When you first start thinking about making your estate plan, it is hard to know who to trust. There are online legal document providers offering you cheap estate plan documents that promise to be exactly what you need. There are estate planning attorneys telling you many reasons why you should not use those online providers.
As an estate planning attorney, you can guess which wayI think is right. But, you do not have to take my word for it. Instead, you can take the word of an independent study by the most respected consumer organization in the United States.
Consumer Reports recently released the results of its study of the three biggest online legal document providers: Rocket Lawyer, LegalZoom and Nolo. What they found in the Wills produced by these services was shocking. Two of them allow you to rewrite the Will in a way that could completely contradict other portions of the Will or make the Will invalid. What’s the point of using the service, then, if you can unknowlingly insert wording that contradicts the rest of the document? One of the services apparently does not know that a Trust can extend beyond a beneficiary’s 35th birthday. Those are just two examples.
The article concludes that the sites offer basic legal advice that might help you save money spent on a lawer. But it also says that many consumers are better off consulting a lawyer. To this I add my own thoughts.
When you work with a qualified estate planning lawyer, the legal documents are anitclimatic. What you pay for is the experience and skill of the lawyer’s art. That is, knowing which tool to use and for what purposes; traps to avoid and best practices to follow; how to handle specific family circumstances, goals and issues; tax saving techniques. Things that no website can ever offer because there is no substitute for human analysis and interaction.
What’s more — no website or document factory can be there to guide your family through the process of settling your affairs after death or helping during incapacitation. Because planning and settling estates is about much, much more than documents.
To make sure that you get an estate plan that works for you, talk to an estate planning attorney — not to your keyboard!