Yesterday, while I was speaking about estate planning to a group of people at the Seniors Safety Fair, one lady put up her hand, and spoke about her experiences in trying to have a will prepared for her. She said she has a disabled child who receives disability benefits. When she phoned one law firm, someone asked her if her estate was worth over $500,000. When she said “no,” the law firm advised her to get a stationer’s-form will kit.
She then went to a notary public. She said that the notary public advised her that if she left anything to the disabled child, the child would lose the disability benefits. This lady was left with the impression that she shouldn’t leave anything to the disabled child.
Even allowing for the possibility that there was a misunderstanding, I am concerned about the advice this lady apparently got. Advising a client, or prospective client, with a disabled child to do her own will, or to cut out the child from any inheritance is terrible advice.
She needs to retain a lawyer who does estate planning work. There are ways to provide benefits for a disabled child, without jeopardizing B.C. disability benefits, including using a discretionary trust in the will. (I have written about this issue here.) But, no stationer’s-form will is going to contain the clauses necessary to create the discretionary trust.
I have no idea what law firm this lady phoned. I would hazard a guess that she contacted a law firm that does not do a great deal of estate planning work, and is probably not that interested in this kind of work. I don’t have a problem with lawyers turning a way work they are not interested in doing. But, why not refer people who need legal assistance to another lawyer? There are plenty of us who do estate planning for people with assets of less than $500,000.
Similarly, it would be appropriate in these circumstances for the notary public to refer the client to an estate-planning lawyer. In British Columbia, a notary public is permitted to draw some types of wills, but not wills with discretionary trusts. In this case, the notary public apparently recognized that a simple will leaving an outright gift to the disabled child would jeopardize the disability benefits. But, he or she did not go the next step, and refer the client to someone who could assist.
It is good business, as well as good client service, for professionals to make referrals to other professionals. By taking the time to refer a client or prospective client to another lawyer who does the type of work the client needs, you make a good impression on the person you are dealing with. You are sending out a signal that you care, even if you do not take on the work. He or she may come back to you in the future for the type of work you do. Furthermore, referrals out, tend to generate referrals back.
I don’t give specific advice at these seminars, but I did talk briefly about trusts for disabled children, and gave her a copy of my article on this topic.