Thursday, September 30, 2010

PA Law Resources Available

Recently in researching, I came across a basic guide to sources of Pennsylvania law (statutory, regulatory, judicial opinions, and practice treatises) entitled "Legal Guide: Pennsylvania Practice Aids" (June, 2008; PDF, 2 pages), posted by the Widener University School of Law's library.

Such a primer should be helpful for any "newbies" to the subject of Pennsylvania law, whether first-year law students or other students seeking an overview of rules issued by Pennsylvania's three-branch system (legislative, judicial, & executive).

Widener University Law School's library in Harrisburg, PA, is listed among similar facilities at the eight Pennsylvania law schools, as compiled by, a legal information service.  Its law collections can be searched online, just like the online legal collection at the University of Pennsylvania Law School's Law Library, and many others.  Some of these resources are restricted to students, but many of the linked resources are usable by anyone.

In Pennsylvania, the most comprehensive online resource of law-related links likely remains Pennsylvania Legal Research Websites, which I reviewed previously.  I described it as "the definitive listing of legal links in the Commonwealth.See: PA EE&F Law Blog posting "PA Legal Research Websites" Shines (05/01/08).  Younger folks would just say, "Awesome!"

For general questions in Pennsylvania, we could consider another resource:  the Ask Here PA service, which is "designed to provide fast answers to your questions, using information found on the Internet and in proprietary databases funded by libraries." 

They promise a response to a question sent by email within fifteen minutes or less.

Sounds like an oracle I might use on a tough issue.

“The ancient oracle said that I was the wisest of all the Greeks.
It is because I alone, of all the Greeks, know that I know nothing.”

 -- Socrates (Ancient Greek Philosopher, 470 BC-399 BC)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Do-It-Yourself Wills, a No-No

On September 7, 2010, Forbes  published and posted an excellent article about "Do-It-Yourself" estate planning written by an experienced business and legal writer.

Her message:  "Why am I strenuously opposed to do-it-yourself wills? There are just so many things that can go wrong -- from the wording of the document, to the required formalities for how it must be signed and witnessed before it can be valid."

In researching her article, The Case Against Do-It-Yourself Wills, Deborah L. Jacobs made inquiries through the listserv of the American College of Trust & Estate Counsel (ACTEC), collecting, from experienced specialized lawyers, their "horror" stories of self-help estate planning gone bad.  She recites some accounts in her lengthy article.

I agree with her advice.  Don't write testamentary documents -- those taking effect (and becoming irrevocable) to direct property after your death -- by yourself, without at least a review by an experienced elder law attorney.

For many years while teaching Estate Planning & Administration or Elder Law at Widener Law School, Harrisburg Campus, I directed second- and third-year law students to draft a last will, a health care directive, or a durable power of attorney as part of a graded project.  I allowed, even encouraged, use of consumer-oriented estate planning software, but mandated that all documents "work" according to the expectation of the hypothetical client.

Such highly-educated law students, who took a course and who sought a good grade, often made mistakes that an experienced practitioner would not.  Sometimes they used a wrong "form" to accomplish an end or create a relationship.  Other mistakes ranged from misspellings, omission of crucial data, internal inconsistencies in directions, disregard of non-probate designations that would control, citations to incorrect law, incomplete statements of intention or flawed dispositions (some in long-term trusts), and lack of backup plans or successor appointments.

Now, if trained law students make such mistakes, why would a consumer without training do better?

Just as those students might learn from using a self-help legal program to produce a draft of a document for discussion, a consumer could become educated.

Those easily-printed documents could be flawed, however; so the output should be reviewed by someone knowledgeable in applicable law and legal procedure.
Using a DIY will is like "pulling your own tooth with a pair of pliers instead of going to the dentist." -- Timothy E. Kalamaros, Esq., South Bend, Indiana