Wills are an essential way of ensuring that all of your assets are distributed in compliance with your final wishes upon your passing, and yet many people decide not to create one due to the prospective cost. Websites like LegalZoom, Nolo, and Rocket Lawyer market legal document templates to consumers as a cheap, “Do-it-yourself” alternative to hiring a probate attorney to prepare your will and other estate planning documents. These websites implicitly encourage people to draw up their own wills and trusts using simple templated forms, eliminating the need of legal counsel. Although this may seem like an attractive, low-cost substitution for an otherwise somewhat-costly endeavor- the potential risks involved with creating a DIY will has serious implications.
There are a number of dangers involved in preparing your own estate documents without the help of a qualified probate lawyer. Although it may seem like LegalZoom, and websites like it, provide a low-cost alternative for traditional legal services, these sites don’t provide personalized service fit for your unique legal situation. DIY wills are not customizable and they do not reflect an evaluation of your individual needs. Probate attorneys consider your particular situation when drafting your will, and can ensure that your final wishes for your estate are met so that your loved ones don’t end up in financial and emotional shambles and disarray once you’re gone. In contrast, websites like LegalZoom mislead people into believing that they are under the care of a lawyer when they are not.
The fine print on DIY document preparation websites warn customers about their lack of accountability for the resulting legal consequences involved when you DIY your own will. LegalZoom states that their site is not responsible for the accuracy of the forms you fill out when creating your own will on their site, and they have admitted to the fact that 80% of people fill out their forms inaccurately. They market their products as a fast, easy, and cheap way to plan your estate by claiming that it can take as little as half an hour of your time to draft your own will; and they even provide general conceptual information on the law. LegalZoom and similar websites attempt to comfort their customers’ concerns about drafting their own legal documents, despite their own lack of legal knowledge, by providing informational pages on relevant probate law, which misleads their customers into believing that a lawyer’s advice is simply unnecessary. However, even these websites themselves know that they cannot actually replace the advice of a probate lawyer – they disclaim in their fine print that their information on the law may not even be accurate or up-to-date. The consequences of ending up with a will that is legally inaccurate could cost you a fortune to fix, rendering the initial low cost of their services a huge waste of time, effort, and money. Unlike a qualified probate lawyer, LegalZoom does not guarantee that your mistakes, mistakes published on their website, misunderstandings of the law, and misinformation you may have about your estate will not result in a poorly drafted or ineffective DIY will that ultimately prolongs the probate process for you, and costs you or your family thousands of dollars to rectify.
Failure to have your estate planning documents prepared by a qualified probate attorney can result in a number of consequences:
- You may end up paying unnecessary taxes
- Your estate and/or your family could end up paying thousands of dollars in litigation costs
- Your assets could end up in the hands of people you don’t wish to leave your money to after you pass
- If you have minor children, they could be left without a proper guardian or a trustee
- You may leave your loved ones with a prolonged probate process, and leave them to deal with extensive delays in settling your estate
- Your estate could end up in the control of unqualified executors or trustees
- You could potentially jeopardize your investments and your businesses
It is unlikely that DIY wills can save you a visit to your probate lawyer. Document preparation websites cannot, and do not, provide you with legal advice; they do not review your DIY will or other estate planning documents for legal sufficiency; and they do not apply the law to the facts of your unique legal situation. They do not take responsibility for any loss or cost associated with the use of their website, and they also do not guarantee that your estate planning documents will be legally effective or free of any legal claims or issues that can later serve as grounds for others to contest your will. Mistakes in your will may not even be discovered until long after your death, causing issues that your family will be forced to resolve on your behalf. Furthermore, its unlikely that a a will drafted by a probate attorney will cost you much more than a DIY will. In order to minimize legal fees in the long term, avoid unnecessary taxes, and properly protect your assets; as well as to ensure you have correct, complete legal advice that is customized and considerate of your particular situation- you will need the advice of a qualified and experienced probate attorney.