Most people nowadays have gotten used to doing pretty much anything they want to do online. It started out with online shopping, which makes it possible to buy almost anything you want with a click of your mouse or tap on your smartphone. Over the past couple of years, many people no longer even have to leave their homes for work thanks to digital video technology like Zoom.
But there are some things for which the internet is a poor substitute for physical interaction. Medical care is one example: While telemedicine is becoming common for minor health issues, it doesn’t work for more serious conditions.
Limitations of Online Legal Services
Online legal and estate planning services are another example. Websites like LegalZoom and LegalShield may be adequate for very basic legal services, but there are serious limitations when it comes to using them for important legal and estate planning documents like wills, trusts, powers of attorney and advanced healthcare directives. This is especially true for affluent individuals and families with large and complex estates.
In a worst-case scenario, do-it-yourself legal and estate planning documents created online might be rejected in court. If this were to happen to your last will and testament, it could result in your will being contested and your estate having to go through the expensive and time-consuming probate process. When this happens, there’s no guarantee that your wishes for the distribution of your assets will actually be fulfilled.
Legal documents like these are created to provide peace of mind and protection for you and your heirs at critical times in your lives. Incomplete documents or documents that haven’t been drafted correctly could end up being nothing more than useless pieces of paper that cost far more than whatever money was saved by trying to do it yourself.
Imagine the frustration and heartache of your heirs if your DIY last will and testament is challenged by a disgruntled relative and declared invalid by a judge. Or the confusion if you were in a life-threatening situation and your advance healthcare directive was declared invalid, leaving your family with limited decision-making authority.
Get What You Pay For
The biggest benefit of using an online service for legal and estate planning documents is cost and time savings. These services are usually less expensive than hiring an attorney and the documents can often be prepared faster — sometimes in a matter of minutes.
But the old adage also applies: You might get what you pay for. Many of these online documents are simple fill-in-the-blank and don’t allow for the nuance or personalization needed with more complex estates. Consultation and human advice is also usually limited — if you need help making decisions about the distribution of assets or selection of beneficiaries, for example, you’ll probably be on your own.
Keep in mind that companies providing online legal and estate planning documents are not lawyers and do not provide legal advice. In fact, they recommend that users consult with a practicing attorney if they have specific legal questions about their estate or documents. Some provide a network of attorneys you can speak with (usually by phone) if you need help for an additional fee.
Also, you will be responsible for ensuring that your documents are executed properly. This includes getting the proper witness signatures and notaries. If your documents aren’t properly executed, they might not be legally enforceable.
Better Than Nothing?
Certainly, having DIY legal documents prepared online is better than having no legal documents at all. But for most affluent individuals and families, it’s preferable to work with an attorney in the creation of these important documents.
An experienced estate planning attorney will ask questions that help you identify your goals and formulate an overall estate plan. He or she will also answer any questions you have about estate planning and walk you through the entire process from start to finish.
We can work together with you and your estate planning attorney in the drafting of your estate plan and preparation of key documents. Give us a call if you’d like to discuss this further.