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DIY Estate Plans: Coming to a Walmart Near You?

We’ve all heard the horror stories associated with DIY or “form” estate planning documents; as a general rule, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.  Nevertheless, DIY/internet estate planning business is booming.  Consumer Reports Money Advisor recently tested several of the electronic estate planning services and found problems with all products tested.  The six biggest issues they found were:

  • Outdated Information: the products were tested in mid-March, and two referred to federal estate-tax limits that were outdated as of January 1st.
  • Insufficient Customization: the products rarely referred in detail to state estate law. So they offered no guidance on how states treat wills that, for instance, fail to leave property to children born after a will is signed.
  • Too Little Flexibility: for instance, arbitrary age and time limits are provided for some provisions with no opportunity for adjustment.
  • Too Much Flexibility: one program allows you to edit your completed will after the interview. Another lets you put anything you like in the special-directives section. Both features could lead to clauses that contradict other parts of the estate plan and/or are not legally sound.
  • Incompleteness: None of the packages created a special-needs trust. Only one package gave information on registered domestic partnerships and included a pet trust option in its main interview. None of them touched on “digital assets,” such as ownership and management of server-stored documents and photos, and none dealt with specifics on compensating executors.
  • Tax Issues: None of the products explained how to structure trusts to reduce estate-tax liability or address capital gains issues.

Even with all of these issues, there is a new player in the “form” game: Walmart.  Sources say the wills sell for just under $100 and are already available in several Canadian Walmarts.  The big box legal service is the brainchild of two Toronto lawyers who have plans to continue expanding throughout our northern neighbor.  There is no word yet on when the service will hit the U.S.  Trust and estate litigation are already flush with the fruits of DIY planning; one would guess that this new tool will only add to the already robust practice.

Phoenix, AZ Estate Planning Attorney Andrea ClausContributed by MH Phoenix Estate Planning Attorney Andrea Claus.

About Morris Hall:
At Morris Hall, we have focused our legal practice on estate planning for over 40 years.  Along with estate planning, our attorneys help clients and their families with matters of probate, trust administration, wills, power of attorneys, business planning, succession planning, legacy planning, charitable gifting and other important legal aspects.  We also have divisions in financial, real estate and accounting to help you incorporate all of your planning together, ensuring that everything works perfectly for your needs and situation. Our Arizona offices are located in Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, Cave Creek, Tucson, Prescott, Flagstaff and Arrowhead.  Our New Mexico offices are located in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe.  Contact us today at 888.222.1328 to schedule an appointment!

This blog should be used for informational purposes only.  It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice.  If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney in your community who can assess the specifics of your situation.

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