I am going to step out on a limb, and likely ire my fellow attorneys, to say that LegalZoom is a cheap alternative to hiring an attorney to draft estate planning documents for you. Allow me to let you in on a secret: attorneys use forms that they buy! Anyone can create his/her own Will. As long as the testamentary formalities are observed, a Will created by you will be honored in any court of law.
Of course, you will get what you pay for.
The truth is that forms are useful. Attorneys use them. It is very rare, however, that a form right “out of the box” will meet all but the very simplest of situations. Still there are times that I have done little more than in the blanks for some clients of mine who have very simple, straight forward estates and desires for handling their estates. At the same, I have hundreds of forms and portions of forms that cover a panoply of situations and a myriad of nuanced differences and options. A mechanic who has only one tool is very limited in what he can do.
Choosing the right form, or combination of forms, is not even the beginning. Many things need to be considered before pulling out a form. A Will is only one component of an estate plan. The person preparing the Will must understand the difference between probate and non-probate assets and how the Will fits into the totality of the estate, including the assets that will not be subject to the Will. When I meet with clients, I carefully explain these things so that they understand how estate planning works, the options that should be considered and they can make appropriate decisions that harmonize the various aspects of the estate to accomplish the goals that are desired.
Estate planning is incomplete if it only focuses on death. The forms in which title to assets are held during life must be coordinated with a well drafted Will that provides for disposition after death. Estate planning should also include planning for life. A Will is only effective after death. A complete estate plan not only anticipates death; it prepares for disability, incapacity, emergencies and special circumstances.
“Fill-in-the-blank” forms are not flexible enough to address the nuances of different family circumstances or desires for the disposition of estates. Children from previous relationships or multiple marriages, a desire to allow a loved one to live in your residence after your death, to set aside money to pay for a loved one’s education, or create a fund to care for pets are just a few things that will not be addressed in a form Will. More often than not, I must draft provisions that are unique to my clients to address their unique circumstances or desires. Second marriages with prior children require complex planning.
Twine is cheaper than climbing rope. Frugality is beneficial, but most people would not rely on twine to repel down the side of an one hundred foot cliff. Twine certainly has its uses, but holding the weight of a person hanging on the side of a cliff is not one of them.
The tendency of most people is to put off the subject of preparing a Will and doing estate planning. It is human nature. No one wants to think about, let alone plan for, their own death or disability. Even people who come into my office, often fail to follow through quickly, and sometimes not at all. I make it a point to stress follow through, and I will follow up to remind my clients of the things that need to be done. Left to our own, we are less likely to follow through. There is accountability in going to an attorney.
Estate planning is important for you and your family. It can be complex and requires careful thought and consideration of many things. Most people do not spend much time reading or thinking about estate planning. Estate planning attorneys have spent many years thinkg about and doing estate planning, and therefore, are able to educate and walk a client through the process.
A person will certainly save money using an online form, but the mistakes, misunderstandings and incomplete planning may only be revealed when it is too late for changes to be made. The effects of poorly drafted, incomplete or inappropriate estate planning documents will hurt the very people they were intended to benefit. The monetary effect of mistakes, misunderstandings or incomplete planning will most certainly outweigh the money saved by using a do-it-yourself Will kit. It sounds like a great idea. It may be good as a stop gap measure, but doing your own estate planning is not a good long term value proposition.