When asked, “Why should I pay you to prepare my will rather than LegalZoom?” I say, “Because a Will template will not meet your needs if you answer ‘yes’ to any of the following questions.”

Are you alive? A Will’s importance lies dormant until death.  Until then, you need a comprehensive estate plan that not only anticipates death but also accommodates disability, incapacity, emergencies and special circumstances.  An attorney can compile a plan that considers your current circumstances and your death.  Legal Zoom may not.

Do you have specific wishes you want met after death? Few documents are really “fill-in-the-blank” and your circumstances may exceed the template’s scope.  If you have children from a previous relationship, wish to allow a relative or friend to continue living in your home after your death, set aside money to pay for a loved one’s education, or create a fund to care for pets, an on-line Will may not be able to document these wishes or make them enforceable.

Do you refer to your Will in the future tense? Until you say, “I prepared my Will.” you are at risk of dying or becoming incapacitated without instructions as to who gets your stuff and who cares for your children.  An attorney can provide structure and accountability.  On-Line Will kits do not prevent procrastination or encourage achievement.

Are you in an untraditional relationship? Same sex couples that balance state benefits with federal restrictions, married couples comprised of one or more non-US citizens, long-term partners who choose not to marry each have a complex situation that exceeds the capabilities of most on-line forms.

Is value more important than savings? You get what you pay for.

Would you prefer a legal provider that is not being sued?  A Google search of Legal Zoom lists a number of states and individuals that are suing LegalZoom. Google your firm of choice BEFORE you give them your money and your trust.

Would you prefer not to pay to fix mistakes?  We are frequently asked to review documents previously prepared by general practitioners and on-line providers.  We charge by the hour to review and repair documents.  Sometimes we suggest clients revoke existing documents and start over.  It ends up being a more affordable way to get the protection they want and ensure their wishes are met.

Do you prefer Specialists over Generalists?  Estate planning is a complicated and dynamic area of the law.  An attorney that focuses on estate planning will be knowledgeable about alternative planning opportunities that general practitioners and internet companies may not be as diligent about identifying.

Do you work with a Financial Planner?  Your estate plan should be integrated into your financial plan.  Unless they work together, you are not maximizing your ability to get your wishes met during life and after.  Make sure that your financial planner is comfortable integrating his or her thoughtful and sophisticated plan into the electronic template you purchase on-line.

Are you a resident of Massachusetts?   A new Massachusetts estate planning statute takes effect on April 2, 2012.  It’s called the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code.  We and many estate planning attorneys have already begun reviewing their documents to ensure compliance with the current statute and the new one.  If you choose Legal Zoom, check to see that they comply with the new statute…or when they anticipate doing so.

An estate plan fashioned by an attorney lets you:

  • Manage financial affairs during life with Durable Powers of Attorney, Revocable Living Trusts and Family Limited Partnerships;
  • Execute medical decisions with Health Care Proxies, HIPAA Releases and Advance Directives;
  • Preserve assets for dependents by transferring ownership, gifting, accommodating government benefits and preventing unlimited access by spendthrifts and creditors;
  • Distribute assets at death via Wills, revocable living trusts, joint ownership of assets, and designated beneficiaries.

Content is only part of an effective estate plan. An attorney will ensure that your documents are executed properly, the witnesses are reliable, your beneficiaries will not be disqualified, and that your Will can stand up to contests.

Estate planning can be complex.  While you may save a few bucks by using an on-line will kit, mistakes may only be revealed when it’s too late for you to make changes.  Your family may lose much more than you saved and suffer for years.  Additionally, there is a 75% chance that any one of us will become disabled before we die.  An attorney can also collaborate with your financial planner to help with long-term care planning. Legal Zoom, not so much.