Estate Planning: Do-it-Yourself vs. Licensed Attorney

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Do-it-yourself wills and estate planning or using a certified legal document preparer may seem appealing, but lurking below the surface, these services do not replace an attorney. Oftentimes you need a licensed attorney to assist with estate planning because there are several variables that do-it-yourself programs and licensed legal document preparers miss.

Picture by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

The Downsides of Do-it-Yourself Estate Planning

Legal document preparers and LegalZoom style services market themselves as an easy, less expensive, and faster process to estate planning. They want you to think that this process is as simple as filling out a few standard forms, which undermines the concept of estate planning.

Is do-it-yourself estate planning or a legal document preparer ever suitable?

In certain situations, do-it-yourself estate planning or a legal document preparer may be suitable, but these situations are few. For instance, if an individual has some modest assets in his or her name only and wants to ensure that these assets are left to the appropriate person(s), this may be an option.
However, most people have more complicated situations in their lives where do-it-yourself estate planning or using a legal document preparer will pose a huge risk, resulting in lasting consequences.
What is wrong with do-it-yourself estate planning?
“LegalZoom is not a law firm.” Legal document preparers are not licensed lawyers and cannot provide legal advice. Legal advice can only be provided by a licensed attorney. No legal document preparer or LegalZoom professional can legally review your documents for legal sufficiency, provide legal advice, apply the law to your situation, or draw legal conclusions. People want to know that their estate planning is right for them and their circumstances, and the only way to truly know this is by consulting with a licensed attorney.

LegalZoom Disclaimers

The LegalZoom website itself has a list of disclaimers on their website to “cover” their services.

  • “80 percent of people who fill in blank forms to create legal documents do so incorrectly.”
  • “LegalZoom not a law firm, and their employees are not acting as your attorney”
  • “LegalZoom cannot provide legal advice and can only provide self-help services at your specific direction.”
  • “LegalZoom is not permitted to engage in the practice of law.”
  • “LegalZoom is prohibited from providing any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation to a consumer about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection or forms or strategies.”

Any self-help service and/or legal document preparer should have similar disclaimers regarding their limitations related to providing legal assistance.

Do estate planning attorneys prepare their own documents?

Licensed attorneys understand that preparing their own legal documents, including estate planning and wills is less than ideal. Most attorneys have their documents drafted up by another attorney or use estate planning software programs development by other attorneys to ensure accuracy and to be above reproach. While legal documents preparers can purchase the same type of software as attorneys, they don’t necessarily know the reasons for why there are different options available under those programs.

What is the role of a licensed estate planning attorney?

Your estate planning lawyer is there to offer counseling when you are making personal and intimate decisions regarding your estate. They are unbiased parties who offer their technical expertise while navigating and drafting your estate planning needs and documents, some of which can be quite complex.

What if you want to avoid probate? A licensed attorney knows how to help you with that, whereas a legal document preparer or legal document service portal cannot.

Things that affect your estate plan:

  • Complicated assets with multiple owners
  • Multiple marriages and divorce
  • Children/Heirs
  • A small estate
  • A large estate
  • Business owner

This is a minimal example of what affects your estate plan.

Final Thoughts

The concept of the “will” has been downplayed. Bringing back the original concept of “The Last Will and Testament”, would better convey how vital this legal document is and how it carries a legacy beyond death.

Your relationship with your attorney is fiduciary (trust-based relationship) and your information is confidential and protected, which you will not get from do-it-yourself “legal” services. Your attorney is your voice when push comes to shove, which is something you will not get from do-it-yourself wills and estate planning or legal document preparers.

The truth is that a do-it-yourself estate planning service, online or via legal document preparers, may not be upheld by the heirs as it should. Who is there to prevent them from going against probate with no lawyer to be your voice? That is one reason to have an attorney draft your documents for estate planning.

The American Bar Association has more details of the importance of using an attorney for estate planning and why to avoid do-it-yourself services.

Keep these two quotes in mind:

  • “If something looks like it is too good to be true, it probably is.” Richard Carlson
  • “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Abraham Lincoln (That was intended to refer to courtroom litigation, but it can apply to do-it-yourself estate planning.)

If you need help with estate planning or are interested in learning more about estate planning, feel free to schedule a free 30-minute consultation and let us assist you in your estate planning goals today.

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