Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Warnings if you try to prepare your own legal documents
1. Don't try to do it yourself just to save money. Incorrect documents (or bad agreements) can be very expensive down the road. Lawyers do not charge that much for routine documents or simple transactions. Many times, people try to scare you by saying an attorney will charge you $10,000 for a simple divorce. If you have a "honda" divorce, then you don't have to pay "rolls royce" prices. Shop around. Find someone that is resonable. You can even check the State Bar of Texas website and see if there are any complaints (greviences) against the attorneys you contact. Beware of something too good. If an attorney will charge a total of $100 for all divorce documents involving minor children, doesn't that sound too good to be true. It probably is too good to be true. Be sure to read the Legal Services Agreement you sign with the attorney. 2. Make sure you understand all the legal obligations regarding the issues involved. You might prepare a wonderful documents that unfortunately won't work in your case. For example, a "living will" is a wonderful legal document -- but it will not prevent probating a person's estate in Texas. Many people think setting up a "trust" will avoid probate. It may not. If the deceased owns a piece of property in their name (and not in the trust's name) then you will still need to probate the estate in order to have a clean title to the property. Probate in Texas is cheap and easy if done right. It is only expensive when there is no will or you have an improper will in Texas. It's much cheaper to do it right the first time. 3. Don't assume that one form can be used in every situation. Do not use a form from another state. NEVER USE A FORM FROM LOUISIANA! In Texas, you should not normally use a form more than 4 years old. The Texas legislature meets every 2 years and "tweeks" the law -- especially family law. If you use a friend's divorce forms that were prepared 10 years ago, it won't be accurate and most judges won't sign it. 4. If you don't understand the language used in a form, stop! You obviously are in over your head. You need to hire an attorney. 5. When in doubt, use plain English in all written agreements. Don't use big words that you don't understand. I've seen some people do their own legal forms using the wrong word and the document is not legally binding because the wrong words were used. As my dad always said, don't use $5 word when a 10 cent word will work! 6. Make sure that you find out whether you have to include anything "special" because of Texas laws. 7. Try to avoid preprinted forms and form kits (on-line and office supply kits) that come with few or no instructions about how and when to use the forms. If you read the "fine print" on the office supply kits, it says 'STATE FORMS NOT INCLUDED'. Therefore, you have wasted your money!