There’s not much we can’t do online. But does convenience, speed, and cost trump a good old fashion sit-down with a professional? Not always, according to attorney K. Gabriel Heiser in an article he wrote for AgingCare.com.
Heiser focuses specifically on Power Of Attorney forms, which give control of your finances to someone you trust if something happens to you. This includes paying bills, managing bank accounts, overseeing investments, and preparing and filing tax returns on your behalf. In essence, you’re giving another person access to all your money and assets, so it’s a big decision -- and an even bigger responsibility. Heiser acknowledges that some online forms are better than others, but breaks his reasoning as to why it’s best to do this face-to-face with an attorney into five points:
Customization: Some POAs require specific clauses that are difficult to comprehend without having an attorney walk you through them. While most online POAs are boilerplate (and some might opt to give a spouse or a child complete power), there could be instances that, if left unaccounted, could lead to problems if certain situations arise. What situations? That’s what you need to talk with an attorney about.
Advice Regarding Type Of POA: What kind of POA will you need? Durable? Non-Durable? Springing? Who should you name as a successor POA if something happens to your primary? While you can educate yourself about these types on your own, an attorney can help assess your situation and help you decide what works best for you.
Legal Witnesses: When you complete a POA form you need witnesses present to make sure the principle (person giving up the power) is in their right mind when doing so. Heiser says that a professional can best vouch for the mental capacity of the person if someone later tries to invalidate the document in court. If a child or spouse feels slighted that they weren’t named POA, they can sue. Having a professional witness can better help shoot that claim down.
Quality: Heiser makes the point that just because something looks official doesn’t mean that it is. How can a person unfamiliar with this document know a good one from a bad one? Since a POA can offer wide-ranging powers over your estate, allow someone else to empty your bank accounts and sell your house, perhaps it’s worth the effort to make sure it’s ironclad.
Modest Cost: Lawyer-prepared POAs are usually under $200 in many cities, according to Heiser. While doing it online can be faster and cheaper (some start at $50), when you take his points above into consideration, it’s not nearly as pricey as one might think.