Sometimes, the first time I meet a client is in the nursing home or hospital following a crisis. The person’s spouse or child or friend has called me to meet with their loved one and draw up the necessary legal documents – a health care proxy, power of attorney, will or trust, maybe a Medicaid Application- while the client is still capable of making decisions and signing documents. Visits like these are quite common for the elder law attorney, but they are not common for the client. The client is already in a vulnerable situation, sick or injured, and now there are legal matters to be dealt with because no plan was put into place before.
I do my best to make my clients feel at ease, shooing the family out of the room so I can speak to my client alone and find out how they feel, what they want, and what they don’t want. Very often the information that the family member gave me over telephone differs from the account of my client, so I want to make sure I get the whole story. I also assure the client that I am their attorney, not their child’s (even if their child is paying my bill) and not "the family’s" and I inform the other family members of this as well, so there is no question where my duty and loyalty lie.
Making decisions about who should serve as your power of attorney, or how to divide your estate should ideally be made after careful thought and not in a moment of crisis. By making a commitment to yourself that you will meet with an attorney and get your planning done, you are giving yourself this time to carefully think through your choices, and you can rest assured that when a crisis hits, the only people rushing to your bedside are your family and friends – not your lawyer!