly questions than not get a chance to answer the one important one. If your attorney doesn't feel that way, you may have selected the wrong attorney.
The moral of the story is understand the plan. If you don't "get it," ask the attorney to go over it again. An informed client is a happy client and a happy client is less likely to file a complaint with the disciplinary committee. It's a win-win situation for everyone.
Opinions are solely the writer's. Christopher W. Yugo is a Crown Point attorney. Address questions to Yugo in care of The Times, 601 W. 45th Ave., Munster, IN, 46321 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Yugo's information is meant to be general in nature. Specific legal, tax, or insurance questions should be referred to your attorney, accountant or estate-planning specialist.