Not too long ago, “do-it-yourself” meant trying to fix a leaky toilet instead of calling a plumber. Or perhaps it involved changing your oil, spark plugs and air filter without hiring a mechanic. Nowadays “do-it-yourself” means much more. Thanks primarily to the internet, numerous opportunities now exist to do it yourself in areas never previously imagined. For example, with the click of a mouse, you can now have do-it-yourself:
- Estate planning
- Pest control
- Appliance repair
- Home remodeling
- Book publishing
- Wedding photography
- Dentistry – who needs a dentist when you can whiten or even straighten your own teeth.
- Airplane building
- Medical surgery – including laser eye surgery, plastic surgery and even gastric bypass surgery (no, I am not making this up).
Do-it-yourself lawyering is of course particularily widespread with numerous websites and some television commercials. No need for an attorney when you can file your own bankruptcy, prepare your own will, file for divorce, form a corporation or partnership, probate an estate, file a lawsuit, apply for a patent or trademark, or handle your own Medicaid planning and application. Hardly a week goes by in my practice before someone asks me whether it’s okay to get a power of attorney or a will off the internet. When I ask if they are sure that the on-line power of attorney or will is reliable, they always reply that they would have no way of knowing. The risk of course, is that rather than saving money by doing it yourself, ultimately it will be much more expensive to clean up the mistakes you have made. Often the real problem with do-it-yourself home remodeling, wedding photography, book publishing, etc., is that it is obvious that you did it yourself. More importantly, if you make a mistake for example, with your will, accounting or tax return, you may be creating much larger and more expensive problems for yourself down the road (can you say IRS audit?). It should come as no surprise that the do-it-yourself lawyer websites typically provide a disclaimer which states that no legal advice is being provided and there is no guarantee the legal forms will work.
If saving money is your primary motivation and you are willing to accept the risks of making a mistake, then acting as your own attorney is probably okay for you. However, if you are more concerned with protecting yourself and your loved ones, then be sure to consult wit an experienced elder law attorney.