With technology and the internet playing an increasingly vital role in our everyday lives, many people have begun using services like LegalZoom or other online legal services to help prepare critical estate planning documents such as Wills and Trusts.  People see these services as a cheap alternative to expensive attorneys.  However, these services cannot replace the valuable legal advice and counseling that you get from an experienced estate planning attorney.  Worse, these services can give you a false sense of security.  When you prepare your own Will or Trust with an online service, you think you have taken care of your planning.  But in reality, there can be many gaps left in your planning.

For example, your Will does not cover what happens to assets such as life insurance and retirement plans, which could be the vast majority of your overall net worth.  In order for your life insurance and retirement plans to be paid to the correct beneficiaries, you must correctly name a beneficiary on forms provided by the company, get those beneficiary designations recorded by the company, and get a confirmation back from the company.

Similarly, if you create a Trust, you may not realize that you need to transfer assets from your own name to the name of your Trust in order for the Trust to accomplish one of its main objectives. 

The online companies leave you to figure out these and many other issues on your own.  On the other hand, an experienced estate planning attorney can guide you through all of the important steps to ensure that all aspects of your estate plan will work as intended.

In addition, even if the online companies could cover every potential issue, the complicated nature of estate planning and the sheer number of options available for your planning means that you may make unintentional errors when filling out the online forms.  In fact, LegalZoom’s own website at one point acknowledged that approximately 80% of people who fill out online legal forms do so incorrectly.

LegalZoom and other online legal services usually disclaim liability for any errors or omissions that their forms might contain or the negative consequences that might occur as a result.  Unlike these companies, attorneys owe a professional duty to their clients to provide competent legal advice, and they can be held liable for failure to do so.

The most important part that is missing when you use an online service is a person who can ask you the important questions and provide the expertise and follow up that is necessary to be sure your plan is complete and works for you and your family.  This is what you are really purchasing from an attorney and this is why we recommend that you consult an experienced estate planning attorney to help you create your estate plan.

Estate planning is not just for the rich.  Anyone who cares about their family needs an estate plan that will actually work.  The money you spend with an experienced estate planning attorney will be money well spent for you and your family.