Making a Will with Online Companies like LegalZoom and Trust & Will

The process of creating a will is a crucial step in estate planning that ensures your assets are distributed according to your wishes after your passing. In recent years, online companies like Legal Zoom and Trust and Will have emerged as convenient alternatives to traditional legal services for creating wills. While these platforms offer ease of use and affordability, it is important to consider the potential downsides before entrusting such an important document to an online service.

Advantages of Online Will Services

  1. Cost-Effectiveness: One of the primary advantages of using online will services is the cost savings compared to hiring an attorney. These platforms typically offer pre-designed templates that can be customized to meet your specific requirements, reducing the need for extensive legal consultations.
  2. Convenience and Accessibility: Online services allow you to create your will from the comfort of your own home, at any time that suits you. This accessibility is particularly beneficial for those with busy schedules or limited mobility.
  3. Simplicity and User-Friendliness: Online will services often provide intuitive interfaces and step-by-step guides, making the process simpler for individuals who may not be familiar with legal terminology or procedures. These platforms aim to streamline the creation of a will, ensuring a user-friendly experience.

Potential Downsides of Online Will Services

  1. Lack of Legal Expertise: While online will services can be helpful, they are not a substitute for personalized legal advice. Estate planning is a complex field, and online platforms may not be equipped to address unique or intricate circumstances. Consulting an attorney can provide valuable insights and ensure your will aligns with your specific needs.
  2. Limited Customization: Online services typically offer standardized templates, which may not accommodate complex situations or the intricacies of certain assets. If you have unique estate planning requirements, an attorney can provide tailored solutions that better suit your circumstances.
  3. Potential Errors and Incompleteness: Filling out a will online without professional guidance can lead to inadvertent mistakes or omissions that may invalidate certain provisions or create ambiguities. The absence of an attorney’s oversight could result in unintended consequences or disputes among beneficiaries.
  4. Legal Compliance and Jurisdictional Issues: Laws governing wills and estate planning vary across jurisdictions. Online will services may not adequately address the specific requirements of your state or country. Failing to comply with relevant legal provisions could render your will unenforceable or result in unintended tax consequences.
  5. Updates and Maintenance: Wills often require periodic updates to reflect changes in personal circumstances, such as marriages, births, or changes in financial assets. Online platforms may not provide ongoing support for these updates, potentially leaving your will outdated or incomplete.

Conclusion

When considering using online companies like LegalZoom or Trust and Will for creating a will, it is essential to weigh the advantages against the potential downsides. While these platforms can be cost-effective, convenient, and user-friendly, they may lack the expertise and customization options that an attorney can offer. Estate planning is a critical process, and the complexities involved demand careful consideration. Therefore, it is advisable to consult with a qualified attorney who can provide personalized advice and ensure your will is comprehensive, legally valid, and aligned with your specific needs and circumstances.

Video Transcript

Are Online Will Services Reliable?

As far as making a will goes, would you recommend an online company like LegalZoom? Thanks for the question. And I see here that the question involves you might want trust, you might want a will, and what are some potential downsides of using a service like that. In order for a will or trust to be lawfully enforceable, it typically needs to be notarized and/or signed by in front of two witnesses and often both. So, in other words, if you hire an attorney to draft your will, often, two staff members from the law firm will come and serve as witnesses when you actually sign the document. And somebody may also notarize the document so there is no dispute over whether you actually executed that will whether you actually signed it.

Potential Problems with Online Services

If you are using an online service, here are the potential problems. First, you still have to deal with this signature issue locally, and you are going to be responsible for making sure it is done right. And by the way, if it is not done right, you are probably not going to know until you are gone, and then it is too late to do anything about it. Similarly, when you are using one of these online services to put together a will or a trust, they are not lawyers. Their disclaimer has a very strong disclaimer on that. They are simply a template service, and they can use software to help you identify the language that should go in that template, but they are limited by state laws that govern providing legal services. These software companies are not allowed to provide legal advice to you. In other words, they are not allowed to look at your situation and figure out what language should be in there. They can let you use their software, but they can’t give advice on that.

