Listen, I get this. Time permitting, I like to do things myself, and in the information age, you can learn how to do almost anything on the internet. But should you try to draft your own estate plan or use a website to do it for you? I asked myself that question and gave it a whirl. Based on my experience, here are four key reasons I don’t recommend it.
1. You are not talking to an attorney
In a typical estate planning engagement with my law firm, the first time you meet with us, we talk about your personal situation, your family, your finances and your goals. While some of that conversation may seem irrelevant to you, the attorney is listening for issues, some of which you may not even realize are issues that can be addressed in an estate plan. Our education, and even more importantly, our experience in seeing how certain estate plans have been implemented enables us to recommend the best estate plan for you and your family.
If you choose to do your estate plan on the internet, you are not going to talk to an attorney or get any legal advice, at least for the base price. Even if you do decide to pay more to talk to an attorney connected to you by the website, you will likely not be talking to someone with the same level of experience you can get at a law firm.
2. You will end up with a very basic will
The form I completed to do a will on the internet asked for only very basic information so that it could provide a very basic output. The program could not handle even the slightest complexity. For example, I wanted to create a lifetime trust for my beneficiaries in order to provide for asset and divorce protection. In Missouri and many other states, you can even name the beneficiary as the sole trustee of such a trust and maintain those benefits. Unfortunately, using the online form to create my will, I was unable to designate a beneficiary to become a trustee of his or her trust at a certain age. This inability to handle a slight complexity was a deal-killer for me.
This is just one example, but I can imagine many others. No two well-designed estate plans are exactly the same, but the internet programs are not designed to handle nuances or complexities.
3. You won’t get personalized service
While this point ties into not being able to talk to an attorney, it’s not just that. You don’t really get to talk to anyone that can explain your document or, for example, how you are supposed to validly sign it. The requirements for signing a valid will are fairly antiquated, and they are not necessarily straightforward. Without some specific instructions and advice, the chances of your will being invalid simply because it was signed incorrectly increase.
4. You get (no more than) what you pay for
Even a basic estate plan should include a will, a durable power of attorney for financial matters, and medical directive and durable power of attorney for health care. On the internet, you are going to pay for each document separately. Further, since you are probably not going to get any legal advice or explanation as to what your documents do, you may not even know about a document you need but don’t get.