Do-It-Yourself Legal Planning–The Dangers

One wouldn’t choose a surgeon who had never performed that particular surgery before. Experience and training matter when it comes to medical health, and the same principles should apply to legal planning efforts. New York elder law planning requires first-hand knowledge of the process as well as familiarity with common pitfalls to help craft overall strategies that provide the maximum benefit to meet one’s specific needs. There is rarely a “one-sized-fits all” approach to any of these issues, because no family is identical. That is why is it usually counterproductive to try to deal with elder care issues using do-it-yourself form legal documents.

Two of the most important documents in any elder law plan are powers of attorney and health care proxies. While the concepts behind these legal documents seem simple, failure to get help crafting them can have significant consequences. For example, New York has a statutorily created form to guide powers of attorney. The form is long and includes various features of which residents might not be aware. For one thing, to protect seniors from being taken advantage of, the statutory form restricts the power that the agent has over financial issues. Any additional powers needed in addition to those in the statutory form must be added individually. In addition, when not done correctly banks or other financial institutions may fail to recognize it.

A do-it-yourself health care proxy may come with similar issues. For example, under state law an agent cannot make decision about withholding certain extreme life support measures even when they have a valid health care proxy. The principal’s wishes about the withholding must be explicitly stated in a living will. When the proxy is crafted without proper legal help, this feature is often left out. Unfortunately, this error is usually only uncovered at the exact moment when it is needed–which is too late.

Mistakes, shortcuts, and errors in these legal documents are sometimes not easy to correct. That is particularly true with elder law issues because time is often of the essence. Our New York elder law attorneys appreciate that it is usually essential to act quickly when coming up with Medicaid eligibility plans or trying to get last minute estate planning issues in place while a senior is in ill-health.

Self-crafted documents may seem prudent at the time, but experience overwhelmingly suggests that these legal issues are too important to leave to chance. There are too many subtleties, hidden requirements, and confusing issues to risk having these planning details fall apart at the exact moment when they are needed.

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