But I Only Need a Will

By Lisa Hostetler Brown, CELA

I see people in my office every day who think they know what they need. They saw a video on YouTube, they read an article online, or they saw a commercial. They come to my office and tell me what they want me to do for them.

Are these people wrong for thinking they know what they need?

There are a lot of lawyers out there who will give people exactly what they ask for. I don't give people what they ask for; I give people what they need. The biggest unspoken need that people have is for me to solve their problems proactively so they will avoid trouble down the road.

Information is everywhere in our culture. This can be a good thing, but it creates a false sense of security because people think they have all the information to know what they need. Most people don’t.

Here’s an example. People think they know what a Last Will and Testament is. Most people think they need one. I have people come into my office every day telling me that they need a will.

What most people don’t realize is that having a will means that you’re going to court. They are surprised when I tell them, "A will means your family goes to probate court and we ask the judge to do the things that you've listed in your will. And some things that aren't in your will, things that you aren’t aware of today, will need to be done because you're in probate court."

Once people get the whole story, they realize that maybe a will isn’t what they really want—or need.

Average planning follows orders, giving you what you say you want. The best planning drills down to uncover your real goals and has a plan to achieve them.

The best planning isn’t reactive. Elder law attorneys are detailed lawyers. We are thorough lawyers. We are skilled in planning for the “what ifs.” What if your spouse is in the nursing home, but you die before him? What if a caregiver is scamming your dad? What if your daughter is a spendthrift? What if your husband has a drug problem? Our planning is designed to help you deal with all the “what ifs.”

When you compare the way an elder law attorney approaches a client situation with the way a typical doctor does, you can really see how a reactive approach differs from a proactive one. Let’s say you have a heart attack. You go to a cardiac specialist and the doctor tells you that you need a stent to solve the problem. The doctor fixes that one problem. He’s not trying to anticipate future problems and help you prevent them.

Conversely, when you see an elder law attorney in a Life Care Planning Law Firm, you’re getting forward-looking planning that anticipates and can prevent problems. Your attorney isn’t just thinking about what you need right now; he or she is thinking about what you might need five years, ten years, and twenty years down the road.

So, if you walk into your elder law attorney’s office thinking that you know what you need, don’t be surprised if you get a little pushback. Listen carefully. You’re getting what you need.

Lisa Brown Hostetler is a Certified Elder Law Attorney and founder of LawyerLisa, a Life Care Planning Law Firm serving the state of South Carolina.