We've lost track of how many things in our lives are now easier because they are available online. But certain things – like wills, trusts and estate planning tools – require more than just downloading a form.
Using an online legal site may be a useful way to get a look at the fundamentals involved in a will, but relying on a downloaded form without an attorney's guidance is a risky way to conduct estate planning. You may save yourself time and money, but chances are good that your heirs will spend more than what you saved!
The Indiana Lawyer recently published "Do-it-yourself dangers" that explains how do-it-yourself estate planning oftentimes creates more work for attorneys after somebody dies.
One attorney represented parties in an estate where a will wasn't valid, which meant that the decedent's wishes weren't met. He had wanted his estate to be shared equally among his children, but because the DIY estate plan wasn't properly witnessed, it was invalid and the donor died intestate—or without a will. The probate court applied state law and divided the estate between his children. However, because one child had died, that heir's share passed instead to a grandchild, which was not what the decedent intended.
What most people don't realize is that you don't find out there's something wrong until somebody dies, and then it's too late to fix the mistakes.
When online will forms are completed incorrectly, the wills become invalid and the estate is treated as if there was never a will at all. It takes far longer to settle the estate when this happens, and it costs heirs more time and money than if the will was done correctly by an estate planning attorney.
A simple will or a power of attorney doesn't cost that much to have an attorney prepare, plus you get a lot of advice and counsel from an attorney that you don't get from a downloaded form. For instance, an attorney may advise you to include "I waive a bond" for my executor. This alone can save several hundred or several thousand dollars in fees, depending on the size of the estate.
There are also document-recording peculiarities in each state that estate planning attorneys know and deal with every day. You will not get those insights when you rely on downloaded forms. During a face-to-face conversation with an experienced attorney, important issues tend to come out, like providing for a grandchild with special needs or an asset that might be difficult to transfer.
Many people may start with simple estate planning documents online but then see that they need to purchase, complete, and file more papers than they originally anticipated. Those costs can soon be comparable to what a client would have paid to have a qualified lawyer do the work in the first place.
An estate planning attorney provides clients with benefit of insights and experience in the law combined with invaluable knowledge of how family dynamics unfold when executing a will. They will be able to help you identify your estate planning goals and create a plan that works within the laws of your state. You'll have greater peace of mind knowing that your estate plan was done properly and that your wishes will be carried out in accordance with the law.
Reference: Indiana Lawyer (January 27, 2016) "Do-it-yourself dangers"