So if you don’t have an attorney who is actually understanding your goals and your concerns, and making sure that the language in the document you are signing, whether it is a will or trust, does what you want, you are accepting a lot of risk. And the real risk or the problem is, you don’t know what errors or wrong words or phrases or sections were used in that document until you are gone. I mean, I guess technically, you don’t even know at that point because you are gone. You have passed away, and now it is up to a court to try to figure that out. And a court is going to hear from all sides, and so, now you have your family members or heirs lawyering up, spending money fighting. And typically, the last thing somebody wants is for their loved ones to be fighting over what they get. You intended inheritance as a blessing to their lives. You certainly would not want it to cause conflict, stress, and legal fighting. And yet, unfortunately, that is what happens when there are errors in a will or a trust. And I am using the word errors lightly because usually, you read the sentences in a will or a trust, and they are perfect. The grammar is perfect. The spelling is perfect. The error is that the legal language does not do what you intended it to do. And so you can’t see that error just by looking at the grammar or the spelling. It takes a person who understands all the legal terms and the legal doctrine and concepts to read it or craft it in a way that reflects what you have said you want. That is why right now, attorneys are the only way to do that. Artificial intelligence can’t do that yet. Legal template services can’t do that. And by the way, if you want a template, there are a lot of freeways to get a template. You can just type in “Minnesota will template file type: PDF” and take a look at some of the results that come up. Or “New York trust template file type: PDF” When you drop that into Google, it will show you all sorts of PDF responses that match your search terms, so you can find all sorts of templates. But in most cases, I recommend that people not use a template service online like LegalZoom for a will and a trust because they are complex documents, and there isn’t enough time to correct it. You might use it for a simple contract. You might even use ChatGPT for a simple contract. But a will and a trust tie into state statutes and legal doctrines that are not necessarily simple. In fact, many times, people are better off not having a will at all than having a will that doesn’t say what they want to say.

In all states in the United States, there is a statute that says if a person dies without a will, that is called intestate. There are default provisions regarding how their assets are distributed, and a court oversees that in a probate process. So, if you pass without a will, there are a lot of default provisions that work for most middle class or people who don’t have significant money. For example, it says the default rules in Minnesota say, “If one spouse passes, everything goes to my other spouse. If both of us pass, everything goes to our kids. If our kids pass at the same time, or we don’t have kids, it goes to our parents. If they are not around, it goes to siblings.” So you have these default rules in place, but they don’t apply if you have a will. And if you have a will that doesn’t say what you think it says, then the assets would go to the wrong people after you pass. So, I am not a fan of using an online service.

One option, I suppose, if you are really trying to cut corners, is to use an online service to prepare your will or trust, or maybe you just go down to your local office supply store and buy some software for $50 or some templates, and use that to put together what you think you want and then hire a local attorney to review it to make sure it says what you think it says and then that attorney and the attorney’s staff can help you with witnesses and signing it and make sure it is legally given effect. Because a document that is not properly signed or notarized or done before witnesses are as worthless as any other letter or note that you may or may not have written or somebody might have written for you. The reason the rules are so strict on wills and trusts is that the court wants to know it was actually you that put that document together, not somebody else pretending to be you. So that is why the state law is so tight on the signature requirements for a will. And in fact, many states will not even honor a video of you because it is not necessarily as reliable as the process that is in the statute.

This is a hotly contested issue, but the concern is that a will who knows what the date and time was of the video will. If a person creates a video and says, “Here is what I want done.” Did they have proper legal advice? Were they under the influence of any drugs? Was somebody holding a gun to them behind the camera? And what was the actual date and time of the video? There are all sorts of credibility issues with video wills, and so for that reason, to my knowledge, at least so far, most states do not even follow or consider credible a video will. It needs to be a will signed as required by the local state statute.

Conclusion

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