The Risk of Online Estate Planning Documents: Problems with DIY Documents

Jackie Bedard
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Websites such as LegalZoom and RocketLawyer allow you to create a do-it-yourself will and testament by plugging self-reported information into a generic form.  However, these websites only provide a template for a “will,” and those templates are only legally enforceable if the user does everything 100% correctly. While the document might look formal and seem to carry the weight of the law, the reality is that the appearance of the document creates a false sense of security. Consumers may never realize themselves that the program misinterpreted their state’s law or that they erroneously entered information into the program—instead, a loved one may discover the errors upon the death of the consumer or when a will is being contested.

The reality is that these websites are not authorized to provide legal advice. In fact, the disclaimer on LegalZoom’s website states: “LegalZoom is not permitted to engage in the practice of law.” LegalZoom was forced to put such disclaimers on their website after many states, including North Carolina, took legal action against the company for false advertising.

What can a lawyer do that LegalZoom cannot do?

There are two main reasons that consulting with a lawyer to draft your will is preferable to using LegalZoom. First, local attorneys are extremely knowledgeable about the ever-changing legal issues that can affect your estate’s tax liability, to whom your assets may be passed to, and additional steps that you and your loved ones need to take to protect your financial health. For example, if one of a client’s adult children is going through a divorce or filing for bankruptcy, then the parent can create a “spendthrift” or “family protection” trust that will shield the child’s inheritance in a divorce settlement or from creditors. Questions such as how stable is your child’s job, how much debt does your child have, and how healthy is your child’s marriage are all extremely important questions that a website such as LegalZoom and RocketLawyer will not think to ask.

Second, LegalZoom and RocketLawyer cannot give you personalized advice about non-legal ways to protect your estate. For example: LegalZoom will not advise you to actively seek out long-term care insurance if you have not already done so. With the average cost of a nursing home in Cary, North Carolina exceeding $75,000 per year, long-term care can quickly drain all of your assets. To protect your estate, your children’s expected inheritance and the financial stability of your family, it is recommended that you meet with an attorney who will ask case-specific questions such as do you have long-term care insurance and have you made a financial plan to pay for long-term care in the future?

In short, the individualized attention and experience that an attorney can use to create your will is irreplaceable. Websites like LegalZoom and RocketLawyer are valuable references but they cannot replace an expert opinion. Just as you would never diagnosis a serious illness based purely off of information provided on WebMD, we urge you to think twice before relying solely on LegalZoom or RocketLawyer to protect you and your family’s estate.

Have additional questions or concerns?

Carolina Family Estate Planning is ready to help you construct a will or trust. If you have any questions, attend an upcoming workshop or call our office at (919) 443-3035 for a free phone consultation or contact us online. At the end of the call, you’ll know the next step and at a minimum, we’ll point you in the direction of resources that can help you.   There is no obligation to you.   Our goal is for you and your loved ones to have peace of mind and a pleasant ongoing journey.