Article of the Week on "The Internet and Elder Law"

jsettleJohn E. Settle, Jr., Esq.
John E. Settle, Jr., Attorney at Law
1915 Citizens Bank Drive
Bossier City, Louisiana  71111
Member of the Louisiana chapter of the national ElderCare Matters Alliance

The Internet and Elder Law 

          In the words of Charles Dinkens, “it is best of times, and the worst of times” when one thinks of using the internet to get answers to important questions on law, medicine and/or investments.  The internet is one of the most important developments of modern civilization, and not a day (Q: hour?) goes by without more expansion, and sometimes invasion, by internet “tools” that are supposed to make our lives better. 

          As an attorney who has practiced more than thirty years, I always welcome a client who has some knowledge on the topics that are the subject of my consultation – – be it from a neighbor, his uncle Charley or a jailhouse lawyer.  Generally it is fairly easy to have a client focus on my education and experience versus these “sources” of law.  However when it comes to “internet law” it is often much more difficult to rebut, differentiate or explain the “real” law versus PC downloads. 

          Unfortunately, a false sense of authenticity is often given to internet documents – – without serious inquiry as to who put this information on the internet.  Many individuals do not realize /understand that the internet is not like Encyclopedia Britannica, and  that there is no scholarly screening body/agency to ensure accuracy of what can be found on the “net”. 

          When presented with an internet Will, Trust, Power of Attorney or any other legal document, I always ask my client the following questions:

          1.  Do you know if this document is drawn in accordance with the laws, and legal requirements of your state of residence?

          2.  How do you know if this is the document(s) you really need?

          3.  And who are you going to complain to if you utilize this document and it doesn’t “work” the way you intended? 

          It is important for all seniors to know that the laws of each State on inheritance – – with or without a Will – are generally quite different, as well as the requirements for proper  execution of the Will.  Furthermore, generic powers of attorneys can sometimes cause challenges, especially in the area of health care.  Similarly, the so-called advantages of a Living Trust to transfer assets after death vis a vis a Will are generally overstated, and frequently do not obviate the need for succession proceedings to be instituted to transfer title to real estate. 

          The same is true for Medicaid eligibility, and what the maximum reliable assets can be owned by the senior seeking Medicaid assistance and/or the senior’s spouse.  There are fifty different sets of Medicaid rules – one for each of the fifty states in the union.  Thus much of the “water cooler” scuttlebutt about Medicaid eligibility is just that – – misinformation. 

          The internet is a great tool for learning, but it should not be considered to be the expert on life and death planning documents.  The one size fits all mentality of most internet articles  and legal forms on the internet are trips for the unwary.  Seniors should  seek the advice and counsel of licensed attorneys in the state of their residences.   After all, an actual dialogue with an individual is much better than reading a computer screen when making major life decisions.

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