Ruth-Ann E. Toups
Getting Your Will Done Online? Read this First.
We live in the age of electronic ease. For every problem we face, an app is right there to solve it. And, for every question we have, Google is right there to answer it. We have given the Internet so much authority that we now turn to it as a legal authority. That’s right. Not only do we allow Wikipedia to serve as the breaker of all disagreements, we also turn to quick-fixes to meet, what we consider “easy” legal needs like our wills and powers of attorney.
These services all work similarly. They are document banks. You pay a one-time or monthly fee that will include access to the legal forms and--at an additional cost--legal advice. So, you get the will first and then, if you think you need it, you can talk to a legal representative.
These online legal document banks should not be trusted with your estate planning documents for three reasons.
They’ve got it out of order.
When you go to a legal document bank, you need to know what you need. Once you’ve chosen the legal document you need (a will, a power of attorney, a trust), then you can pay a fee to have access to legal advice through the website. This advice comes in the form of customer-service (think waiting on hold for forever) not as a sit down with an attorney that practices law in your state. This is backwards.
You should always talk to your attorney about what your goals and needs are, first. Talk to your attorney about the size of your family; whether you have stepchildren or ex-spouses; where your money is; and, how you want it to be preserved. Then, your attorney can provide you with options that work best for you and your circumstances. . Your attorney plays a crucial role in assessing your situation, predicting where things could get messy (beyond the capability of an over-the-phone-or-via-email legal representative), and preventing that mess (beyond the capability of a boilerplate-form). A licensed attorney is more than a form bank; an attorney should provide you with guidance and be a resource to you. Your attorney should also be licensed and practicing in the state you live in because laws vary significantly state by state and are subject to change.
Online legal document banks do not help you by making you do all the work.
2. They’ve oversimplified it.
The law is not simple. Although a will can seem simple, there are endless ways a seemingly well drafted will can create a very expensive and unwanted result. Do you know what makes a valid will in your state? Do you know how to make probate easier and less expensive? Do you know how to avoid probate, or if you would want to avoid probate? Neither does the form you download from the Internet. The lawyer you call could answer those questions in their sleep. And, those are important things to know and talk about when you are writing your will.
What about appointing a guardian for your minor children? Do you know what could disqualify someone from being appointed a guardian? The form doesn’t know that answer either. And, if you get a hold of customer service they may or may not be able to help you with that question. A lot of what your lawyer learns isn’t from books or law school. It’s from being in the same courtrooms in front of the same judges time after time. It’s from hands on experience with circumstances just like yours. Not only does your attorney know the law, they also have experience with how it is applied each and every day in your area.
Online legal document banks do not help you by making your will seem simpler than it is.
3. They’ve charged too much for too little.
Let’s be honest; the reason many of us turn to the Internet for our wills is price. But, when you really evaluate what you are getting for what you are paying you have paid too much. Wills start out around $100 on most online document banks. What are you getting for your $100? A blank form. A form that may or may not apply to your state. A form that may or may not be properly executed to make it a valid will in your state. A form that may or may not work for you and your specific needs. Most people never learn their online will didn’t work how they wanted it to because it only becomes an issue after they die. That $100 will can end up costing thousands more in attorney’s fees after you die. More importantly, your wishes might not be honored.
What you aren’t paying for is attention to detail. You aren’t paying for the promise that your will meets the legal requirements for your jurisdiction. You aren’t paying for the care that goes into making sure you’ve thought of every little thing. You aren’t paying for the person who will go back and update your will after you’ve gotten remarried or had another baby. You are paying $100 for a potential nightmare for your family.
What you don’t get is the guidance of a licensed attorney in your state. Not only does an attorney prepare your will for you, they also help you understand your will and all of your estate planning options. Your attorney is a resource. A local attorney can help connect you with other resources to make sure you have taken care of all of your needs. How often do you have a legal question but don’t know where to get the answer so you turn to google? Developing a relationship with an attorney you trust is invaluable. Paying an attorney to prepare your will not only ensures your estate is properly handled, but also gives you a person to turn to when you have a legal question. Online legal document banks do not help you by making you pay $100 for a will form and no guidance.
It is important to get your estate documents in order, and to do it correctly. The legal field is slowly adjusting to this era of electronic ease, but online document banks are not that adjustment. The Toups Law Firm has a virtual office, which means we will meet you where you need us to and when. We get it. Finding time to travel to an attorney is difficult. We come to you. Let’s work together to put a plan in place that will work for you and your family.