The study examined the value of "Do It Yourself" (DIY) websites for legal documents, including wills. Obviously everyone values efficiency, and maximizing value while minimizing time and expense is of value in the legal arena. But it is crucial to properly balance those needs. The cheapest option, for example, often proves costly if it results in errors that led to serious problems down the road. Unfortunately, that is the case with most DIY wills.
The Consumer Reports analysis on the effectiveness of these wills found clearly that there is no replacement for actually visiting an estate planning lawyer. The testing found that the most popular DIY wills were not only ineffective for all but the simplest of plans, but in many cases they likely led to "unintended consequences" which distorted the actual intent of the involved parties.
Experts used a blind test to evaluate the services offered by companies like Rocket Lawyer, LegalZoom, and Nolo They all found that none of the services were close to the advice of an actual lawyer. Some of the programs are far too limiting, and others open the door to clauses being added that are contradictory to other parts of the will.
Another common problem is that documents are rarely tailored to specific jurisdictions. Our New York estate planning lawyers know that this can cause serious problems, as rules and procedures are different depending on where one lives--if DIY programs do not take that into account fully, serious problems are bound to creep up.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that even the best template wills of the bunch are woefully lacking in opportunities for those needing anything but the simplest wills. Tremendous tax savings can often be had with more tailored work, and more detailed inheritance issues are often needed for families splitting assets among various people. When actual attorneys are not consulted, many crucial strategies are not taken advantage of, with serious financial and time-saving opportunities lost.
It is understandable for some of these programs to be tempting to local residents in order to save time on this process. But corners should never be cut. If estate planning is worth doing, it is worth doing right. That means visiting with a local attorney, explaining your goals, and learning about all of the very specific options available to plan for the future securely.
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