Are On-Line Estate Planning Forms Legal?

Are On-Line Estate Planning Forms Legal?

As an estate planning and elder law attorney, I am often asked about both the legality and wisdom of using estate planning forms purchased from an on-line service.  As to whether or not these on-line services are legal, the answer is yes.  As to the wisdom of using an on-line service for your estate planning, I often quote an old saying, that I believe that person is being “penny wise and pound foolish”. Being overly cautious with small amounts of money (the fee for creating a will or trust) can risk large amounts of money (your property and other investments).

On-line legal services are not illegal and there is a lot of good information found on the internet.  Communicating with attorneys on-line is becoming much more common.  Many law firms, ours included, provide information through their web sites and communicate with their clients via e-mail. However, on-line information gathering does not replace the need for, or the importance of, face-to-face discussion with your attorney who can ask you questions that may save you a lot of money.

Every estate planning document can have far reaching consequences and those consequences should be discussed and explained by an attorney. There are also many specific state issues that can affect an estate plan, including the definition of descendants, anti-lapse statutes, the effects of marriage or a divorce. The desire to spend as little as possible is understandable, especially in today’s economy.  But a blank form and some basic instructions cannot replace the legal skill or knowledge of a qualified attorney.

Estate planning documents should be prepared to meet the individual needs of the client and with the proper attention to the necessary legal requirements of each document. A person may spend less money today purchasing an on-line form but that person’s estate may spend a lot more money at some future date to fix the problems created by completing a form and understanding how the answers effect the entire estate.  I believe it is very important that you seek the assistance of an attorney to prepare your estate plans, to insure that your assets are protected and your wishes will be carried out as desired.

Estate planning is not the place to be going it on your own. Just as seeing a dentist to stop the pain in your tooth makes sense, seeing a qualified estate planning attorney who is familiar with the probate, trust and estate tax laws of your state to create and maintain your estate plan makes sense. Don’t be fooled by what appears to be a good deal.  Remember that other old saying, “you get what you pay for”.  It would be very disappointing to your family to find that what you had planned is not what will occur.

Article Provided by McGinty & Belcher

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