Why Hire an Attorney When You Can Use a DIY Service Such as Legal Zoom, Rocket Lawyer or Quicken Wills? What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You
In a time where the internet has made DIY projects easier and more accessible to people, there is a perception that there is no longer a need to pay a professional for things we can do for ourselves. While this conjures up images of weekend Home Improvement Store trips and the great feeling of satisfaction we get when a room is freshly painted, or a new deck has been added onto the house, even the experts in DIY publications urge us not to delve into the domain of electricians, plumbers, excavators and the like. The consequences here could have disastrous results.
This DIY domain is becoming more and more prevalent in the Legal field where providers are offering DIY estate planning document services. These providers want you to believe that the process of preparing a Will is as easy as 1-2-3 or filling in the blanks on standardized forms. However, while these services do generate documents that may bear some of the hallmarks of professionally prepared documents, they should be used with caution.
These websites lure people in with a low-cost product and a process that takes a short time to complete. They try to assure you with testimonials of customers professing that their product has given them “peace of mind.” They provide you with a portal that gives you a “general understanding of the law” even though the information it contains is “not guaranteed to be correct, complete or up-to-date.” They even suggest that the document you get from their company will be just as effective, or more effective, as one an attorney creates, by garnering endorsements from famous As Seen on TV Lawyers.
For the purposes of this article, we will use a leading online DIY template vendor as the example. The reality is that, despite a disclaimer that their document preparation services are not a replacement for the advice of an attorney, they still try to convince you that the advice of an attorney is simply not necessary. The vendor also reveals on their website that 80 percent of people who fill in blank forms to create legal documents do so incorrectly. Despite this particular disclaimer, the vendor tries to reassure its customers that professionals are there to help and that customers can have “peace of mind” knowing that their professionals will customize their Will based on their legal decisions.
But the fact is that most of these online DIY vendors are not law firms. They cannot review your answers for legal sufficiency, draw legal conclusions, provide legal advice, or apply the law to the facts of your particular situation. Consequently, most vendors resort to providing only general information on legal issues commonly encountered and offer guidance in some instances by indicating that a majority of its customers have answered a question a certain way.
The problem is that everyone’s situation is unique. Just because the majority of customers have answered a question a certain way, this does not mean they have answered it correctly, nor does it make it right for your individual circumstances. If the legal document contains serious legal mistakes, you will never know because they will not become apparent until you die, leaving people to deal with the mistakes whom you likely created the Will to protect.
Just as in life, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. In our Firm, we regularly have people call in and ask us to review their documents they have drafted on LegalZoom and other such sites. Upon first glance, the documents appear to be professionally done but upon closer examination, there are some major flaws or errors that come to the surface.
Below is a summary of flaws found in one trust-based estate plan, put together by a highly educated couple using a DIY service, and brought into our office for an Attorney review.
- The online trust document created three different sub-categories to place property into, but the couple had only utilized one.
- The instructions to the Trustee were very unclear, such as telling a trustee they shall do something, which is mandatory, but then adding in “if necessary” without any information about under what circumstances something may or may not be necessary. Which is it?
- Provides a mechanism by which somebody can request something, but in no way requires an obligation to do so. Huh?
- Upon the death of one of the settlors (persons who create a trust) the first instruction directs all of the trusts property to be divided into two brand new trusts, which have not been created. In order to comply with this a trustee would then need to create two brand new trusts that do not currently exist. Yikes!
- Property that is supposed to be divided between these two trusts, is supposed to be divided by property that was owned by husband prior to marriage and by wife prior to marriage. No instructions as to distribution of community property.
- Contradictory instruction of distribution of property with extremely confusing set of instructions (if/than instructions) about how property to be distributed. Including one instruction about property being distributed equally among several people with no instructions about what to do if one of those individuals predeceases one of the settlors.
- One more contradictory instruction on the distribution of trust property. There is a provision that prohibits the surviving spouse from selling or giving away or otherwise disposing any property they receive from the deceased spouse.
- Catch-all distribution of personal property. In one place all personal property is distributed to one sub-section and in another the property is distributed to the trust as a whole with no instructions.
- No Financial/Durable Power of Attorney included at all.
Ok, enough examples, but the fact is Do-it-yourself Estate Plans are not worth the risk. Attorneys do more than draft a document. They advise you on the best way to protect your family and preserve and distribute your assets according to your wishes.
Does the advice of an attorney cost more upfront? Yes, but remember that 80 percent of people who fill in blank forms to create legal documents do so incorrectly, in the end costing them way more than their do-it-yourself planning costs in the end. Are you willing to take the risk? Give us a call today for a face-to-face meeting and custom estate plan. We look forward to meeting you!