You are a part of a team of professionals - financial advisors, paralegals, attorneys, and notaries - each dependent on another to deliver high-quality estate planning services to your client. You represent not only yourself when you meet with your client but also the attorney or paralegal who will be assigned to the plan. Here are a few guidelines to help you do your part of the process in a timely and professional manner:
- Do not tell your client that their current estate plan is deficient, wrong, or inappropriate. This type of commentary, commonly referred to as document analysis is considered the practice of law.
- Do not tell your client what kind of documents they need. Determining what documents are needed also comes under the umbrella of practicing law. So, only a lawyer can evaluate the client's situation, recommend solutions, and create legal documents.
- Be careful how you respond to client inquires. Do not say anything that would give your client the impression that you are an attorney. Get into the habit of saying, "I am not an attorney, so I cannot speak to how that works in your specific situation, but here is how I understand [topic] to work generally." Follow your layman's explanation up with a statement like, "That is a great question. Let's make sure we ask the attorney to address that." Then make sure to submit a request.
- Do not answer questions if you do not know the answer. Instead, say: "I do not know. Let's ask the attorney to address that." Then make sure to submit a request.
- Do not over-explain the disclaimers or force the client to continue through the online process. If the client does not understand the disclaimers or is hesitant to sign forms, note the client's reluctance in the client's file as a question for the attorney. The attorney will explain the substance and/or reason for the disclaimer.
- Do not tell your client that their estate plan will reduce their income taxes. The estate plan created by the online platform provides no reduction in your client's income taxes.
- Do not tell your client that their estate plan will provide them protection from creditors. The estate plan created by the online platform offers no additional protection from creditors.
- Do not offer unlimited or lifetime services as part of your initial fee. Legal services must be paid for as rendered. It is considered unethical to accept payment today for legal services to be delivered sometime in the future. Such a prepayment is considered a form of indemnification or insurance plan. All prepayment plans require actuarially determined reserves to be set aside to guarantee the availability of the financial resources necessary to deliver on the promises made.
- Do not say or do anything that would give the impression that you are affiliated with or represent any group or organization that you are not. Be especially clear if you are marketing to seniors or affinity groups. For example, AARP has issued warnings that unscrupulous trust mills misuse their organization's name with seniors.