Access to free or inexpensive products and services on the internet is not a new phenomenon. We all try to remember the old adage that “sometimes you get exactly what you pay for” but when tempted with what looks like a really great deal, we tend to rationalize “how bad could it be?”
And so it is with online estate planning, whether just Wills or the full range of Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, and so forth. Online estate planning purports to ask all the questions that are needed for a person to provide for the transfer of their assets to their intended heirs, and for simple situations, they may be a great deal and work flawlessly. But consider how many wrinkles arise in a person’s life. There are situations of blended families, or child who has special needs, or a child who has less need of resources than his/her siblings. The online “questioner” is not likely to be able to ask those questions, let alone help a person craft the desired solution.
Since an online service is designed to apply in as many situations as possible, and as simply as possible, what can get lost in the simplicity may be the very thing that renders an online document invalid. Neglecting to identify who can, and who cannot, serve as a witness to a Will, or including a self-proving affidavit when the document is signed, could lead to unintended consequences and costs when the time comes to administer an estate. And here is a large concern: the flaw is likely not to be discovered until the person who created the document has died. Flaws can possibly be fixed with actions in court, but at the cost of time and money to the heirs. And that expense may be far larger than the original cost of having an attorney draft the estate plan in the first place would have been.
Can online Wills work out? Certainly. Especially in very simple situations. Just like watching an online video may successfully instruct a person how to build a shed or fix a car. But when you think about whether or not you would undertake those projects on your own, with no guidance other than a video, you might find yourself with missing parts you don’t discover until your project collapses. The risk of making a similar miscalculation with all of your wealth and your family’s future well-being, and the inability to even detect there has been a mistake until it is too late to fix, should make you sit back and ask: “Am I getting exactly what I am paying for here?”
Should you have any questions or would like further clarification on this or other estate planning matters, reach out to Mansour Gavin’s Estate Planning & Probate group.