Why DIY Estate Planning is NOT a Good Idea

Thinking of DIY Estate Planning? Think again!

In the midst of the global pandemic that is the Coronavirus, one question that has come to the forefront of many people's minds is "what happens if I get seriously ill or, in the worst scenario, die?" These plans are commonly referred to as your "estate plan." Lately, I've noticed an increased number of advertisements from websites encouraging people to create their own estate planning documents online (i.e. LegalZoom, RocketLawyer). While I agree that all adult individuals should have estate planning documents in place, including at least a Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and Living Will, I strongly advise that you seek the counsel of a reputable, licensed attorney rather than doing these documents yourself, which could result in invalid documents or unintended consequences.

In my professional career I have seen the disastrous results of invalid or improperly drafted DIY legal documents on numerous occasions. The problems caused by such documents almost always far outweigh the cost of having an experienced attorney prepare the documents initially. In speaking to clients who have used these DIY online services, there seems to be three recurring themes - cost, convenience and incorrect information or lack of information. I will address each of these themes below in hopes that any readers who are considering DIY estate planning will see that any benefits are far outweighed by the negatives.

COST

Websites offering DIY legal documents lure potential clients in with cheap prices and same day results. These websites operate essentially under a "one size fits all" approach to the law which doesn't account for specific situations that are unique to the individual client. Some online services will ask certain questions in an attempt to tailor the documents to the client's specific situation, but this simply cannot replace the process of a personal conversation with an experienced attorney who knows what questions to ask. In many of my meetings, I will ask clients questions or bring up certain scenarios to which I receive the response "I never thought of that!" We cannot expect a generic list of questions to generate documents that are tailored to the complexities of our lives.

Any knowledgeable estate planning attorney will stress the importance of tailoring each document to the particulars of the client's life. For this reason our firm does not typically price quote over the phone. The estate plan of a single, unmarried, childless man with multiple real estate properties and several investment accounts will likely be more complex than that of a married couple with children, one home, and limited income and resources.

A $50 Last Will and Testament sounds enticing to many, but it may have far reaching negative implications that you (or your loved ones) will have to deal with later on. Imagine upon death your family not only has to grieve the loss of a relative but also now is burdened with the task of sorting out your incomplete or incorrect estate plan? Alternatively, imagine you suffer a tragic incident or are diagnosed with an illness that leaves you mentally incompetent and your power of attorney is invalid or insufficient for your loved ones to handle your affairs. They may have no choice now but to initiate a very costly, stressful, and time consuming guardianship proceeding with the Court. Proper planning with an experienced attorney will avoid all these undesirable situations.

CONVENIENCE

Certainly the ability to create legal documents without leaving the comfort of your own home is appealing. Many people are intimidated or apprehensive about spending time in a law office and discussing the morbid topics involved in estate planning with a stranger. However, now more than ever, attorneys are offering services through alternative, virtual means, making it faster and easier to create an estate plan than ever before. We understand our clients live busy lives and cannot always find the time to come to in person meetings. This has prompted many law firms to offer video and phone conferences as an alternative to in person meetings. Our firm's video and phone conferencing has been especially busy lately because of the social and business related restrictions and concerns due to the Covid-19 virus.

There is no longer a need to seek online legal advice to avoid leaving your house when there are licensed attorneys that can guide you through and prepare a personalized estate plan at your convenience. Our office offers free initial consultations (in person and via video and phone conferencing) allowing potential clients an hour the opportunity to ask whatever questions they may have and obtain legal advice tailored to their specific needs with no pressure and zero obligation. Should you retain our firm, we are able to email drafts of your proposed legal documents for your initial review and even provide the option of virtual document execution which is now temporarily legal in New York due to the Covid-19 virus crisis.

INCORRECT INFORMATION OR LACK OF INFORMATION

The internet is an amazing resource for information. Unfortunately, much of the information is false or does not exactly apply to your situation. This is particularly true in legal matters. The law is vast, ever changing, and can be very complex. DIY legal sites may not address important scenarios that you should consider when creating your estate planning that a knowledgeable attorney would know to discuss. An average person may also become confused when selecting a document on these websites which often provide minimal descriptions of each legal document and mistakenly select a document that does not accomplish their goal. For example, a quick search of popular DIY legal sites resulted in the same type of document labeled with different names, advertised for different reasons.

Many DIY sites are not held to the same legal standards as traditional firms are. As a consumer, you do not know who is creating your legal documents nor do you really know what you "need". As attorneys, we are professionally and ethically bound to provide accurate legal advice - our law licenses and livelihoods depend on it. This is the perfect application of the phrase "you get what you pay for".

While creating your estate plan does force you to consider unpleasant topics, procrastination can lead to hasty and impulsive decision making or worse, being too late to legally state your intent. We all want to ensure our wishes are followed and our families are taken care of should something happen to us, and that begins with getting your affairs in order while you are alive and mentally fit to do so. The time to plan is now. Please heed this article and do not fall subject to the allure of cheap prices for an online estate plan. For something so important with such far reaching effects, do yourself and your family a favor and seek the services of a knowledgeable estate planning attorney like those at the Shivers Law Group.