As I wrote in my previous post, Legal Documents That Every (Responsible) Adult Should Have, the importance of having a Will can not be overstated. To take that a step further, the importance of having a solid estate plan overall can not be overstated. Over the next few days, I will discuss several common pitfalls that occur in estate planning. Consider these as you plan and execute your estate plan.
Using an online company to produce your Will and other estate documents. I’m sure companies such as Legalzoom and others mean well. (Actually, I don’t even know if that is true). However, using a site such as that can have tragic consequences later on. In an effort to save money, many folks are turning to these sites in order to draft their Wills, Power of Attorney, Living Wills, and other legal documents. The sites often entice you with low prices, while promising professional results. Like anything else in life, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. These companies will not ensure that the document is properly witnessed and notarized. It becomes your responsibility to make sure that the attestation and notarizing are properly done and documented. Without this being done perfectly within the strict requirements of state law, your Will may be useless after your death.
Further, the most critical part of the Will preparation process is meeting with your attorney to discuss your unique situation. An online questionnaire or drop-down menu from a website is not able to identify the nuances of your financial and familial situation. When I meet with a client regarding a Will we often discover that while their preconceived estate plan may technically be legal, following through with that particular plan will result in undesired consequences. Without talking with a human being you may never realize that Legalzoom is leaving you with an inadequate estate plan and a mess for those you leave behind.
Finally, a Will is cheap even if you use an attorney. In fact, it is probably the cheapest legal task you will ever hire an attorney to do, and maybe the most important. It also may be your first encounter with an attorney and can be an important step in building a relationship that every person needs. Just like a family doctor, a family attorney is sure to come in handy at some point. That doesn’t mean you need to have an attorney on retainer – but you do need to know an attorney that you trust when you find yourself in a troublesome situation. Legalzoom probably won’t answer the phone when you find yourself being sued or your son has been arrested. Your family attorney will.
Check back tomorrow for more common pitfalls to avoid during your estate planning.