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.

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!

The Art of Being…98

Dale Chatfield Creating Landscape Art
Dale Chatfield Creating Landscape Art

“What in the world is that man doing?!” I asked attorney Zach Hesselbaum. It was a perfect summer afternoon and we had just left a client’s home at Alden of Waterford.  We could see a man creating something with homemade tools in an undeveloped area across from the residences.  We just had to get to know this man who, it turned out, was a pro at creating “landscape art”.

Dale Chatfield is a man of simple and powerful virtues.  His initiative, integrity, and personality have drawn people to him, and then he has enriched their lives.  Zach and I spoke with Dale and his charming wife Doris.  They have been married 70 years.

Dale was born October 10, 1911 in the central Nebraska plains.  He told us, “I grew up on the farm, and when I was a young man it seemed like I knew all the girls in Nebraska—but none of them were right for me!  It was The Great Depression, but I headed off to find my fortune in Denver.”  In Denver he lived frugally, studied accounting, and eventually got a job as an accountant for the Denver/Rio Grande Railway.  But Dale was never meant to just sit at a desk.  He is competitor, and is driven to always do more than what is expected.  Doris beamed and proudly told us, “Dale has spent his whole life going the extra mile.  We had a dry cleaning business for 32 years.  The business, called D&D Cleaners (for Dale and Doris), grew because my husband always gave extraordinary personal attention to each customer.  Even after people moved away from our neighborhood, they would drive back to have Dale do their cleaning.  People value that special personal attention.”

Even after retirement, Dale has kept on making life more fun for others.  From 1990 to 2005, he almost singlehandedly did the Christmas decorations and lights around their four-story senior residential center in Denver.  Doris told us, “He was the only one in the neighborhood who decorated all four sides of their building!  Everybody else just did the front.  You know, he climbed up and down those tall ladders even when he got to be 92.”

If you want to talk about playing horseshoes, Dale is your man.  He is a champion horseshoe player.  He played in a senior league that included 40 players.  During ten seasons, Dale was champion five years.  Leaving Denver and moving to Chicago in 2005, his biggest disappointment has been that he can no longer find anyone who wants to play horseshoes.  “They all say they have a bad back or a bad arm.  I can’t find anyone who will play with me.”

I asked Dale if he could provide me with some of his keys to a long and successful life.  He gave me a handwritten note that reads as follows:

  1. God, parents, wife, and kids
  2. Creator, genes, diet, exercise
  3. Husband and wife 50/50; don’t let the sun set on your anger.
  4. Honesty (don’t even take tax deductions if they are iffy)
  5. Eat well but nothing fancy (oatmeal with raisins every day and good farm food)

Dale is a wonderful life model for the art of being—and living as—a very successful man.

Dale and Doris Chatfield
Dale and Doris Chatfield

Forever Santa

Forever Santa
Forever Santa

“How do you grow up to become Santa Claus?” I innocently asked the white-bearded man.  Laying a finger aside of his nose, he looked at me gently and told his story.

“My birth name is John Scheuch, and Christmas 2009 will be my 34th year as Santa Claus.  Being Santa is a multiple-generation calling—my father, grandfather, stepfather, and uncle have all donned the role.  In 1975, my mother (who knew that I yearned to be Santa) gave me my first custom-tailored suit.  But in those days I had a couple of challenges.  First, nobody recognizes a young Santa with dark hair and beard.  Second, I didn’t know where to go to learn all of Santa’s secrets!  Being Santa is not a “guy-group” activity; you can’t just go hang out with a bunch of Santas to learn—and at the time I couldn’t find a mentor.  Nonetheless, I had a calling to be Santa, so I decided to just start—after all, I had my suit…  So I began to quietly share with a few friends that I was Santa Claus.  One friend asked if I could come and visit his four-year-old son, Rex.  When I agreed, he added, “When you visit, could you please tell Rex to turn out the bathroom light at night?”  That was my first “ah-ha moment” as Santa, because a real Santa knows everything—but how can he, without a little help from the parents?

That was 34 years ago, and I am now visiting the children and grandchildren of those I first saw.  I keep a file on every child I have ever visited.  Now when I see a child whose parents I knew when they were children, I will often say, “You know, Mikey, when your daddy was your age he wanted me to bring him a red Tonka truck.”  People are amazed that Santa not only knows all but he remembers everything about them too.

