Online Estate Planning: Do the Benefits Outweigh the Potential Problems?
A Will is one of the most important documents you will sign. Getting it right the first time is vital. Partnering with an attorney or having your online-generated Will reviewed by an attorney might save you money and stress eventually.
This pandemic has a lot of people thinking about their Wills and what kind of legacy they want to leave behind. An article in a prominent news site at the end of March mentioned that “getting a Will” searches skyrocketed in the last two months due to the COVID-19 Virus. The article also mentioned that several start-up companies that promise free or low-cost Wills are seeing demand go up.
It is understandable why someone would complete their Wills online. The price is significantly less than paying an estate planning firm to draft the Will. A person can get it completed in their pajamas at home and not in a stuffy lawyer’s office. Also, many have modest assets that might include a 401K and a house with a mortgage and want their loved ones to get everything outright.
Unfortunately, even with modest assets, an online Will drafted without legal counsel can create difficulties later. An analogy for this is helpful. Most lawyers do not know how to fix a plugged septic tank and will call a plumber rather than do it themselves. If a lawyer does venture to fix it alone, even with looking it up on YouTube, his septic tank might swamp his back yard. What was a problem readily fixable became a quagmire. Having a lawyer draft or review your Will is just like calling a plumber when your plumbing needs repair.
These websites can give you a false sense of security by giving you an estate plan that reads like a legal document but is incomprehensible to lawyers and lay people alike. Our law firm has reviewed a large number of estate plans that clients prepared online. Here are some problems we, or our colleagues, have seen:
- A husband and wife each made a Will intending that the surviving spouse would get everything outright, as most people desire to do. It instead bypassed the surviving spouse and went into the trust for the children.
- That same Will only had one witness who saw the person sign the Will. A Will needs two people to witness it for the Will to be valid.
- Some Will websites require that Social Security numbers be used to identify a beneficiary. A Will becomes public record in a process called probate. A social security number should never be included in your estate planning documents.
- In one of the Internet-assisted Wills that I reviewed for a client, the total percentage given to named beneficiaries was more than 100 percent.
We get it. Making it easy for everyone to design and sign a Will would encourage more people to have this vital document. In the future, computer-assisted drafting might be a part of the solution. But for right now, as these examples show, these programs are not yet there, and a program can never replace legal counsel from a lawyer.
At C.K. Quade Law, we can draft a custom-tailored estate plan that fits your needs and desires. We are available by phone, Google Hangouts, or Zoom for an initial free consultation. If you have already completed a Will online, our firm will complete a review of the documents and give you our input on what provisions may need to be changed. We also will take every precaution to make sure that you are safe during the estate planning process.
For more information, please call us at (208) 367-0723 and set up a free half hour consult