Author: Attorney Tom Vercauteren
Q: I have friends who did their Estate Plan on the internet. Should I do that?
A: The past several years have seen a rise in the number of websites offering “self-help” estate planning services. These websites provide forms that individuals can use to prepare their own Will, Revocable Trust, and Power of Attorney documents, often for a reduced rate when compared to a law firm. While these forms may provide some value for the most basic of plans, “one size fits all” estate planning is rarely appropriate, and may end up costing your loved ones significantly more in court costs than you saved by using the forms.
Legal advice. “Self-help” websites are very careful to state that they are not providing legal advice, merely “self-help” estate planning services. For example, the first two sentences of LegalZoom.com’s disclaimer read:
LegalZoom is not a law firm, and the employees of LegalZoom are not acting as your attorney. LegalZoom’s legal document service is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.
A lawyer represents you and provides legal advice and counsel that is unique to your circumstances. Lawyers are not afraid to provide legal advice and can be held accountable if that legal advice breaches professional standards. LegalZoom’s disclaimer is specifically designed to avoid any such accountability.
More than just “legal” advice. Beyond legal advice, just because your estate plan is legal doesn’t mean that it is appropriate for your situation. The “self-help” websites advertise that their forms have been tailored to meet each state’s individual requirements for admission. However, no two estate plans are exactly identical. Whether it be creditor concerns, unique assets, beneficiaries with special needs, family differences, or countless other circumstances, your lawyer can listen to your story and help you make certain your loved ones are protected.
It might be that a will is not the appropriate estate planning vehicle for your needs. For example, if a family member is disinherited under the will and you feel they may cause problems upon your passing, it is probably wise to avoid probate altogether. Your lawyer can then discuss with you the many options available for avoiding probate.
Service. Our job is to help you understand your options for planning your estate and assist you with choosing the one (or more than one) most suited to your desires. This often involves more than simply preparing your estate planning documents. Some common examples of this include: lifetime gift planning, charitable gifting options, coordinating beneficiary designations, titling banking and investment accounts appropriately, assistance with selecting an agent for your powers of attorney, and even ensuring that your beloved pets are cared for after your passing.
A well thought out and thorough estate plan is a gift from you to your surviving family and friends. Proper planning and decisions during your life can spare your loved ones additional stress while they grieve the loss of you. At Hurley, Burish, & Stanton, SC, we can help you make sure that your decisions are well articulated and effective upon your passing. Contact Atty Tom Vercauteren at email@example.com or (608) 257-0945 to schedule your no obligation initial estate planning consultation.