“Oh, We Didn’t Use an Attorney…We Bought It Online”

Because I regular comment about the risks and dangers of online estate planning documents, I’ll keep this post short.  The words above were heard by a banker friend of mine.  The context of the statement is just to good to not write a post about it.

The customers have a very elderly aunt (in her 90s) for whom they have power of attorney.  They brought the document into the bank because aunt needed to them to get into her safe deposit box.  So the banker sends the power of attorney to the bank’s legal department.  The answer back – “no.”  Why?  Because the power of attorney made a very general statement about financial powers and did not include the ability to access a safe deposit box.  The banker’s suggestion to them was to go back to the attorney who drafted it and have it changed.  They’re response was, “oh, we didn’t use an attorney . . . we bought it online.”  So, they had to go get elderly aunt who lives almost an hour away, bring her into the bank on a different day, and have her authorize drilling the safe deposit box (she had lost the keys).  Were they upset?  You bet they were!  But it was of their own doing.

And they were lucky!  How?  Because if aunt hadn’t been competent, they would have had to go to court to get the authorization.

Almost every attorney I know who specializes in estate planning includes a provision in the power of attorney to cover the above example.  Why?  Because it’s what we do.  We deal with it on a daily basis.  Although not having the one provision is not the point, we know that more and more financial institutions are requiring specific authority for different transactions such as accessing a safe deposit box.

Do you have a similar story?  Email me or share it in the comments below.  I always enjoy hearing from my blog readers.

Michael Lichterman is an attorney specializing in estate planning and helping provide peace of mind to families and businesses throughout Grand Rapids and West Michigan.  He specializes in Whole Family Wealth™ planning for professionals with minor children, doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, and the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children) – and does so from a Christian perspective.  He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.

1 Comment

  1. I am a bankruptcy lawyer in Atlanta. I see the same issues with “do it yourself” bankruptcy forms or online services. One size fits all forms cannot (1) address local rules and customs, and (2) cannot offer judgment and perspective. In Atlanta, for example the Chapter 13 plan we use was created by the trustees and judges here. The plans that come with online services will not work, meaning that pro se debtors end up having to hire local counsel anyway who have to come in and fix the problems created by using the wrong forms.

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