Many websites offer customized, do-it-yourself wills and other estate planning documents. Although such products are convenient, using them could create serious and expensive legal problems. These digital services appear to offer a cost-effective and easy alternative to visiting an estate planning or elder law attorney. But is online estate planning worth the convenience and initial savings?
The following are examples of what can happen if you try to create an estate plan without the help of an attorney:
- A Pennsylvania man wanted his estate to go to only two of his five children. He wrote his own will, giving his pickup truck to his daughter and his summer house to his son. He also wrote in the will that he was intentionally leaving out his other three children. The problem was that the man did not specify what to do with the remainder of his estate. He died leaving an estate of $217,000. While he probably intended for that money to go to the two children he didn’t disinherit, because the will had no residuary clause, the remainder of the man’s estate passed under the state law that specifies who inherits when there is no will. This meant the estate was divided between all five children. (In Re: Estate of George Zeevering, (2013).
- The company LegalZoom, one of the most prominent sellers of do-it-yourself wills and other estate planning documents has had several class action lawsuits filed against it. Recently, LegalZoom settled a class action lawsuit initiated by an unhappy customer in California. A niece helped her uncle prepare a will and trust using Legal Zoom. The niece believed the documents created would be legally binding and that if they encountered any problems, the company’s customer service department would resolve them. The niece could not transfer any of her uncle’s assets into the trust because the financial institutions that held his money refused to accept the LegalZoom documents as valid. She had to hire an estate planning attorney to fix the problems, and the attorney also discovered that the will LegalZoom created had not been properly witnessed. All this cost the uncle’s estate thousands of dollars. (Webster v. LegalZoom Inc., Oct. 1, 2014)
The irony is that using a boilerplate will form in these cases not only frustrated the decedents’ testamentary intent, but ultimately cost their estates far more than a consultation with an estate planning or elder law attorney would have. Call (570) 784-4654 to schedule a consultation to discuss your estate planning needs.