There are several websites that offer customized, do-it-yourself wills and other estate planning documents. These computer-based services appear to offer the consumer a cost-effective and convenient alternative to visiting an Estate Planning or Elder Law attorney. Or do they? Is online estate planning worth the convenience and initial savings? How do the documents created compare to those that a qualified attorney would produce?
To answer these questions, ElderLawAnswers asked two experienced Estate Planning and Elder Law attorneys to evaluate three leading online will preparation and estate planning programs: Nolo’s Online Will, BuildaWill, and LegalZoom. Their findings and ElderLawAnswers’ conclusions are presented in a five-page whitepaper that is available for free on ElderLawAnswers website.
The conclusion: “We conclude that while online estate planning could possibly work for people who have little or no property, small savings or investments, and a traditional family tree, the significant remainder of the population should not rest easy using one of these programs and should instead consult with a qualified Estate Planning attorney. In other words, in all but the most commonplace Estate Planning situations (and only an attorney can determine what is “commonplace”), do-it-yourself estate planning programs can be a risky, and often quite costly, substitute for in-person planning with an experienced estate planning attorney.”
I encourage you to read the whitepaper and see for yourself. Common issues with these type of estate plans include oversimplification. For example they do not explain the complexities of naming too many decision makers to serve at the same time, nor do they explain why a minor child or an elder parent may not be a good choice to name as an agent. They often overlook tax laws. Its important to remember that each State’s probate laws and tax laws vary. Further, mixed marriage situations are never a good fit for these programs. Additionally, users may miss powerful opportunities to sheild a child’s inheritance or plan for a special needs child. Finally, there is the issue of liability. Who do you hold accountable if a mistake was made?
In my office alone, I have several consultations per month where I assist clients in backing out of poorly drafted, do-it-yourself estate plans, and into something that makes sense for them and their families. Its very important to remember that there are no one-size-fits-all when it comes to planning one’s estate but that the utmost care should be placed in choosing the right person (Estate Planning or Elder Law Attorney) to help you, and not the right computer program.