Why do do-it-yourself estate planning tools often backfire?
For an individual in need of a will, ads for self-service online tools such as LegalZoom are tempting. Instead of paying a trusts and estates attorney, why not just fill in the blanks yourself? Sadly, in many cases, the mistakes made in completing the forms without the advice of a lawyer can lead to even greater legal bills later to correct problems. Even worse, some problems cannot be fixed at all.
One Indianapolis trusts and estates attorney recalled a case in which a do-it-yourself will was not valid because it was improperly witnessed. The decedent was deemed to have died intestate, and the probate court divided his assets among his legal heirs in a way he had not intended.
While some lawyers worry about competition from do-it-yourself legal services, others say that the services actually generate more legal work for attorneys. Unless an individual’s needs are extremely simple, using an online form frequently creates problems.
In addition to improperly witnessed wills, some documents are not completed properly, and trusts may not be funded adequately. Do-it-yourselfers may miss out on simple advice from an attorney, such as how including the phrase “I waive bond” can sometimes save thousands of dollars in fees. Those who proceed without legal advice may also not be aware of the nuances of document-recording procedures in Indiana.
The fees of attorneys are modest relative to the cost of some of the mistakes that can be made. In addition to technical proficiency, attorneys have perspective and experience that can be useful to someone trying to provide for a spouse and future generations fairly and with a minimum of tax liability and other complications. While do-it-yourself forms may sometimes work in some very straightforward situation, for many estate planning matters, the advice of counsel may, in the end, be much more cost-effective.