I recently read an article in the Indiana Lawyer newspaper about the rise of “online legal services” and “free legal forms.” I set my bias aside and put myself in a consumer’s shoes – specifically, a consumer that wants to get their estate plan done, but not sure where to go or even how to get started. I went to a search engine and typed: how to complete estate plan. One of the top results was, of course, a site that allowed me to complete my estate plan online “fast and easy.” Well, that sure is tempting – let me click on that! I stopped myself and thought, “No, no. Let’s keep looking.” Low and behold, I found “free estate plan documents” offered by another site.
At this point, my bias exploded and I put the brakes on. Here is the deal and the honest, honest truth – it works much like a teeter totter or a seesaw. If you put minimal time, energy, and money into your estate plan, the risks are much higher. However, if you put in the time, energy, and money, the risks dramatically decrease and nearly disappear. There are things that I am willing to take the “fast, easy, free” route on, but not on that list is … what happens to my money and my “stuff” if I become incapacitated, if I have to go into a long-term care facility, and when I pass away. If you have the option to control what happens in those times of your life, taking the “fast, easy, free” route is so risky.
So, let’s talk about just some of the advantages of going through an attorney to create your estate plan.
- The attorney is a live person. Have a question? Confused? Need some guidance or advice? Not a problem – you have an open line of communication. Some – not all – online services provide access to an attorney, but still at a charge. Would it not be nice to have an attorney, who is willing to be an open resource through the entire process of creating your plan? It is simple – an attorney will be able to provide you the confidence that you have created your estate plan with a competent professional because there was communication throughout the entire process.
- You can choose an attorney based on their concentration. Would you trust your heart doctor to do your knee surgery? The same argument could be used in the world of law. Would you want your neighbor, who is a bankruptcy attorney, to create your estate plan? Selecting an estate planning attorney, again, would provide confidence that you have created your estate plan with a professional that is reading the latest law journals, keeping up with new/updated laws, and in the appropriate bar associations/organizations.
- The attorney has had professional training and must abide by Rules of Professional Conduct. When becoming an attorney, an individual must pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, which ensures that the individual knows the ethical side of being an attorney. The very first rule? A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Attorneys can be reprimanded for actions that, say, negatively affect a client – for example, perhaps they provided incompetent representation. However, if you get a “bad” form from an online legal service, there is no recourse and you may end up paying more in the end to clean it up.
- The forms are just forms – they often lack specificity and are rarely up-to-date with current law. I could write an entire blog about this one because the forms we see that have been pulled my clients from on online source are often not well-drafted. A great example I can provide is that Indiana recently passed laws around “digital assets” and I did not see any of the online forms on my “test run” mention such a type of asset. Those reward points on your credit card? Digital asset. Your email? Digital asset. Your online access to banking/investment accounts? Digital asset. Yet, the “test run” of downloading “fast, easy, free” documents made no mention of them.
It is true. We live in a world where things that are “fast, easy, and/or free” are incredibly tempting because it seems efficient, simple, and cheap. Creating an estate plan takes time, energy, and money. But if you are willing to put time, energy, and money in by working with an attorney, you will walk away feeling more confident in what is on paper. The fact of the matter is that your money and your “stuff” should not be handled the “fast, easy, and cheap/free” way.
We'll be hosting a FREE workshop titled "It's not what you know... It's what you don't" all about Estate and Funeral Planning on Tuesday, October 24th at 6:00 PM. For more information and to reserve your seat, just click here now to save a spot.
All the best,