There is a Misunderstanding of the Role of the Attorney

“All I need is a Simple Will.”  This was said to me even before we sat down in my conference room.  “Why then”, I thought, “are you coming to me?”  “If all you want from me is a form, why ask me for a meeting?”

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I’m Not a Bakery

I enjoy my job.  I like to help clients plan their estates, put their wishes into effect, avoid unnecessary taxes and give them a sense of relief.  When clients tell me, “That’s a load off my mind”, or “I’ve been intending to do this for a long time and I am glad it’s done”, I feel good.  But, to cut me off at the knees before I get a chance to review the situation and give legal advice, by telling me all they want is a form, it’s just not why I became a professional.  I am not a bakery.

Old Scho0l Lawyering: The Counselor At Law

Many, many years ago, there were two types of admission to the Bar.  One was, “Counselor At Law”; the other was “Attorney At Law”.  A Counselor At Law gave legal counsel to clients, and did not necessarily go to court. The Counselor At Law was prized for his advice.  He would keep his clients out of trouble by researching the law and shepherding them through the legal minefield.  Today, we make no distinction between Counselor and Attorney At Law, but the duty of giving professional legal counsel, remains. This ability to help people in this way is why many attorneys have pursued their careers, including me.

Can We Talk?

In estate planning, it’s not important that you have a Will, it’s that you have the right Will.  In answering your questions, it is not that you get a quick answer (by email or otherwise), it’s that you get the right answer.  Facts, circumstances, assets (even if you only have a few), hopes and dreams, all have to be reviewed.  The question of executors, trustees, guardians for children, has to be discussed, not only the “who”, but the implications to the person you chose and their role in handling your affairs after you are gone.  Increasingly, in our present time, there is also the danger of probate litigation involving siblings.

You Don’t Know, What You Don’t Know

In addition, an experienced Counselor At Law will be able to advise as to pitfalls and the practicality of your plan.  You may want a number of trusts, or your friend told you to create a “Living Trust” instead of a Will.  These things can be done, but do you want to live that way?  Are you, or the person you chose as Trustee, willing to handle the work that these trusts sometimes require?  Did you know that leaving a percentage of your estate to a charity necessarily will involve a review of your estate by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office?  This will delay the distribution of your estate for months. Maybe leave a specific amount of money to the charity and avoid this delay.

The role of an attorney is to listen to the client’s needs and provide counsel, based upon the law, in order to assist the client to reach his or her goals.  Alone, a form cannot succeed.


Robert J. Shanahan, Jr. Esq. focuses his practice in estate planning, elder law and probate matters. Mr. Shanahan additionally practices in business law and non-profit matters. He is a trained, experienced mediator and offers dispute resolution services, particularly for those arising from probate and elder law matters. Additionally, Mr. Shanahan’s firm, Shanahan & Voigt, LLC, offers a breadth of additional services to families and businesses throughout central New Jersey.

Mr. Shanahan received his Juris Doctor from the Temple University School of Law in 1985, and obtained licensure in New Jersey in the same year.  He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in History in 1981 from William Paterson University, with honors. Robert is a member and Past President of the Hunterdon County Bar Association, and is a member of the New Jersey State Bar Association, and its Elder Law and Disability Section.  He is also active in the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Robert is a member of the Hunterdon Medical Center’s Bio Ethics Committee and was awarded a Five Star Financial Services Professional Award for 2016.

You may contact Bob at (908) 751-1551, or robert@legalcounselnj.com.