If you are like a lot of people, sometimes it is the first step in a new direction that holds you back. Maybe you want to change jobs, but can’t even bring yourself to open a new computer document and call it “Resume.” Or you need to get healthy to lower your blood pressure and get healthy but you can’t bring yourself to just put on your sneakers and go to for a walk in the mornings. Whether it’s fear of the unknown, the belief that starting down the path will cause your life to change drastically, quickly and irreversibly, or simple stuck-in-a-rutness, sometimes we need to just take the first step.
Often, clients put off calling an attorney to help them with their legal issues. These are some of the common things I hear form folks, and some ways to maybe get you past them.
1. You don’t know what to say when you call the lawyer. It’s a bit like calling a plumber. “My sink won’t drain.” Then the plumber asks you some questions and probably makes an appointment to help you fix it. When you call the lawyer you can say “I think I need a Will” then the lawyer will ask you some questions and guide the process from there.
If you don’t even know what you need, then it can be like when I call tech support. “My computer is being all weird. Help!” Then the tech asks some questions and helps figure out what is wrong and how they can fix it. Likewise, you can call the attorney and say “my mom was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and I have no idea what to do next.” The attorney, or their client services person, will ask you some questions and help figure out the best thing to do next.
And just like when I call tech support, it’s ok if you cry when you call an attorney.
2. You are afraid you can’t afford it. That’s a legitimate concern. Legal services can be expensive. Some types of cases like divorces or other litigation cases can cost tens of thousands of dollars. But, other things, like putting a guardianship nomination in place for your children or drafting a Will can be a much more manageable expense.
An attorney may be able to give you a range of fees, and what those fees are based on. I try to do that on the “Fees” page of this site. But, you won’t know if you don’t ask. The attorney will probably need to meet with you and go over your situation in detail before they can give you a better idea of the cost. Sometimes there may be different courses of action that will affect the cost, so you should ask about options.
3. You haven’t made all of your decisions yet. This is perfectly ok. Part of the first meeting with an attorney is going over different choices and decisions and helping you through those. Sometimes even if you have made decisions, you find out after talking to your attorney that a different decision would be a better one. So, just as it’s ok to walk into the hairdresser knowing you want something different but knowing quite what, it’s ok to meet with your attorney while you are still trying to decide which sibling to name as guardian or how to distribute property to different charities.
4. You haven’t made any decisions yet. This is ok, too. I often meet with people who don’t know enough about what the responsibilities of a guardian, or a trustee, or an executor are to be able to figure out who they want to appoint in those roles. Or you and your spouse can’t agree on things. Part of a consultation with an attorney is helping you walk through choices, explaining legal terms in ways you can understand and making sure you are comfortable with your choices before more forward.
5. You think there is no point to planning. I hear this frequently from young people who don’t own a lot of property or don’t have children. They think the only part of “planning your estate” is saying what will happen to your stuff after you die, and they have no stuff so there’s no need to plan. That may be true (and actually the Commonwealth has a law that says what happens to your stuff if you die without a will) but sometimes young people are in accidents that make them unable to make health care decisions for themselves or handle their finances. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to have a plan in place to say who would make health care decisions for you and make sure your mortgage or rent payments (and student loan and credit card bills) were paid on time until you recovered?
6. You are afraid of what will happen if you take the first step. Sometimes clients come to see me and have put it off because they were afraid that meeting with me would put into a place a spiral of events that they couldn’t stop. This actually isn’t the case. If we meet, and I give you legal advice on your situation and maybe offer some advice and different options, you can decide not to proceed at this time. You can decide that just knowing what will happen if your spouse needs nursing home care is enough for you to handle at this point, and if you aren’t ready to start making changes. That’s ok. You are now making this decision with knowledge, rather than out of fear or ignorance. The same goes for other types of legal matters – you can meet with a divorce attorney to find out your options, and then decide that you don’t want to start the process after all. Or you may meet with an attorney about suing someone and decide afterward that you really don’t want to. And it’s ok to say “I’m not ready to proceed with this now.”
Are there other things that are holding you back? Have you heard other examples from clients about what made them hesitate to call you?