| Autumn 2011 Newsletter
Last month, I was seated in my doctor’s waiting room patiently awaiting my annual physical examination. Seated next to me was a woman with a folder in her lap, her medical history included inside. The woman’s smart, I thought. She is equipped with the information needed to assist her doctor in his evaluation of her medical conditions and complaints. The more information, the better. And the same is true when you go for a legal consultation with an attorney. This Newsletter will focus on what information you, as the Client, should gather together before heading off to an elder law or trusts and estates consultation.
First of All, Why am I Going for A Consultation?
It may sound elementary, but it is important to have a clear idea of what you seek from the attorney. Grab a pad and write down what you are trying to accomplish, and any preliminary questions that you might have. It does not hurt to do some preliminary research yourself; the Internet is chock full of resources to that end. Ask yourself if you are seeking information for yourself, your spouse, a family member or friend. Also ask yourself who is going to pay for the consultation because that matters. Sometimes individuals can have conflicts of interest, so it is important that you are clear on exactly who is seeking the advice, why you are seeking it, and explain same to the attorney at the beginning of the consultation, if possible.
That being said, the next issue is, How do I prepare for the consultation; should I bring anything? Firstly, if you are seeking advice for someone else, you should bring that person with you, unless the Client is not ambulatory. If the Client cannot ambulate, ask the attorney if she can make a house call. It is customary to be charged more for such a service, but it is usually money well spent.
What Should I Bring with Me?
Here are some strong recommendations, and be aware that the list is by no means exhaustive:
- Copies of all relevant documents, such as, a will, trust, health care proxy, or power of attorney
- Copies of any deeds, cooperative corporation shares, leases
- Copies of either financial statements from all financial institutions with which the Client maintains an account, or a complete list of all accounts at those financial institutions, with account numbers and balances; also for pensions and social security, if retired
- Copies of medical insurance policies or a complete list of the medical insurance companies, account numbers and “800” numbers in order to facilitate contact during the consultation
- Copy of the most recent federal tax return
- Family tree with addresses and telephone numbers for all members
- List of all medical conditions and medications, both over the counter and prescriptions, vitamins and other supplements
By providing the Attorney with the above, you are assisting both the Attorney and the Client.
Should I be Giving all this Personal Information to a Stranger?
In short, yes. If you feel uncomfortable or are not ready to give such information out, then you probably should wait until you are comfortable and ready. There are as many types of lawyers as legal issues. Second and third opinions are fine, and you should check on the Internet and local bar associations for ideas and referrals. The New York City Bar Association has a program whereby a Client can receive a one-half hour consultation with an experienced, pre-screened attorney for a mere $35.00. (See www.abcny.org or call 212.626.7373.) It is also not a bad idea to ask your colleagues at work or your friends for referrals, and that way you have a reliable connection.
During twenty-five years in practice, I have encountered people who are afraid to produce such personal information as banking records, social security numbers and the like, especially when an elderly person is meeting a new attorney for the first time, daughter and son in tow. There is no reason to fear because the Client can simply ask to speak to the Attorney alone. More importantly, Client’s secrets are “privileged,” and will remain with the Attorney for so long as the Client demands.
The above list is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to constitute individual legal advice or a specific recommendation to any particular client.
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