Lawyers provide a wide array of services and skills. Above all, lawyers are problem solvers: the client is faced with a legal obstacle or policy hurdle and needs a knowledgeable advocate who can navigate the circumstances. A common myth is that the law is “automatic,” that somehow third parties will always do what the law requires. However, enforcement of the law sometimes requires an experienced mind and a strong arm.
Sometimes third parties only have marginal knowledge of an area of the law and insist upon a specific course of action, not even realizing that alternatives exist. A common example is a bank or other financial institution insisting that a probate proceeding be initiated when an asset is titled to a decedent’s individual name rather than a living trust. A probate proceeding is expensive and time consuming and unnecessary if certain conditions exist such as when the total value of the assets titled to the decedent’s individual name is $150,000 or less or when there is a surviving spouse. Often it takes an attorney to educate the financial institution about the legal alternatives – such as a “small estate affidavit” or a “spousal petition” – and insist that they be accepted.
In other situations, a company might have stricter policies than the law requires. The policies are designed to protect the institutions from liability rather than provide service to the client. Often, financial institutions will balk at accepting the authority of a power of attorney agent, even when the agent’s authority is granted under a properly drafted and executed power of attorney document. It becomes a matter of arm-twisting. The problem is so prevalent that a popular legal practice manual even provides a sample letter for the attorney to convince third parties to accept a power of attorney with references to the Probate Code. It’s amazing what a difference a stern letter from an attorney can make.
Accepting information at face value can often cause unnecessary expense, delay, and hardship. However, without sufficient knowledge of the law or the various additional options that might be available, there is no ability to pushback and insist upon alternative solutions. This is where the assistance of an attorney can be of great value. Not only do attorneys have knowledge of the law and the experience to suggest creative alternatives, but they also are trained to question the information presented and hold firm with conviction.