The recent sophistication of software has contributed to an increase in homegrown estate planning. These mass marketers of legal services misinform people into thinking that they are saving money and that they are receiving sound legal advice. Unfortunately, that is simply not true.
Most DIY companies do a review, making sure that all answers are completed in the questionnaire that they provide to the consumers and that all spelling is correct. These minor tasks are akin to a very narrow role as a proofreader of the consumer’s data entries. This has to be limited by law, since no attorney is involved in this process. The people that work on the documents are not attorneys, and they cannot, by law, give legal advice. If the process becomes too consumer interactive, the DIY companies would be committing unauthorized practice of law.
How can this provide the end-user with the confidence that their estate-planning documents are both legally binding and appropriate to their particular situation? Probate law is strict and unforgiving. Good estate planning attorneys work diligently to keep abreast of changes in the law through memberships in such organizations as the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys Inc. and the Estate Planning Council of Hampden County, and through extensive, continuous reading and legal research. Creating your own legal documents provides a false sense of security, and the inaccuracies are usually discovered only when it is too late to do anything about them.
Most people need the perspective that an impartial, experienced estate planning attorney provides. You are playing with fire if you engage the services of these DIY companies for the following, although not all inclusive, reasons:
- DIY programs largely disregard specific laws that can dramatically affect your estate;
- Your unique issues and circumstances can be flushed out and addressed only through consultation with an attorney; and
- You are not securing the experience and the knowledge of an attorney trained to handle specific circumstances of your estate.
Due to the above concerns, in 2011 the American Bar Association Trust & Estate Law Section commenced a task force to discuss steps that might be implemented to educate the public as to the risks associated with DIY estate planning. The task force believes that educating the public is an important step, as those who use DIY services may be lulled into a false sense of security if they believe their own amateur planning addresses all their needs.
Photo credit: Microsoft