All right, I’ll admit it – writing an article about why you shouldn’t DIY your estate plan might seem a bit self-serving. But, I have had people ask me what the benefits are of using a lawyer versus one of those online services (or just signing a piece of paper stating what they want). Here’s how I typically respond:
- Online estate plans are not customized to your circumstances. If you go to a lawyer, they will talk to you about your financial situation, your family situation, your goals with your estate, etc., and they will adapt the language in your estate plan accordingly. Online services just ask you for basic information and spit out a generic will and trust with the names filled in. For some people that’s fine, but for many others there may be special provisions they didn’t know to add, or provisions that are not relevant to their circumstances.
- Online estate plans are usually poorly drafted. I need to be careful here, because I have occasionally seen an online estate plan that was pretty decent. However, these were the exception, not the rule. Most online estate plans I have reviewed have been clunky, awkward, and difficult for even me to make sense out of. I’ve also noticed problematic provisions that don’t reflect the wishes of the client, as noted above. Estate plans the client put together themselves tend to be even worse.
- DIY estate plans are more likely to go to court. A litigator once told me that the majority of his cases involved DIY estate plans. Having a lawyer draft the plan (and check the client for capacity and undue influence) greatly reduces the likelihood that people will contest the plan after the client has passed.
- DIY estate plans are harder to defend in court. Since the person put the plan together themselves, there was no one to check for capacity or undue influence (and there’s a higher risk of fraud as well). If a lawyer put the plan together, they can serve as a witness and can testify to their client’s mental state at the time they signed. This testimony is given a lot of weight by the courts. Without it, the defendant needs to gather evidence of the person’s mental state from whatever sources they can think of. Granted, the court assumes a person has capacity unless the evidence indicates otherwise, but a lawyer’s testimony makes things much easier.
Even though I’m writing about why you shouldn’t DIY your estate plan, it’s not to say that online estate plans don’t have their place. There are times when a person’s circumstances are very simple, and they don’t need a tailored estate plan. There are also cases where there’s urgency and the person simply doesn’t have the time to get the plan done by a lawyer. But on the whole, I believe that most people would benefit from having their plan drafted by an experienced lawyer. Of course, I’m biased, so give my opinion all the attention it deserves.
If you would like to discuss the benefits of using a lawyer further, or would like to skip that step and sit down for a free consultation, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.