During any given month, I review a number of online wills and trusts. Generally, my introduction to the situation is to review an estate planning document that was created by using a website like Legalzoom, Nolo, or Rocketlawyer. I periodically look at those websites to see what is so attractive to prospective customers. The one thing they highly advertise is a low price and not having to deal with a scary lawyer.
After reviewing the documents from these sites, three themes generally appear.
First, these documents are legal documents, with each paragraph carrying significant authority upon the creator’s death. However, the creator is almost never legally trained and rarely understands the full outcome of a decision being made. The way the questions are answered often causes paragraphs to contradict each other, raising the likelihood of a future will contest. What started out as an attempt to leave clear directions for family members, can lead to a lengthy court battle to determine what you actually meant regarding the conflicting terms in the will.
Second, these documents are so vague that they could pass as my will or they could pass as your will. Either way the document would say exactly the same thing, just with a few changed names. If you decide to leave directions after you are gone in a will, don’t you think those directions should be tailored to you and your family? To ask it another way, is you family the exact same as your neighbor’s family? If not, why should your estate planning documents look exactly the same?
Third, is the signing ceremony. This phase is the most often disputed aspect of estate planning. The signing ceremony helps clarify that the proper number of witnesses signed the documents, that the documents were properly notarized and witnessed properly. Being witnessed properly may sound easy, but there is a deep body of law determining what is proper and what is not. With online planning, this step is left completely up to you, the buyer. I have had will and trust reviews that hadn’t even been signed yet and the person thought they had a valid estate plan.
I see the desire to want to leave a plan, at a low cost. These online companies offer the potential for discounted estate planning. I offer you this caution. You may feel like you are saving money buying a document online as opposed to paying more for counseling and tailored documents, but you are treading on ground unknown to you. Some online documents you draft can be ticking time bombs and you will never know about it. Your family will be the ones left fighting over contradictory terms, vague directions, or arguing where or not the will was ever even valid. Yes, online wills can work, but the risk is not worth the reward.
If you have an online will or trust that you would like an attorney to review, or you were contemplating a will or trust and would like to speak with an attorney, call Jeppesen Law today for a free initial consultation! 208-477-1785.