As we approach the 21st century, more people are purchasing services and items on the Internet that they can put together themselves. Although the idea of saving money is attractive at first, many of us find that either the instructions don’t exactly work, or a piece may be missing, leaving the object unstable at best, and subject to rapid deterioration. With the advent of online legal services, some people compromise themselves and risk the loss of their family’s financial security by utilizing services that offer a cheap alternative to professional legal counseling and proper legal documentation. If you’re considering a do-it yourself estate-planning kit, it’s a bad idea for you and the people you love.
First, these online companies generate the same boiler-plate forms, over and over again, with the same language for everyone regardless of the purchaser’s family composition, state regulations and requirements, and specific situations. They use these template forms as a one-size-fits-all for those who unknowingly purchase their product.
Your family is unique, with your own family dynamics and types of assets that have been acquired during your lifetime. An online form cannot assist you if your goals include protecting your child’s inheritance from creditors or divorce. Nor will it help you if you have a loved one with special needs – particularly if they are receiving, or in the future may be receiving governmental benefits. And you will not get advice regarding issues of taxation or long-term-care planning for a time of incapacity or disability. Nor will you receive assistance in other areas of concern where you may have specific goals and objectives. Also, if following the laws of Jewish inheritance is important to you, there is no chance of doing that with a fill-in-the-blank template form.
These forms certainly cannot counsel you about maintaining family harmony during a time of grief when families should be focusing on problem solving and healing. Sometimes the most significant disputes are based on the smallest issues. These types of things will not be addressed with those online do-it-yourself forms. One size does not fit all. You simply will not get the counseling and legal advice you need to prepare an estate plan that is right for you and your loved ones.
Consider this scenario. Hersh and Leah were happily married, but Hersh passed away unexpectedly. Leah eventually remarried. Because Hersh prepared a comprehensive estate plan in advance, not only was Leah legally in charge of managing his medical and financial affairs before and after Hersh died, but also all of his belongings were protected in a trust, ensuring that his belongings did not go to Leah’s second spouse or his children, and Hersh was able to protect his children’s and grandchildren’s inheritance from creditors, lawsuits, and divorce.
Second, you may believe that by using a do-it-yourself kit you will save money. Maybe, or maybe not. If state statutory guidelines are not followed exactly, not only will a court not recognize those forms, but third-party financial institutions won’t either, and it’s like having nothing at all. You can risk saving now, but you may pay heavily later. There is no comparison with professional services provided by a counseling-based estate-planning attorney. An experienced estate-planning attorney can prepare an entire plan that not only reflects your wishes and goals, but also one that is tailored to your individual needs and the needs of those who matter most, with legal documentation that will be honored by the courts, financial institutions, and other third parties.
Your attorney can be there to assist in your family’s time of need, providing support and direction, when you cannot be. No standardized form can do this. If you’re going to do the responsible thing and plan in advance, don’t provide your family with a false sense of security. Give them, and yourself, the gift of peace of mind by planning right.