Forms for Wills
Would You Trust a Robot to Write Your Will?
Perhaps another way to ask the question is, “Would you trust a machine to create a plan for your family’s future?” Computers have made many aspects of our lives easier and more convenient. At the same time, however, there are tasks for which they are not well-suited. Writing a will or trust is one of those tasks. If you are into DIY – if you’re the kind of person who would try to do his own surgery before seeing the doctor – then stop reading now. If not, read this short article to learn some things about protecting the people you care about and your assets as well as why not to use generic forms for wills.
For most people, the main reason to even think about using a form, a website or an app for estate planning documents is perceived cost savings. The first principle to keep in mind is that the best value is almost never the lowest price. But price is only one measure of cost. We know this is true, because if price were the only thing we cared about when choosing what to buy, we would all drive the cheapest car! The second point is that the problems inherent with low price and low quality do not become obvious until later. At that time, it might be too late to fix the problems (in the case of a flawed will, the writer is dead and can’t correct anything). Sometimes, even survivors don’t see the problem because it is in the form of an opportunity for savings or a chance to achieve a goal that no one realized existed.
Hire an attorney who specilizes in wills
Attorneys who focus on wills, trusts and related matters get paid handsomely to try to repair (sometimes they can’t be fixed) other lawyers’ mistakes or to recapture lost opportunities when someone has tried to use a form online. Even so-called “fully customizable” online programs are often wrong and consumers do not know that they are wasting their money. Because they paid for something they think it has value. This is why using a website or a computer program is not only unhelpful, it is dangerous. People who do not have wills or updated documents know that they need to get this taken care of to save themselves and their families money and stress. But people who have paid a website or bought a computer program think that everything is already taken care of and they forget about doing anything. The temptation is to think that they have “outsmarted” the system and saved some money. In reality, they have almost always chosen to pay a great deal more later then they would have had to pay if they had chosen to work with a professional.
Be careful using online will creation sites
I once bought a high-end, expensive will-making program (none of this cheap online stuff) just to see how it worked. I went through the questionnaires and put in information about my assets and my family. Then it printed out the documents and instructions on how to sign them, etc. One of the parts that caught my eye was the extensive disclaimer. Among other things, it said: (i) this program was not prepared by an attorney licensed in the state where you live; (ii) in fact, it was not prepared by an attorney at all(!); (iii) the output was based only on the information you provided; and (iv) you should hire a competent attorney to review it. Fortunately, I was a wills and trusts attorney, so I didn’t have to hire one. Guess what? The documents were invalid. A provision of the state’s laws was cited incorrectly and if I had signed them as written they would have been invalid. The hundreds of dollars I “saved” would have actually cost me (my family) many thousands in court costs, probate charges and lawyer fees. But that wasn’t the worst part. Because websites and computer programs do not do continuous research to evaluate planning strategies and understand the best value solutions, they don’t know what questions to ask to get the best results. The person writing the will doesn’t know, either, so these opportunities are lost. There were at least 3 easy strategies for protecting children and avoiding unnecessary taxes that the program had completely missed.
Estate planning is like a roadmap
When making decisions about what estate planning documents to create or update, remember that the documents are only part of the plan and not the plan itself. It might help to think of them not just as a tool or insurance, but a roadmap to guide you through decisions along the way to your destination. Consider asking a professional for help when you’re planning your trip.