Like most people I like to save money. I watch my money carefully. I hate to waste money. On the other hand I love when I hire someone to do a job and they do it well. I love to feel like I got my moneys worth! Estate planning is like this.
You can go to a stationary store and get some forms or you can go to legalzoom.com or buy Quicken Willmaker. Those options will all be substantially cheaper than using an attorney like me. If how much you spend now is your main criteria then it’s a no-brainer. You should use one of the above options to create your estate plan. All the form programs can do wills, powers of attorney for finance and health care directives. Many do trusts also. Seriously. It’s not even close in terms of money spent now.
However, as an attorney that practices 100% in the area of wills, trusts, and estates I know what happens. I have seen horror stories after death. In fact, not just from using forms but also from using an inexperienced lawyer. The problems are endless!
Some common problems:
– When using a form trust the assets are not funded. I would say this is close to 100% of the time and thus ends up with a probate. Close to 100% is not that much of an exaggeration.
– Failure to witness the wills properly. It’s not that hard right? Two witnesses, not related to you, not taking under the will, in the room with you, and all together you sign. This gets messed up OFTEN!
– Notaries don’t know what to notarize. As a notary I take the notary exam every 4 years. Every four years I study and am reminded of the basics like DO NOT NOTARIZE A WILL. However, tons of California notaries notarize wills still. Memo to notary: notarize the other documents not the will!
– Oversimplifying the documents. Estate planning is really much more than filling in a few names on a form. It takes a professional to know which form to use and how to use it.
– Over-complicating the documents. An experienced estate planning attorney knows what to simplify and what to complicate. Let a professional help decipher the issues that need deeper discussion and help you decide when to put your mind at ease and not over-complicate it for your loved ones.
As I always say, we will know if your legalzoom.com forms worked… after you die.
If you want peace of mind hire an experienced estate planning attorney.