LegalZoom vs. Lawyer: The Dangers of DIY Estate Planning
Estate planning is an important and generous gift to leave your loved ones. Effective estate planning assures your wishes are followed, your family cared for, and taxes are minimized. With wills, power of attorney, and trust forms available through websites such as LegalZoom, many people select this inexpensive option as an alternative to hiring an experienced attorney, and in doing so, place their estate at risk.
Limits of LegalZoom
With LegalZoom, you receive blank documents that have been modified in an attempt to meet the legal requirements of each state. The “specialist” answering their help line is legally barred from answering any legal questions or dispensing advice. These operators can only answer questions regarding the basic operations of the template and how to navigate the site. Sometimes the specialists overstep their authority, with questionable results. LegalZoom has been sued in three states for the unauthorized practice of law.
Several of these sites, including LegalZoom, provide a “speak to an attorney” option at a supposed discount price. This attorney’s goal is to provide minimal service to complete your documents and move on to the next client, since it is the only way they can make any money under this system.
Problems Arising From DIY Wills and Powers of Attorney
People who use sites such as LegalZoom to prepare their wills and address other estate matters are often satisfied with the results. Their heirs, however, are left with significant problems that could have been avoided with proper legal advice, including:
- Durable, medical or other power of attorney that is invalid because of lack of notarization or another legal requirement.
- Durable, medical or other power of attorney that gives the selected person greater authority than intended.
- Wills that do not address contingencies such as depletion of funds intended as a gift, new or additional bank accounts, or new life insurance policies.
- Wills that are easily invalidated and thus not complying with the decedent’s intent.
- Estate planning that places a greater tax burden than necessary on those receiving the inheritance.
- Estate planning that runs contrary to the decedent’s intent because of lack of understanding of the wording on the form.
Hire an Expert
Estate planning is a complicated legal and financial process that requires an experienced attorney. The many benefits she or he provides include:
- Understanding your current and changing needs. The relationship with your estate planning attorney is ongoing, and she will recommend changes based on your evolving requirements, which may include marriage, divorce, the birth of children or grandchildren, and the acquisition or disposal of assets.
- Clarifying and defending your intentions. Your lawyer will create one or more documents that detail your intentions in regard to your assets. If contested, the courts will likely look to your lawyer for clarification.
- Addressing guardianships of minor children or care for adult children with special needs.
- Providing tax guidance. They will explain these complicated and ever-changing rules and prepare an estate plan that minimizes this burden on your loved ones.
Hronek Law, LLC provides clients with the personalized, expert estate-planning services that assure the decedent’s intent is met under all circumstances, such as desired care during a debilitating illness and distribution of assets after death. Our comprehensive knowledge of the elements of estate planning, including inheritance, power of attorney trust and taxation laws, allows us to create an effective estate plan to meet your needs. Contact us today for more information.