Can I just do my Estate Plan online?

Yesterday a caller asked me, “Can I just do it online?”; and yes there are many online services that will prepare Wills and Trusts. I have reviewed several of these programs and for a fee will review a document you prepare yourself.

I have seen documents prepared by various online services, and been to probate court over many such documents. They all have the same problem, they are “documents”, and they may or may not do what you want them to. Unfortunately, you won’t know until it is too late. Do it yourself estate planning is like do it yourself hair color, much of the time it does the job, but when it fails your hair can turn to an ugly color or you could have an allergic reaction or even hair loss (someone I know did have hair fall out after she colored herself it is rare). So for the person whose hair color fails it is a disaster that a professional would have avoided. Likewise, for the person who drafts their own estate plan they could end up with their property not going to who they want when they die, their estate could and often does end up in Probate Court due to their mistake, and occasionally the do it yourself estate plan is a total disaster. I hear ads that say the online service is “supervised by an attorney”, but so far all of them have fine print that essentially says if you do it wrong it is not their fault or their problem. If I as an attorney do it wrong it is my problem, you can sue me for malpractice.

My favorite story of an online trust gone wrong was a case I had where the online service suggested naming the eldest child as executor, and the decedent did. Only problem he was and is in jail for fraud, murder for hire and a few other crimes, and he insisted on being the executor. My least favorite story is of a client whose mother filled out all the forms and named her best friend as his guardian. The documents weren’t signed but the friend used them when both parents died to get guardianship, it was clear from the beginning she wanted the money (left for the child). It was clear from the testimony the father had not signed because he did not trust the friend. I prevailed and my client’s uncle and aunt were appointed. If only, the mother had talked to an attorney with the dad, a court battle I am sure my client wishes could be forgotten could have been avoided.

So if you are thinking of doing your estate planning yourself, remember you don’t spend your time understanding the law, and don’t want a mistake that could cost your family a bundle.