Unexpected things happen every day. You may have been involved in a car accident or arrested. Maybe a loved one is suddenly incapacitated and you need a healthcare proxy or a power of attorney. Maybe you need a will or want to start your own business. Maybe you were fired from your job or you are buying or selling real estate. The list is endless.
A lawyer can handle all of these things for you. However, there is so much available to us online these days, both information and forms, that you are likely wondering if, in times when money is tight, is a lawyer truly worth the cost?
Every situation is unique so there can be no definitive yes or no answer. The reality is that much of the time the answer will be yes, especially when dealing with criminal matters or financial matters. At the very least, it cannot hurt to talk to a lawyer and in the majority of cases it will be worth the consultation fee that they charge. Some lawyers don’t even charge a consultation fee.
The Law is Confusing. There are state laws and federal laws. Local cities and jurisdictions often have their own laws. These laws can vary widely from state to state. Often there are very specific legal issues that will pertain to your case. Having help understanding the law and which law applies to your situation, and then navigating the legal process, is invaluable.
The Law is Constantly Changing. The law changes frequently through both case law (the results of a lawsuit in which a judge has interpreted the law based on a specific set of facts) and new laws being passed. The internet cannot keep up with these changes and neither can a non-lawyer. This could have devastating, and expensive, consequences down the road.
Expertise. Lawyers are experts in their fields. They have studied the law and are required, in all but a few states, to take continuing legal education classes in order to maintain their license. That means that they are aware of the current laws and trends on the topic at issue.
Wrong Information. There is a lot of wrong information on the internet. Reading multiple articles on any given subject can, and will, lead to conflicting information or not the whole story.
Estate planning is one area where the wrong information can lead to your wishes not being followed. You may be thinking about whether you need a formal written will. When researching the issue you may see that the creator of the will (testator) needs to be at least 18 years of age and of sound mind (understands what they are doing). This is true for almost all states.
You might then see that oral wills are legal and decide that you can just tell someone your wishes. Or you may see that handwritten (holographic) wills are legal and decide to just write out your wishes. What you likely won’t know is that the laws about these wills differ from state to state.
Examples are Texas and Florida. Texas recognizes oral wills but requires that there be three witnesses present. Florida does not recognize oral wills at all. Texas recognizes holographic wills. Florida does not. Consulting with a lawyer will ensure that your will conforms to your wishes and follows your state’s specific requirements.
Forms. There are tons of documents on the internet covering a variety of situations. Some are free or relatively inexpensive so why not just save some money and download one? The reason is that those forms were not created by lawyers. They are generic forms and don’t take into account your specific situation or the laws of your state.
While business incorporation forms are readily available on the internet, you need to make sure that you understand which business model is best for you and that you incorporate properly, or it could lead to you and your business being sued. You may be able to get a good form for a sole proprietorship or a partnership or an S corporation from the internet, but do you fully understand the pros and cons of each? The internet will not look at your specific business or your personal finances and advise you about which model is best for you but a lawyer will.
Criminal Matters. Unless you are dealing with a relatively minor matter, like paying for a parking ticket or speeding fine, you should almost always hire a lawyer if you are accused of a crime. A criminal record is serious and could have far-reaching consequences down the road, affecting things from job prospects to getting a loan. It is best to hire a lawyer early on to ensure that you are protected now and in the future.
It is not always necessary to hire a lawyer, especially if times are tough, but most of the time it will make sense to at least talk to a lawyer before doing anything. If you have a medical issue, you go to a doctor. The same should be true of legal issues.
This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.
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