Monday, February 9, 2009

LegalZoom, Etc. Can You Do It Yourself?

The short answer is, yes. There are numerous products and online services available to create your estate plan in a do-it-yourself type of fashion. In most, if not all cases, you can create documents that will be legally binding. That is actually where the concern comes in. I've experimented with many of the big name document generation programs available including LegalZoom, Nolo, Rapidocs, US Legal Forms, Suze Orman, and Living Trusts on the Web. In my opinion as an estate planning attorney, the processes in these programs (and consequently, the documents they produce) all contain one or more of the following challenges:
  • No legal advice
  • The questions posed in the interviews can be ambiguous and confusing
  • There are few options provided
  • The wheels can fall off the wagon on the issues of contingent beneficiaries (if the person you named passes away before you) and trustee selection
  • The issue of afterborn or adopted children is ignored in the interview process
  • Poor incapacity planning (although that was less of an issue than I'd expected)

As a result of the challenges noted above, I do not recommend using any do-it-yourself program currently available as the only source of counsel you receive when creating your estate plan. They can, however, create a good starting point to build upon when you meet with your attorney, which might save you money. In all cases, they are good learning tools, and all of the programs noted above have their individual strengths and weaknesses. If I had to pick a winner, I would definitely say that Living Trusts on the Web produces the best state specific documents available. The options on the program are also more robust than the other candidates. That process, however, should not be completed without an attorney consultation and review. Technology has not made it far enough to replace the need for advice, which is what all these programs specifically disclaim. 


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