Self Help Legal Switcheroo

We all like to save money—especially on legal matters. Millions of people are now using do-it-yourself online legal form services like To check it out, I went there, too. Their home page proudly raves, “Save time and money… created by top attorneys… helps you create reliable legal documents… we even review your answers and guarantee your satisfaction.” There is even a testimonial from an attorney who says, “As an attorney, I have been pleasantly surprised with the ease and efficiency of legalzoom.”

What is not as obvious, at the very bottom of the home page, is their disclaimer of liability. Go ahead and scroll down to the bottom of the page—you’ll see the disclaimer in very light print. It states:

“The information provided in this site is not legal advice, but general information on legal issues commonly encountered. Legalzoom’s legal document service is not a law firm and is not a substitute for an attorney or law firm. Legalzoom cannot provide legal advice and can only provide self-help services at your specific direction. Please note that your access to and use of legalzoom is subject to additional terms and conditions.”

The words “additional terms and conditions’ is a hot-link that if you click on it will take you to an even longer disclaimer! The disclaimer guts all of the assurances of reliability and suitability of use that you may have assumed were part of the “actual review of your answers and guarantee of satisfaction.” YOU ARE THE “LAWYER” WHO CHOOSES THE LEGAL FORM!

If you decide to be your own lawyer, please understand that legalzoom has the best of all worlds. They advertise that they will provide you with the best form of your choosing and save you money—but if you ever have a problem because of that document, they’re not responsible. You are the one who made the decision about which legal document was right for you and your circumstances.

Just yesterday in a meeting with a client, that client exclaimed, “Wow, I never knew that there were so many things to think about in our estate planning.” I responded, “You know, that’s what most people say when it comes to estate planning, disability, Medicaid, or veteran’s benefits. You don’t do this work every day, so you just can’t know all of the issues.”

The real value of what any professional counselor does is listen to your description of your circumstances and goals, and then choose the best course of action.

There is an old story about a factory which shut down due to an equipment failure. The owner of the factory called a renowned expert to rush to the factory to get things moving. The owner told him, “This shutdown is costing us $100,000 per day!” The expert arrived, walked around the faulty machine, then took out a screwdriver and adjusted a thing or two. Within moments the machine came back to life and the factory began to hum with activity. The owner was thrilled—until he was given a bill for $10,000. He roared, “But it took you less than 10 minutes to fix the machine—it cannot possibly cost $10,000!” The expert calmly responded, “No, it took me a lifetime to know exactly where and how to use that screwdriver. The bill is $10,000—but the value to you is $100,000 per day.”

Moral of the story: The right solution for the circumstances often requires a lifetime of preparation.

Never say “You can’t…”

I got home from work one day and the house smelled really funny. I could tell from the look on my Mom’s face that something was very wrong. “I was going to surprise you and fix supper. But I think I messed it up,” she told me. I went into the kitchen and on the stove was a blackened saucepan with four really strange-looking eggs. Apparently, she had tried to boil some eggs, but the pan had gone dry and the eggs burned before she noticed. We were both lucky that she finally did notice the pan, and was able to turn it off. Fortunately, I was well-trained enough to know not to fuss with her about the pan or the eggs. I just said, “Well let’s just go out to eat at that diner we like.”

I wish I could tell you I never left her alone again. That incident should have been a big red flag that she shouldn’t be alone. Unfortunately, I left her alone many times after that. While she never tried to cook again, she was nevertheless alone. It was actually several years before I even considered having her cognitively evaluated.

Absolute #7says, Never say “You can’t…” and instead find out what they can do – and there are a lot of things your loved one can do! How quickly our loved one can enter the “You Can’t” world and the standard response is to tell them what they can’t do and try to extract a promise from them that they won’t do it again. Somehow we seem to assume that they can truly ‘give up their disease’ and actually remember that they made a promise – as if it were an optional disease process.

Our responsibility as caregivers is to focus on our loved ones’ abilities, not their disabilities. We need to help them discover the things they can do well, and to provide those activities and introduce the environments where they can excel. This is an important responsibility for every caregiver, and the one that is often overlooked. Actually, we have the responsibility to find these activities and to provide a means for them to have opportunities like these included in their lives on a daily basis. The appropriate response to navigating this disease process and journey is to focus on them. It is critical to provide what they need, and a sense of purpose (which we all need!) so our loved ones have meaning and value in life.

The Veteran’s Helping Hand

This is a story about heroes who serve heroes—our veterans of the armed forces.

