Estate planning attorneys are often asked by prospective clients why they should be hired and what can they provide to the client that an online estate planning service cannot. The answer is: A LOT! We will also be so bold as to say: “You get what you pay for!”
If you’ve ever gone onto Legal Zoom or Nolo, you see an easy, fill-in-the-blanks form to complete. There are drop downs and even additional choices to engage with an associated state-appropriate attorney for a moderate fee if you have any questions. A nice and professional document can be printed out. It is all quite easy and, perhaps more importantly, quick.
It’s hard to see any downside, right? Honestly, for many people, an online do-it-yourself (DIY) Will can certainly be better than having no written instructions in place. But in our experience, it’s the simplicity and speed that can indeed prove troubling, and unfortunately, potentially expensive, down the line when your heirs and family must administer this document.
We’ve looked at these services and provide some context:
Pros and Cons of DIY estate planning
A big advantage of using a DIY service is that you will have a quick and cheap plan, and, as we mentioned above, this may be better than having no plan at all. For the basic cost, you will receive a will, a power of attorney and an advance health care directive. Those documents will be important for folks who want to designate someone to handle emergencies if something unfortunate were to happen. This option works well for people who don’t own real estate or much else. If you just want to name a guardian for your minor child, a DIY service can do that easily.
But in our estimation, these online services presume that you already know what you want and additionally, you understand how these documents will work in your favor. But the reality is that many people are not sure what they want or need, nor do they know what questions need to be asked and answered. For example:
- How is your property (real estate, securities, bank accounts, vehicles, annuities, artwork, antiques, family heirlooms, collections, IRAs and 401ks for example), owned and how can it be transferred to an heir?
- Do you own retirement accounts?
- Do you own property outside of the state?
- Are your family dynamics complex; do you want to make sure your heirs don’t squander their inheritance? Do you foresee family/sibling/children problems when your distribution plans are announced? Do you have adult children in difficult marriages? Do you have a blended family? Do you want to intentionally disinherit a family member? Do you have a family member who has special needs? Have you divorced? Do you have grandchildren?
- Are you fully aware of the tax consequences when your property is distributed? Is your estate large enough to be taxed?
- Do you have a family-owned, closely held business?
- Do you have the right people in place to be your personal representative or power of attorney agent?
Once you get into the complexities of family dynamics and perhaps trust language specific to your state and situation, DIY estate planning can be deficient and can cause more disputes for your family than working with a team of professionals like the attorneys at The Harris Law Firm. It is a truism that we don’t know what we don’t know. You know some things about how you want to dispose of your assets after you die. What you may not know is all the case law and legislation that have evolved into your state’s probate code, or best strategies for transferring your life’s treasures and wealth.
A Note of Caution For Using DIY Online Wills
In our experience, the DIY option cannot and will not be able to help you plan with the above questions in mind. It will not be able to personally understand your unique family and estate situation nor spend time with you to get to know you, your goals, and the values you wish to pass along.
If you do decide to look for an attorney who specializes in estate planning, we hope you will consider The Harris Law Firm. We are confident that we can help you better prepare your estate plan than an online service can. You may already have other trusted professionals with whom you work (CPA, Financial Planner, etc.) and we can work together so that your ‘Team’ can better support you and your family’s needs.
However you choose to get your plan completed, DIY or with the help of an experienced attorney, we hope that you will get your estate plan done, and soon. You never know what surprises life will bring. One thing we can promise is that you’ll have peace of mind once you have a plan in place.