ASK A LAWYER: Are those documents legal?

To paraphrase Victor Borge, “The last time I was here … well it’s not the last time, this is. But I hope it isn’t . . .,” you will recall we urged you to begin the New Year by sorting out original estate planning documents to ensure they are current, appropriate and legally effective.

Legally effective documents are those that are drafted and prepared by licensed and insured professionals in good standing with complete background information and knowledge relating to your particular needs, desires and purposes.

Documents not prepared in the recommended and customary manner, such as Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Trusts, differ from other documents in that a legal defect cannot be proven, or even realized, until death or incapacity.

This fact does not dissuade many people from attempting to obtain forms and information from other sources and the mere fact that these people might be saving money now only to cost their family and loved ones later-does not stop many people from creating their own legal documents and without the help, guidance and expertise of licensed and insured professionals.

Few people leave their medical treatment and diagnoses to pharmacists or aisle clerks. Even if a pharmacist recommends an over-the-counter medication, such advice and the medication itself requires the standard disclaimer and warning, ” See a physician if pain persists!”

Such warnings and disclaimers do not usually accompany painless generic legal document forms in that the pain comes later when the problems arise and the documents cannot be changed.

However, one popular on-line legal document service, Legal Zoom, a California corporation, does provide numerous disclaimers and warnings to their customers.

Ever read the “fine print” of the “Agreement” you acknowledge and accept just prior to the on-line check-out process?

A careful reading of these disclaimer provisions are instructive as to the limited scope and purpose of such legal forms and said disclaimer provisions indirectly explain the benefit to the on-line user in seeking independent and local professional legal services and advice.

The service is “not a law firm, an attorney, or a substitute for advice of an attorney.”

It “cannot practice law, provide any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation about possible legal rights, defenses, options, selection of forms, or strategies.”

It “does not create an attorney-client relationship and any communication, written or with any employee, is not protected.”

It “does not guarantee its documents to be up-to-date, legally sufficient, complete, correct, or appropriate a selected use or jurisdiction.”

“Services provided are only for self-help at a customer’s specific direction and the customer chooses his or her own documents.”

The service’s ” responsibility is limited only to review of the final documents for completeness as to spelling, grammar, and internal consistency for names and addresses.”

The service “is not responsible for any loss, injury, claim, liability, or damage related to use of the documents, whether from errors or omissions in the content.”

Finally, “customers are advised that they are representing themselves and use of the service is ‘At Your Own Risk.'”

Family members often express feelings of helplessness, disappointment, and disgust when they learn of the time and additional expense necessary to contend with legal problems arising from a loved one’s failure to prepare and execute proper estate planning documents.

What might save you a few dollars today will not comfort your family members if you become legally incapacitated or pass away and they discover that not only are your on-line legal documents not effective, but also might not be upheld by an Arizona court as “legal” documents.

We recommend that all readers take the time now to prepare valid legal documents in the State of Arizona with a licensed attorney and avoid the heartache, headache and additional expense in the future should your “zoomed” documents fail to be upheld as legal and effective documents in the State of Arizona.

Please submit any and all questions to: Walter L. Henderson and Phoebe Harris; Law Offices of Walter L. Henderson, P.C., 210 West Continental Road, Suite 126, Green Valley, Arizona 85622, (520) 625-6811,, and

Walter Henderson

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