When preparing to formulate their estate plan, I’m sure many people think “Can’t I just do this myself? Wouldn’t it be cheaper just to fill out a form online? After all, isn’t it just a matter of filling in the blanks?” Many people believe that they can simply write down their wishes on a piece of paper or simply fill out on a form online and their documents will be given legal effect. With the increase of “do-it-yourself” legal documents, such as an “E-Z Legal Form” or provided by companies online for a small fee, such as LegalZoom or LegalDocs, many people falsely believe that the hiring of an attorney is no longer needed.
Well, folks, these people are wrong. Very wrong. If anyone ever tells you that you can write your own Will by yourself using an online form, please feel free to laugh in their face and tell them how wrong they truly are. Attorneys play a vital process in the formulation and drafting of these estate planning documents, which are created according to your specific wishes, heirs, financial situation, medical conditions, etc. There simply is no “boilerplate” form that can be used to create your individual estate plan, and thus, you should consult with an attorney (preferably in-person) in order to create a successful and legal estate plan.
Attorneys that draft estate planning documents are knowledgeable of the various nuances and exceptions to state law governing the estate planning and probate process. Additionally, attorneys know the precise wording and phrases in order to successfully formulate your estate plan in compliance with the law. A standard boilerplate form does not account for these details, nor will your own attempt at drafting your documents, which can result in drastic financial and legal implications for your estate. Consider this brief example:
There once was a teacher who didn’t want to spend the money to have an attorney draft her will. So she left all of her personal property to her nephew, except for the piano, bench, and sheet music. She decided to leave the piano, bench, and sheet music to her only grand niece, who loved to play the piano. She left all remaining money and property to her church. Unfortunately, she forgot to put a comma between “piano” and “bench” in the bequest to the grand niece. So the grand-niece received only the piano bench and the sheet music and never received the piano, the most prized and expensive asset of them all.
Additionally, the Florida Supreme Court recently decided an estate dispute involving the use of an E-Z Legal Form will, which had left out an important clause that attorneys always in include in their document drafts. Also note that companies such as LegalZoom have gotten into legal trouble because their documents failed to adequately satisfy customers’ bequests and legally protect those who used their online forms. These are just a few examples of the dangers and pitfalls that can arise when you choose to draft your own estate planning documents or simply “fill in the blanks” online.
Creating and formulating your estate plan should not be taken lightly and certainly should not be attempted without the assistance of an experienced attorney. Your comprehensive estate plan is not a simple weekend project that you think can be done with a few tutorial videos from YouTube, like fixing the washer or installing a new garage door opener. Just like the saying goes, “Better leave it to the professionals”, your estate plan should be drafted by an attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced with your state’s estate and probate laws. Please feel free to laugh at anyone who tells you otherwise.