Preventive Legal Care: Relatively Simple Things Make Large Differences in Legal Costs
A commentary by Dallas Attorney Mark Nacol,
of the Nacol Law Firm PC.
*In our current state of a national emergency in the United States, we feel that this blog rings true for all individuals and families as we enter into a serious unknown territory in your lives.
During the last 30 years of general practice in a number of civil areas, I have had the opportunity to observe repetitive mistakes and decisions made by clients in regard to whether or not preventive legal care is cost-worthy.
Most prudent people do not think twice about having their teeth cleaned, becoming vaccinated for the flu or other childhood illnesses, going to their doctor if they are dizzy, having speech problems or other symptoms of stroke diagnosed or changing the oil in their automobile.
The average person clearly acknowledges the flu shot is definitely preferable to two weeks in bed. Basic dental hygiene trumps a root canal every time. A blood thinner medication is far preferable to paralysis or brain damage, and early detection of cancer or other invasive diseases, may significantly improve prognosis for recovery.
On the other hand, when it comes to the ordinary individual’s legal needs, I have noted throughout the years and continue to note a juvenile and somewhat cavalier attitude. The result is denial and refusal to consider relatively small fees required to bring preventive legal care into play.
Depending on the size and nature of a man, woman or a couple’s estate, probate planning in the form of wills, durable powers of attorney, medical directives, medical authorizations, medical powers of attorney, testamentary and/or intervivos (living) trusts can avoid future attorney’s fees from 50 to 100 times the amount required for preventive care. Probate and/or litigation without a will in a large estate, disability, dementia, Alzheimer disease or other medical issues requiring guardianship and/or extraordinary legal procedures vastly exceed the basic costs of preventive care. The cost of fixing the legal problem after the event is extraordinary versus the simple matter of preventive legal care in the first place. Fees ranging from $500 to $5,000, depending on the complexity of the estate or matter, at first blush might appear large but may frequently be increased by 2 to 3 zeros in complicated, complex litigation that can last for years.
Marital prenuptial agreements are emotionally delicate, but may be a useful and significant tool to provide creditor protection throughout a marriage and reduce the cost of dissolving a marriage, an unfortunate circumstance, by thousands and thousands of dollars.
A properly prepared and executed contract for the purchase and sale of land or for the purchase and sale of a business when accomplished before the transaction is essential in fixing the rights of the parties, establishing enforceability of their promises and the cost necessary to force compliance with those promises. Time after time, I find a client who comes into my office and looks at me with dog eyes and says, “Can you help me in this business transaction? I’ve already signed the contract.” My response, of course, is “Yes, it is my pleasure. But, it is going to be far more expensive now than if you had simply prophylactically entered into an enforceable agreement prior to the conduct you allege is fraudulent or the subject of a breach at this time.”
The examples above may be extended into almost every area of the law. Why in the world would anyone want to market an invention, a well known mark of their business or trade, a manuscript or other written document without first having protected those items through trademarks, patents, copyrights or, at the very least, non-disclosure agreements? A common complaint echoed throughout the years has been the significant cost of the judicial system and the financial burden of enforcing one’s right in the courts of law of the state or federal government. With a bit of foresight and ingenuity and the help of an ethical, competent attorney, and the willingness to spend a smaller sum of money, many of the problems, disappointments and disenfranchisement with the judicial system may be bypassed altogether.
In closing, I am reminded of the classical advertisement by Mr. Goodwrench. “Pay me now or pay me later.” Preventative maintenance of the most important legal aspects of your life are as important as preventive maintenance of your car. Have you priced a new engine versus a can of oil lately?
*In thinking about the current National Medical Emergency, now is the time to think about your loved ones and family. In the case of illness or death, will they be protected or have to experience multiple problems with an old will or, more seriously, no will at all on your estate. Be proactive and review your legal documents now to help alleviate difficult probate situations.