For Bright Side News
By Attorney Robert S. Meyring
The phrase, often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, means that the only things a lawyer has to offer clients are the advice and the time necessary to resolve the legal issue at hand. That time is actually the lawyers “source” material from which he or she produces the legal work necessary to deliver on the client’s request. The attorney’s time is typically billable and is necessary for consultation, litigation, or the drafting of estate plans, or making phone calls, or emails and letters written to arrive at resolution or settlement of a matter.
People often intend to take a lawyer’s time and advice without paying for it. (Shocker, right?) “I want a free consultation. Other lawyers give free consultations.” At my trusts, estates and probate specialty law firm, we often get the request for free consultation to be given, but usually the free-seeking prospect is more concerned about getting something for free (need we say “cheap”?) than actually getting a professional quality estate plan or probate problems resolved. Most often the root of the client’s issue when seeking out the free consult is both obvious and financial: the prospect sadly does not have the money to pay for the desired professional estate plan or probate; or worse, the free-seeker has the means to pay for the service but they were looking for a “powerful bargain” - which signals other personal issues which, as legal counselors, we cannot address.
I suggest that money is the main motivator for people to take action. It’s a natural inclination to want to protect one’s money after accumulating it, whether it’s earned or gifted. To protect one’s money in case of incapacity or death is estate planning. To give away one’s money to others after death or incapacity is probate. To take a lawyer’s time and advice without the intent to pay for it speaks volumes about the taker (and there’s also a word for that). More importantly, the free-seeking, time-taking requester of a lawyer’s time and advice is usually not ready, financially or actually, for quality legal services. When paying less than full fee for something, that’s called a bargain. Would you want your family or children to be the recipients of gifts from a “bargain” probate or estate plan?
Seeking out the free and the cheap in estate planning may just result in a devil's bargain of a legacy left behind with a will contest. The best legacies leave behind wealth. The worst leave behind problems.