I am often asked why people cannot go online to create their estate planning documents, and a lot of the time it feels like people want me to justify my existence as an estate planning attorney. Generally, people are looking for an inexpensive solution, and they think attorneys are expensive or unnecessary. Although I cannot claim the lowest price service compared to an online service, there are reasons why working with an attorney can be better. (And I do think my prices are reasonable.)
Online Services Are Self-Help, or Perhaps Not So Helpful
If you have a really simple situation, such as simply leaving assets to your spouse, or to your children if you are the second to die, and you’re done, then an online service could fill your needs because your situation is simple and you don’t want to pay attorney prices. If that is all you need, I can agree that you may not need my help.
However, not all situations are that simple, like if your children are minors, and some online services seem to miss important supporting documents, like powers of attorney, or living wills / advanced directives. Online services are generally self-help, so you are on your own, and the services ask you questions, then use your answers to populate the blanks in documents, giving you a completed product. Sometimes the questions are straightforward and have easy answers, but other questions can be more confusing or complex. Without understanding the questions posed by an online service, properly answering the question can be a problem. As such, you may get a document that does not accomplish what you truly want.
Doing It Yourself May Not Be the Best Answer
Many people want to do things themselves, and I understand that, but sometimes doing it yourself can be problematic. For example, some people change their own oil. Other people want to let a service company or mechanic change their oil because they can better utilize their time and abilities doing other things. Additionally, automobile engines can be more complex, computerized, and generally more difficult to work on – almost self-contained – than in the past. Similarly, you can create your own estate plan, or you can hire an attorney as an expert to create documents for you and ensure the plan is what you need.
The current legal environment is more complex than it was in the past, includes concerns about identity theft, and keeps changing as new laws are passed, or laws are modified. Working with an attorney means you are able to rely upon an expert to keep up with this changing legal environment. I have seen documents from an online service that use incorrect terminology for state law, which is concerning. Some online services do offer the ability to talk to an attorney, but many who want to do things themselves do not bother to talk to an available attorney, and may miss something.
Attorneys Create Complete Estate Plans that Work
Working with an attorney to create an estate plan gives you confidence that you plan will be done correctly. An estate planning attorney can clarify questions, ask things you may not have considered, help you understand the differences between options, and explain the law to you.
An attorney also is legally required to keep up with changes in the law. Estate planning attorneys should take the necessary time to explain the different options you have available to you, such as a will, trust, current gifting, or other option. An online service may not explain these options to you and certainly will not apply them to your particular circumstances.
Only an estate planning attorney will listen to your specific needs and challenges, then apply the appropriate planning solution. Documents from an online service may have the same titles as what an estate planning attorney prepares for you, but documents alone are not a plan. A plan includes more thought and consideration than just documents.
Now It’s Your Turn
An online service will not talk to you, or explore, or clarify what you want, but an attorney can guide you through the process. Talk to an attorney to find your best plan – schedule a consultation now.