Do-it-yourself, do it online or hire an attorney to draft your estate plan
It is a normal thought process to question whether an attorney is needed to prepare an estate plan. After all, such a plan ultimately reflects your life circumstances and decisions; it is not quantum physics.
Under certain circumstances, one can prepare a simple last will without the assistance of an attorney. For example, if the estate does not include any real property or other significant assets to be distributed at death, a self-made simple last will should suffice, if it is correctly drafted and executed. Further, such a last will should also work if the family situation is relatively uncomplicated and there are no children from a previous marriage or any persons with special needs. Additionally, very basic powers of attorney for health and financial matters can be located online.
When the estate involves significant assets or a business, or when the family situation is complex due to children from a previous marriage, or when there are special needs considerations to be addressed, it is recommended to use the services of an attorney. The more intricate the situation, the more likely it is that hiring an attorney is the right call as a skilled professional can ensure that the documents are accurate, enforceable, and achieve one’s goals.
Choosing the right attorney should be a process in itself. Most importantly, the selected attorney should practice in the area of estate planning. Secondly, the relationship with the attorney should be comfortable; after all, that attorney will inquire about sensitive personal situations and financial details. Multiple websites offer reviews of various services, including attorneys. While it might be a helpful resource, be wary of fake reviews, both good and bad ones. An inquiry with family, friends, or neighbors for a referral might be a good source of information, especially in a small community.
It might be tempting to use online legal services to prepare an estate plan. The internet can offer a cheaper solution to hiring an attorney. That is because the online estate planning process will most likely be reduced to filling in one’s personal information into pre-made templates. Online legal services often include disclaimers that the service provider is not serving as an attorney and does not review the documents for accuracy. Furthermore, an online estate plan will not be tailored to one’s needs, specific personal situation, and oftentimes even the specific state. There will be no assistance with the proper execution and recording of the documents. Lastly, there will be no advice regarding possible future issues and no opportunity to reach out to seek answers to lingering legal questions.
An attorney’s services might not be needed to prepare a very basic and simple estate plan; but preparing estate planning documents without the benefit of legal counsel may undermine the entire purpose of the estate plan and produce unintended, and often costly to correct, consequences in the future. Hiring an attorney helps to ensure that the documents are drafted correctly. A continuing attorney-client relationship offers a sense of reassurance and confidence that one’s loved ones are protected.
Thorough research and consideration of one’s needs is the best approach to making an informed decision whether to draft one’s own estate planning documents or engage an estate planning attorney.