The world is at your fingertips. Today we do everything online – shopping, researching, meeting people, sharing photos, sending emails, handling our banking, and even submitting our taxes. Having such regular access to information has allowed us to become a world of DIYers (do-it-yourselfers), and sometimes to even save money handling matters ourselves which, in the past, we may have hired someone for. However, even with the plethora of information online, preparing your own estate planning documents using services and software is NOT the low-cost solution it may appear to be. Let’s look at some of the major issues involved:
TASK 1 – DRAFTING DOCUMENTS:
Probate, trusts and intestate succession (when someone dies without leaving a will) are governed by a network of laws which vary from state to state, as well as federal laws pertaining to inheritance and tax issues. Each jurisdiction has its own requirements.
Many online document services offer standardized legal forms for common estate planning tools including wills, trusts or powers of attorney. Although such services may offer customization, it is impossible to draft a legal document, using standard software that covers all variations from one state to another.
Using a form or procedure not specifically designed to comply with the laws in your jurisdiction could create complications and extra legal fees.
TASK 2 – EXECUTING DOCUMENTS:
Requirements vary as to the legal formalities for executing documents. This process includes details like how many witnesses are required for particular documents, whether the document is notarized, and what the precise wording needs to be for signature clauses, witness attestations, and notary blocks.
An online service typically inserts witness or notary language, yet the requirements vary from state to state. The services typically do not review documents after execution to make sure that they have followed the state specific procedure.
If your state’s signature and witness requirements are not followed exactly at the time the will or other documents are executed, they could be challenged for their validity. Unfortunately, this finding would only be made long after you have passed, so you would not then be able to express your wishes or revise the documents to be in compliance.
TASK 3 – CUSTOM INDIVIDUALIZED ADVICE
Your life, comprising circumstances/people/ideas which are important to you, is unique from any other life in existence. Although there are general issues which estate plans typically address, no standard form can cover every contingency. Two people who have checked off the same boxes for categories of concerns, may have very different reasons for doing so. Such details greatly affect the kind of estate plan which is best for your individual situation.
Although many online services make an attempt to cover as many circumstances as possible in their client intake, no online resource can flag all potential concerns and provide you with appropriate recommendations. Additionally, the online document preparation process affords you absolutely no specific advice about what is best for you and your family.
Without going into the reasoning behind your concerns, an online estate plan may not be able to offer you a plan that truly accomplishes your goals. Furthermore, there may be little to no guidance on how to keep your plan active once your documents are signed. Estate planning goes far beyond the idea of lengthy paperwork sitting in a safety deposit box or home safe. You may need to complete funding tasks – addressing the owner/beneficiary of your assets – in order to make a plan meet your goals. You may need to meet with, and provide copies of your documents, to your agents, doctors, and financial professionals to make sure your plan accomplishes your objectives. Most online services do not offer the resources to help you keep your plan active and responsive to your needs.
THE SOLUTION – MEETING WITH A DEDICATED ESTATE PLANNING ATTORNEY
A consultation with an attorney allows you to address all of the factors necessary to customize an estate plan that meet your needs. Often clients walk into an office looking for ways to do some of the following items:
- Avoid probate
- Maximize tax savings
- Arrange for a seamless transfer of assets after death
- Protect their heirs by preserving the estate
- Maintain the quality of their lives
- Prepare for an active and healthy retirement
Although these categories are broad, the details discussed with the attorney can greatly affect the suggestions he or she makes to help you accomplish your goals.
A qualified estate planning attorney can provide you with the advice, implementation, execution, and continued guidance necessary to help you meet your goals. Customized legal advice can save you and your loved ones time, frustration, and potentially a great deal of money. Such attention to your individual needs is something no website can deliver.