We occasionally meet new clients who bring us their old wills, trusts and other estate planning documents. We can tell that their documents have been used for hundreds, if not thousands, of other people. The first clue – there’s a trademark or copyright notice on the document.
The second is that the language is familiar to us because throughout the years we have seen these documents over and over again. They are boilerplate documents, and while they have been created by estate planning attorneys, there are some real disadvantages to using them.
One way to check to see if you are working with a firm that uses boilerplate forms: take a look at their websites. If you see the same language on websites, it may be the law firm that buys not only their estate planning documents but their websites from an outside source.
When we meet with clients who share these documents, we usually also learn that they had attended a presentation by attorneys and a large part of the presentation concerned trusts. The will or trust that is drafted for your neighbor is not necessarily the best estate plan for you and your family. Yet every day, people are talked into trusts they don’t need.
For decades I have believed that the quality of the legal work is almost always inversely proportional to the quality of the presentation folder. If someone hands you a fancy folder that looks like it came from Tiffany’s, be wary.
I am a member of several highly respected and credentialed organizations that are known as centers of legal thought leadership. This includes the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). There are organizations that sound like they are the same kind of professional association, but they are really document and marketing distributors. It’s important to know the difference.
And while we’re on the topic of consumer awareness, be aware that law firms are not permitted to be affiliated with investment firms. They may make recommendations, but the New York State Bar Association is very clear about the rules when it comes to the relationships between law firms and investment firms.