February 8th, 2017

Preparing a Will: Should I Use an Attorney or Do It Online?

I know most of you reading this article will think to yourselves, “Of course she’s going to advocate using an attorney to draft a will versus using an online program because she’s an attorney!” That’s correct; however, that is not my only reason for dissuading individuals from using online services to prepare your estate documents.

There are many online “legal” programs that advertise estate document preparation services. These sources advertise the ability to provide various documents to you for very low fees. However, I’ve always believed that things that cost a little in the beginning will usually cost you more in the long run.  The same holds true in the case of estate planning, perhaps not for yourself but possibly for your loved ones. Consider the following example:

Heidi is full of anxiety because she’s going through a few life changes and wants a Last Will and Testament created. She visits an online legal site and selects “Will Preparation.” The fee is quoted, she whips out her credit card, enters her information and her card clears. Now she’s ready to proceed with creating her will. A series of questions are asked, such as; state of residence, marital status, number of children, property information, etc. Heidi goes through and honestly answers all of the questions. Then a message appears that her Last Will and Testament is complete- “Click Here to Download.” She feels a sense of relief because she believes that if she were to perish that she has done everything that she needs to do to provide for her loved ones. 

Sounds good, right?  Wrong!

When asked marital status, Heidi entered “Married.” That’s true; however, Heidi is in the process of getting divorced. In addition, when asked about number of children, she entered “None,” because she doesn’t currently have children; however, she’s three months pregnant with her paramour’s child, which is the underlying cause of her divorce. With regard to property, she provided information about the marital residence, and a vacation home that she owns with her soon to be ex- husband.  The Last Will and Testament that she is provided gives all of her property to her husband if she were to predecease him.

All of Heidi’s responses were honest; however, clearly not a true representation of her current situation nor a reflection of her wishes. If Heidi had met with an experienced professional, she would have engaged in a dialogue and the attorney would have learned about her pending divorce, pregnancy, etc.  Why does that matter? First, the property that she indicated that she had will not be entirely hers after the divorce. The marital and vacation homes will be subject to equitable distribution, pursuant to her divorce. Hence, she may not have a home to leave her heir.  She may just have proceeds from the sale or buyout of her interest. An experienced professional would be able to insert the appropriate language to cover all scenarios in such an instance.

Heidi also indicated that she doesn’t have children, yet she is currently pregnant. The questionnaire doesn’t take into account that she is “with child” and her paramour is an unemployed artist who merely “gets by” selling artwork out of his trunk until he “gets discovered” and he hasn’t had steady employment since the year of the bellbottoms and butterfly collars. Heidi would never want him to be in charge of the proceeds left behind for her child because she finds him irresponsible with money. Again, if she met with an experienced professional, she would be advised to establish a Minor’s Trust and to designate a trustee to manage said Trust for the benefit of her unborn child.

Upon review of her document, Heidi is once again filled with anxiety as she realizes her wishes have not been effectuated by the creation of this online document and she has just flushed money down the drain. Well, the best lesson is a bought lesson and Heidi has learned first hand that it pays to seek an experienced professional’s advice instead of trying to save money by going online and drafting the document herself.

Don’t end up like Heidi. If you have experienced some life changes that require the revision or creation of your Last Will and Testament or any other estate document, see an experienced professional who will ask you the important questions that will enable her to draft the documents that will fulfill your wishes.

Attorney Constance K. Nelson counsels individuals and families in estate planning matters. She is also experienced in family law issues including divorce, child custody, and guardianships.