You can find instructions to do almost anything online. “DIY” or “Do-It-Yourself” projects are popular ways to save money. You can find websites that tell you how to plan your wedding, fix a faucet, or change the brakes on your car. Unfortunately, there are some things that we should not attempt to do ourselves.
A trend we have seen in the past couple of decades is the increasing number of websites offering legal forms or document preparation services. These websites offer a low-cost “solution” for consumers who want to address their legal needs without the necessity of paying attorney’s fees. Unfortunately, the “solution” often results in a problem that costs more to resolve than to prevent, if the problem can be resolved at all. This is the case with online estate planning websites. This type of estate planning is dangerous for several reasons.
Determining What You Need
The biggest problem with online estate planning is that it does not come with advice on what you need to do. For example, what if you have a child with special needs? If you do, then a trust is absolutely essential so you can give an inheritance in a way so that the child does not lose governmental benefits. A will cannot do this, yet a lot of folks focus on the will. Not only is a will unable to protect a vulnerable beneficiary, but a will may not even control anything when you die. You need an attorney who focuses on estate planning law to tell you what you need to do. To do his job correctly, he needs to know about your intended beneficiaries and their needs. The lawyer needs to know about your assets and whether they are controlled by beneficiary designations (so they bypass your will) or not (so that a will would control them). The attorney also needs to know if your estate is large enough so that we need to plan to reduce or eliminate federal estate taxes.
We could go on and on with all of the things that have to be considered in putting together a sound estate plan, but the main thing to know here is that online estate planning does not give the level of attention to detail that is necessary to put together the right plan for you and the ones you love.
Purchasing Estate Planning Forms Online
Online estate planning websites offer a variety of documents you can purchase and complete yourself. Some websites advertise they include “instructions” making it easy and quick to take care of your estate planning needs without the expense of an attorney.
Probate laws differ by state; therefore, a “one-size-fits-all” Trust Agreement or Power of Attorney may not be valid under Ohio state law. Even if a website advertises “state specific estate documents,” you have no guarantee that the forms offered are based on Ohio probate laws. You may be saving money now; however, your family may incur substantial expenses when it is time to probate your estate.
Very few, if any, of the online estate planning websites were created by attorneys. Even if an attorney drafted the forms and instructions, it is unlikely the attorney is licensed to practice in all 50 states. Someone with no legal experience with Ohio state law is providing the instructions you use to complete the estate planning documents. The chance that your documents are incorrect is high. You may believe you have taken the steps to provide for your family when you have made it more difficult for them when you die.
Online Estate Planning Services
Some online estate planning services offer to draft estate planning documents based on information you provide. The same problems that apply with DIY estate forms apply with online estate planning services. You are not dealing with an attorney licensed to practice in Ohio — if you are dealing with an attorney at all. In some cases, the person drafting your estate documents may be in another country.
Online estate planning services do not analyze your financial situation to develop an estate plan to meet your needs and goals. Someone uses your information to “fill in the blanks” on standard forms. You may be receiving forms that are not valid in Ohio, contain mistakes, and are not sufficient to meet your goals.
Using an Experienced Ohio Estate Planning Attorney
Your family is the most important “asset” in your life and ensuring they will be provided for after your death or incapacitation is one of your top priorities. This is far too important to cut corners to save a little money. In the end, your family will be the ones to pay when your estate planning documents are not valid or do not accomplish your goals.
The attorneys of Lovett & House have been assisting clients with their estate planning needs for over two decades. If you have questions about Ohio estates, contact our office. We are here to help you with all of your estate planning needs.