Online DIY Wills & Trusts: Do you need an attorney to write a Will or Trust?
You can choose from many “do-it-yourself” Last Will and Testament or Trust form kits or online services that are far less expensive than an attorney. So, is it worth the money to pay an attorney to write your will for you? Well, an attorney may be less expensive in the end.
Do you remove your own teeth, or visit a dentist? When you break a bone, do you just grab an ace bandage and wrap it up yourself? No sensible person would do it themselves in these instances, so why do the same for important legal documents? The reality is that the law is different in every state and often confusing. Florida law is different from New York law and California law and Hawaii law. An attorney must prove a certain level of knowledge and competency to gain admission in each state, which usually involves a multi-day exam and at least five weeks of full-time study after completion of a Juris Doctorate.
An attorney can guide you through the process and ensure that you are creating legally enforceable documents. This is important because a will can be contested if it was not properly drafted, signed, or witnessed in accordance with the applicable state laws. For instance, in Florida we have real property law, such as Homestead, that takes precedent over estate planning tools. What state laws, if any, were used or considered when your DIY will was drafted? Who can be your personal representative under your state’s laws? Who can serve as a witness? Is there a specific way in which the witnesses and testator must sign? Is a notary required? Does your DIY service tell you what your state requires?
Consider also that most attorneys focus on certain specialties, so they can provide an elevated level of counsel. You know the saying: Jack of all trades; Master of none. A great lawyer has mastered a specific area of the law, can draft (or avoid) legalese, spot potential issues, and find ways to resolve them. An attorney who focuses on estate planning, and has for many years, will know from experience what possible obstacles there may be to your estate planning goals and will offer specific advice on how you can address those issues.
While you may find a kit that claims to have forms for your state, buyers beware: every kit will make you acknowledge that it does not guarantee that it is able to do what it promises to do. You know that check box that you checked without even reading? Sadly, sometimes the warnings pop up at you after you buy the software, but most of us do not read them. When you accept the terms, you are likely agreeing that you understand that the software you bought to create the most important legal documents of your life may not achieve the purpose you intend and cannot offer legal advice. In fact, it makes clear that it may not provide you any value. It may be as good as a blank piece of paper. Just read it for yourself.
The online service “Trust & Will” has popped up on my Facebook feed to help me “appoint a guardian.” So, I checked it out. But the document offered is not what I’d use to appoint a guardian for my clients under Florida law.
Will it do what they promise? Their terms of service say they don’t promise anything and cannot warrant that the documents will do what they say they will. So, basically, customers pay money for a false sense of security. How do you define scam?
The terms of service for Trust & Will state, in relevant part:
USE OF THE SERVICES IS AT YOUR OWN RISK. . . . THE SERVICES ARE PROVIDED WITHOUT WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, . . . .USE OF THE SERVICES IS AT YOUR OWN RISK. . . . TRUST & WILL AND ITS LICENSORS DO NOT WARRANT THAT THE CONTENT IS ACCURATE, RELIABLE OR CORRECT;
With Suze Orman’s estate plan kit you can get a complete plan with a trust in just 60 minutes! That is AMAZING because a trust plan will take me, a licensed professional with over a decade of experience, at least 8 hours to make perfect for you. Suze’s fine print also states that it:
“Disclaims all… warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose… in terms of their correctness, accuracy, reliability, or otherwise.”
That means that Suze Orman’s will or trust is not guaranteed to do what you want or be enforceable.
Don’t gamble with your family’s future with potentially unenforceable documents.
In a nutshell, this is one of those times where you get what you pay for. If you want assurances that your will, trust or other estate planning documents will accomplish your goals, the documents have to be drafted by a licensed attorney that focuses on estate planning. An attorney who focuses on estate planning warrants that they will draft documents that help you accomplish your goals and has the knowledge to do so. Lawyers provide specific legal advice and are liable for their professional negligence. Lawyers guarantee that they will use their best professional skill. Moreover, many lawyers, myself included, charge affordable fees that cost far less than the litigation of a contested will or trust. With a lawyer, you actually get what you are paying for: There is no fine print saying that the docs the lawyer drafted for you may not work and there is nothing you can do about it.
If you have already used a kit and want the docs you created reviewed, I will be happy to help. Please contact me to schedule a time for a flat fee review and consultation.