I first met the dedicated warriors of the Veteran’s Assistance Commission of DeKalb County, Illinois (DeKalb VAC) when they visited our law firm, Law Elder Law LLP recently. The DeKalb VAC provide a full range of services related to veteran’s benefits. I wanted to get to know them, because we need a knowledgeable source of VA benefit information in order to serve our clients with excellence. We deal with an important “sliver” of the VA benefits panorama; we often provide free advice to wartime veterans who are over 65 regarding the VA “aid and attendance” long term care benefit.

Interestingly, even though the State of Illinois has authorized counties to create Veteran’s Assistance Commissions, most counties have not provided funds to actually fulfill that all-important task. Here in the Chicago metro area we are fortunate to have several county veteran’s assistance commissions. Herb Holderman, Steve “Scooter” Scoughton, Linda Drake, and Tammy Anderson are the knowledgeable and caring team who help “needy and/or disabled veterans” at the DeKalb VAC.

Today, the DeKalb VAC serves several hundred veterans every year—but it has not always been there for veteran’s needs. The story of the founding of the DeKalb VAC is a testimony to the power of democracy, a great idea, and the focused persistence of honest men and women with servant’s hearts. Herb Holderman and other community leaders worked together to bring the organization into existence. Herb is now the superintendent—but he worked behind the scenes for years and was the driving force that brought life to the DeKalb VAC. After many years of trying to convince the political powers that there should be a Veteran’s Assistance Commission there, in 2003 Herb and the grassroots group were finally allowed to file a special tax referendum. The goal was to create a taxing district which would fund the veteran’s service organization. As you can imagine, the likelihood of passing a new tax seemed remote. Yet with the help of local veterans’ groups and other concerned citizens, they raised the battle flag and fought for support. The idea proved to be so popular that the referendum passed by a 76% “yes vote”—what a victory!

Today, only a few years later, they work to serve veterans from World War II through Iraq and Afghanistan. Their job is to help provide veterans with shelter assistance, food, utilities, transportation to medical appointments, and information about educational and vocational rehabilitation benefits.

When I asked what they thought was the most important part of their work, each one had a different perspective. Scooter responded that he enjoys creating close personal relationships with veterans and those who work at the VA hospitals and other principal service providers. That is his way to providing veterans with even greater access to benefits. Tammy shared that she believes that it’s her goal to be both a helper and a listener; she wants to provide the veteran with both patience and compassion. Tammy added, “The Vietnam veterans were treated really badly. I tell them that I am here to fight for them.” Veterans Service Officer Linda loves her job, and her only regret is that she is not a veteran herself. She feels honored to be doing the job of helping brave men and women with VA benefit assistance. Then Herb, the superintendent summarized this way: “Our veterans are proud, and they want to be able to stand on their own. When it gets to the point that they might lose their home, they come in to see us with tears in their eyes. Our job is to help them so that they can keep it all together.” Then he quietly stated, “Unfortunately, this year, due to the times, the needs of the veterans have doubled.”

Even though the needs have doubled, this is a story which has many happy endings. It is my privilege to have you meet Herb, Scooter, Tammy, and Linda. Every day they make life better for our United States Armed Forces veterans. I salute you!

How do I take care of me?

Dear Jo,

There is really no one to assist me with my husband, and I am exhausted.  He doesn’t sleep at night, and he refuses to go to the senior center.  Last time I left him home while I went to the store he wandered away, and a neighbor brought him home. Everyone tells me to take care of myself.  But how am I supposed to do that?

Exhausted and Alone


Dear Exhausted and Alone,

You are in the place many caregivers find themselves, especially after a few years of diligent and self-sacrificing full-time care.  This situation falls under the sixth Absolute: Never say, “I Told You…” Instead Repeat/Regroup.  The “I told you” that I am speaking of is when you find yourself gritting your teeth, clenching your fists, raising your voice over some little action that would never have bothered you before.  This is a definite sign to watch for that means you are already burned out. The person you need to regroup with is yourself. 


You truly have to ask yourself, “What would happen to him if I had a heart attack and died?”  With that in mind you need to know and accept that your greatest responsibility as his caregiver is to make certain you are still around to make sure his needs are met.  That does not mean you have to meet all his needs (or wants) by yourself.  You must have help as a caregiver, and it can be very difficult to accept help from anyone.  Think of it as what he needs: he needs to go to a senior center daily so he has friends like himself.  He needs to have other interests so that he isn’t so dependent on you.  Don’t ask him if he wants to go to the senior center and don’t worry if he doesn’t like it very well.  Sometimes it’s okay to let someone complain – did he ever complain about going to work every day? 


Enroll him in activities, get ready in the morning and just go.  When you get there, you can call the staff inside on the phone and they will gladly come greet him and take him inside.  If he absolutely won’t go with you, then ask a friend of his to pick him up and take him to the center.  There are also plenty of companion care services for hire (they are listed in the phone book) that can and help get him ready every morning and take him there.