Let me tell you about a call that changed my life. One night, I received a mysterious call from a man who identified himself as the Chief Elf of “The Elves of Christmas Present.”  The Chief Elf asked me several questions:  “Do you really look like Santa?  Do you work on Christmas Eve?  Are you afraid to fly?”  He then told me about a gravely ill child who had asked her parents to help her to go to the North Pole, see Santa Claus, and help him deliver Christmas presents.  The Chief Elf asked me to help make that wish come true.  I told him, “I’m your man!”

The afternoon of Christmas Eve arrived and I was getting ready.  Suddenly the Chief Elf called again, and with a broken voice he said, “I have bad news…  She died this afternoon…  But her grieving parents want us to go on and take her younger brother.”  Later that night I met a shattered family and a wide-eyed little boy. We grabbed my bag of toys and jumped into a helicopter. Together, we flew through a Kansas Christmas night, delivering Christmas gifts.

That moment caused me to want to devote myself to serving children with the greatest needs—children who are terminally ill, children in hospice, and children with a loved one who may be dying.  My passion to serve has led me to become Executive Director of Santa America. It’s a non-profit, volunteer organization that brings love, hope, and joy to special children and their families.”

Help Santa John and Santa America to fulfill their mission.  Please go to their website,, and make a contribution to support them in their never-ending work of bringing Santa to exceptional children who are in crisis.



The Happy Bottom Family Trust

Gladys Kaminski and Diana Law

Gladys Kaminski and Diana Law

Meet Gladys Kaminski, a real sparkler!  My daughter, attorney Diana Law, insisted that I come into the conference room to meet Gladys.  When Gladys enters a room, merriment walks in with her.  We exchanged laugh-filled greetings, and then I asked Gladys why she wanted us to do her estate protection planning.  She quickly responded, “I don’t want to lose everything to long-term care expenses.  Even though I don’t have a lot, I want to make sure that my kids and grandkids can enjoy at least a part of it.”  She was working with Diana to prepare an Estate and Longevity Plan.  Her goal is to never be out of money or quality health care options as long as she lives.  One of the ways that we help clients achieve their goals is the use of very carefully designed trusts.

Most trusts take the name of the trustmaker—so ordinarily Gladys would have named her trust the “Gladys Kaminski Trust”—but she wanted to have it her way!  She wanted to call her new asset protection trust “The Happy Bottom Family Trust.”  Unusual, but legally a trust maker can choose any non-deceptive name for a trust.  I asked Gladys why she wanted a “Happy Bottom Trust.”  Giving me a wink, Gladys flashed a big smile and began her story.

“In 1941 I graduated from eighth grade.  I worked as a salesgirl at the dime store at 31st Street and Halstead in Chicago.  My boss, Mr. Fox, loved to tease me.  One day he came over to me and said loudly, “Gladaaas!  Gladaaaas!  Did you know your name translates as Happy Bottom?”  I laughed and laughed.  And I’ve been telling that story all my life.  Nobody remembers me when just I tell them my name is Gladys.  But everyone remembers me when I tell my name is Gladys and that means Happy Bottom.”

Now both Diane and I were laughing with her, and we agreed that The Happy Bottom Family Trust now made sense to us.  This trust is designed to protect a portion of her assets in the event she ever suffers unending long-term care costs.

Gladys is a model of excellent aging.  Despite knee replacements in 2001 and 2006, she plays golf with “the girlfriends” every week.  They also take an annual golfing trip to Florida or Arizona.  I inquired, “Don’t you girls go to Vegas?”  She looked up at me with a conspiratorial expression and said, “Oh yes!  I need to go to Vegas every year to the bingo convention.  I’m in charge of our parish bingo operation.  I’ve done that for the last 20 years.”  Gladys also serves as treasurer for numerous senior clubs and church organizations.  It’s obvious to everyone that this gal is very confident handling her own money and safeguarding other people’s money, too.

As her estate planning and elder law attorneys, we are honored that Gladys chose us to serve as her trusted guides as she travels the elder care journey.