Folks ask me all the time why they should obtain an attorney to create their estate plan when LegalZoom, and other do-it-yourself document preparation services, assert that the process of preparing a will is as easy as filling in the blanks on standardized forms. You’re told the process takes less than an hour, provided with “testimonials” from alleged consumers, and suggested that your document will be just as effective as one created by an attorney. These companies neglect to mention that the information provided is not guaranteed to be correct, complete, or even up to date! Think about that freely admit their service are no substitute for legal advice provided by an attorney, but still attempt to convince you legal advice is not necessary. Talk about trying to have your cake and eat it too.
It gets worse. Individuals who use these services are left thinking their estate plan is valid and intact when there could be numerous issues that will result in documents not being legally valid or unnecessary (very costly) litigation. So, if serious legal mistakes are committed, you’ll never know because they will not become apparent until after you die. And the people left to deal with the mistakes are the people you’re probably creating your will to protect.
Go to the website, you will note that LegalZoom admits that 80 percent of people who fill in blank forms to create legal documents do so incorrectly. Moreover, LegalZoom also admits it is not a law firm. As such, it is not permitted to review your answers for legal sufficiency, draw legal conclusions, provide legal advice or apply the law to the facts of your situation.
LegalZoom can only provide general information on legal issues commonly encountered, and offers guidance in some instances by indicating that most its customers have answered a question a certain way. Basically, it can provide legal advice at the competency level as an internet search engine. The issue with law practice, however, is each situation is unique. Just because most customers answered a question a certain way doesn’t necessarily make it right for your individual circumstances.
For instance, attorneys who practice in the area have found document production services have failed to address a host of issues. To name a few, LegalZoom does not offer advice on handling non-probate property items (e.g., life insurance). Often it fails to identify back-up executors, trustees, or guardians. I have heard stories that Wills were produced without a self-proving affidavit. You may ask, what is that and why is it important? Well, without it witnesses to the signing would have to be located to attest to the Will’s validity. That takes time and money. Glaringly, these Wills neglect to address the contingency of a beneficiary’s death or the birth/adoption of a child.
Bottom line, attorneys do more than plug in the information into a template. We advise the best way to protect your family and assets and then implement the best practice to affect your strategy. The risks are clear and significant. Cut corners elsewhere, your loved ones deserve better.