Preparing one’s own estate planning documents through an online legal document service can be a risky proposition since estate planning contains many nuances, often addresses complex and technical points of law, and covers a broad range of issues even if a person does not have substantial assets. As stated in the disclaimer on its website, LegalZoom and its services are not a substitute for the advice of an attorney; it does not apply the law to the facts of a particular situation, and the information on its website is not guaranteed to be correct, complete or up-to-date.
An attorney experienced in the area of estate planning adds significant value to the process, so a costly mistake, which may not be discovered until a crisis develops, is not made. A qualified attorney stays attuned to developments in the law to make sure the plan is current and drafted in the most effective manner, meets the individual’s objectives and is the plan best suited to meet the individual’s needs. The attorney also makes sure that legal formalities are followed when documents are executed. Developing a relationship with a good estate planning attorney allows you to have a trusted advisor to turn to for guidance on your most important lifetime decisions and to assist your family when you are gone.
A recent Florida Supreme Court case, Aldrich v. Basile, clearly illustrates how trying to save money by purchasing a do-it-yourself estate plan leads to the old adage penny-wise and pound-foolish. By using a do-it-yourself estate plan to try and save money Ms. Aldrich’s wishes, as far as who should receive her estate upon her death, were completely undermined. The court awarded a substantial portion of her estate to people she did not intend.
Had Ms. Aldrich gone to a reputable estate planning attorney her wishes would have been carried out and the courts would not have been involved. With proper professional guidance, family harmony is more likely to be maintained, and assets are more likely to be protected from taxes, court fees, attorney fees, and long-term care expenses.