Thanks to the Internet, people have become more autonomous than ever. There is seemingly no shortage of what can be tackled on one’s own, thanks to the web. People have taken to their computers to accomplish tasks once handled by dedicated professionals, including travel planning, banking, car or real estate purchases, and even legal matters like estate planning. The advent of LegalZoom and other “do it yourself” document preparation services provides simplified and inexpensive solutions for just about any legal filing—including trusts or wills. Although this is a fantastic advancement in technology, it gives consumers the impression that completing important legal documents is as easy as filling in the blanks of a DMV form.
The reality is the process is much more complicated than that, and consumers may skirt over important questions or choose not to pay extra money to consult with a live attorney. On Legal Zoom, for example, it’s noted that “80% of people who fill in blank forms to create legal documents do so incorrectly.” The platform assures customers that LegalZoom professionals will make the necessary modifications to ensure accuracy of their documents. However, LegalZoom is not a law firm, but merely a legal document assistant, and thus not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. The platform, of course, offers a disclaimer to this effect, but for individuals hoping to save money and time, this may pose little concern.
There are uncomplicated documents that people could most likely complete on Legal Zoom or with the assistance of another document assistant. An estate plan, however, is not one of those documents. Good estate plans are nuanced and customized to the needs of an individual client. Do it yourself estate plans provide a false sense of security.
Below, are just a few of the areas that can be neglected in a DIY estate plan:
· Failure to include an alternate trustee in the event that the named trustee passes away or is unable to serve
· Failure to include guidance about beneficiary designations
· Failure to address issues relevant to blended families
Unfortunately, DIY platforms do not offer the customization that an in-person attorney offers a client. Attorneys do more than draft a document. They advise on the best ways to protect one’s family and offer guidance on the preservation and distribution of assets according to personal wishes. Quality estate planning attorneys CARE about their clients! Yes, the advice of an attorney can come with a much higher price tag than a document service. But as a reminder, eighty percent of people who fill in blank forms to create legal documents do so incorrectly. Do you want to be part of that statistic? Or would you rather be the 20% minority who gets his/her estate plan done properly and with care? Now, not tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year, is the optimal time to seek the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney—not a document assistant.