As an estate planning and elder law attorney, I focus on planning. I try to help my clients avoid potential problems later on by setting things up correctly now. One of the most frustrating things I come across is when good people rely on bad legal advice from their friends or neighbors, their hairstylist, their golfing buddy, or random people on Facebook. The sad part is that most people won’t even know they received bad advice because things won’t blow up until they’re incapacitated or dead.
Believe me, I get it. Lawyers cost money. It’s much cheaper to ask for free legal advice. And sometimes the person tendering the advice is actually correct. But what happens when they aren’t?
The problem is that what may be the best legal advice for one person may be completely wrong for another. Or, the laws may have changed. And, what works in New York or Illinois may not work the same way in Florida.
Here are some examples of really bad legal advice give by well-meaning folks pretending to be lawyers:
- “You don’t need a Will or Trust. Just put beneficiaries on everything.” Yeah…that rarely works except maybe between spouses. Probate can be triggered by the oddest things: a car, a forgotten bank account, a safe deposit box no one can access, a valuable piece of personal property that beneficiaries are arguing about, the death of a named beneficiary, a lawsuit that was in progress before your death or initiated after your death, etc. Who’s going to foot the bill for the probate when you gave all of your money to people who might not have any skin in the game? Or who spent it as soon as they received it? Which child is going to use his own money to maintain your home and/or pay the mortgage, taxes, and insurance during the time it takes to clean it out and sell it?
- “Don’t worry about getting married again even though both of you have kids from prior relationships. Whatever assets you go into the marriage with are still yours at your death and you can give them to whoever you wish.” Nope. Not unless you execute a good prenup, which covers what happens if there’s a divorce and also at your death. Florida’s rules for divorce and death are completely different, and you should know exactly what they are before combining families. Florida won’t allow a married person to leave everything to his or her kids at death. And, generally, a second marriage/blended family situation is going to require revocable living trusts – not a “simple Will” – to accomplish each spouse’s goals.
- “Want your home to go right to your only child at your death without going through probate? Just add her as a joint owner now.” Great idea if you want to expose your home to your child’s creditors, including a divorcing spouse. Also great if you want to ensure your child suffers adverse income tax consequences when he sells the house and if you want to make sure you suffer adverse consequences if you have to apply for Medicaid.
- “Need to qualify for Medicaid for nursing home care? Just give your assets to your kids.” Not only is this really bad advice that could disqualify you from Medicaid, but if you don’t disclose the transfers to Medicaid, you’re also committing criminal fraud.
The point is that the advice given above MAY work for one particular person if their particular situation is just perfect. But only a lawyer will know whether it’ll work in your particular situation. And, he or she may have other options that may work better. So, while you can certainly ask people what they’ve done, keep in mind that it may not be the best solution for you.
Schedule a phone or in-person appointment with a real lawyer because it always costs more to fix the results of bad legal advice than doing it right in the first place.
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