There are many tools now available for self-help legal services, especially when it comes to will drafting. One popular website charges a modest fee, less than a lawyer would cost, and I’m often asked, “so why should I pay you to do what I can do myself?” We can all agree, the stakes are very high – after all, this is your estate you are talking about, and it costs you your life, so it had better be right. The problem when it comes to Wills is that you won’t be around to explain what you meant, so the language you choose is all-important. We have hundreds of years of legal cases interpreting wills, so words you use may have very different meanings than you intend. There is a reason lawyers use “legalese” – because they understand how those terms will be interpreted. Each state has a chapter of its laws (or more) governing wills, and specific formal requirements regarding how they are signed and witnessed. It is perilously easy to make a fatal error. Add to that all of the possible tax implications, implications for former spouses, adopted children, step-children and all the “what if’s” that go into effective will drafting, and you can see it isn’t simple.
Doing estate planning for clients is very gratifying work. Helping them lay out their wishes to provide help to succeeding generations is a wonderful task. Getting it wrong is a disaster. There’s an old saying about being “penny wise and pound foolish” that applies. In other words, the modest cost of getting it done right far outweighs the potential problems that could follow a home-made effort.
People think that such warnings, coming from a lawyer, are self-serving. Let me show you something that IS completely self serving. A popular web service providing low-cost legal documents contains the following disclaimers in the fine print:
– LZ is not a law firm… LZ is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.
– LZ is not permitted to engage in the practice of law.
– LZ is prohibited from providing any kind of advice, explanation, opinion or recommendation…
– By using LZ… you are representing yourself in any legal matter you undertake through LZ’s document service.
– At no time do we review your answers for legal sufficiency, draw legal conclusions, provide legal advice or apply the law to the facts of your situation.
– The legal information on this site is not legal advice and is not guaranteed to be correct, complete or up to date.
– The law is a personal matter, and no general information or legal tools like the kind LZ provides can fit every situation.
– Therefore, if you need legal advice… you should consult a licensed attorney in your area.
– LZ is not responsible for any loss, injury, claim, etc.
If a lawyer told you that, would you feel comfortable giving him or her a task as precious as your estate plan? I doubt it. Don’t waste your time or money on such “services.” Instead, hire a lawyer who knows the law, will stand behind their work, and will understand you, your family, and your wishes and help you put together a plan that will provide the legacy you intend. The stakes are simply too high to take a chance.