LegalZoom and other do-it-yourself document preparation services want you to believe that the process of preparing a Will is as easy as filling in the blanks on standardized forms.
- They try to lure you with a cheap product and a process that takes less than half an hour to complete.
- They try to assure you with testimonials of customers professing that their product has given them “peace of mind.”
- They provide you with a portal that gives you a “general understanding of the law” even though the information it contains is “not guaranteed to be correct, complete or up-to-date.”
- They suggest that the document you get from their company will be just as effective as one an attorney creates by garnering endorsements from famous lawyers like Robert Shapiro, a lawyer known for a criminal trial that had nothing to do with Wills or estate planning.
In short, despite a disclaimer that their document preparation services are not a substitute for the advice of an attorney, they try to convince you that the advice of an attorney is simply not necessary.
Do-it-yourself wills provide a false sense of security
As part of an experiment, Minnesota attorney, Gregory Luce, who is currently the Practice Development Director at the Minnesota State Bar Association, agreed to buy a Will though LegalZoom. He has recorded his progress doing so in a series on his Practice Blawg and plans to compare the service and Will he obtains from LegalZoom with the process of getting a will prepared by an attorney.
Greg is married, and has two children: one from a previous marriage and the other from his current marriage. Even though he does not practice estate planning, he is a licensed attorney. His experience provides a glimpse at how even an educated consumer may be lulled into “peace of mind” by a document with significant flaws.
Is the advice of an attorney necessary in the preparation of a will?
Greg posted a video on his blog that documents his experience of obtaining a will through LegalZoom. Although it’s somewhat lengthy, I’d encourage you to watch it because it demonstrates how easy it is for even an attorney to make significant mistakes. One thing that stunned me as I watched the video was the following highlighted statement:
On the top left-hand corner of the page, LegalZoom reveals that 80 percent of people who fill in blank forms to create legal documents do so incorrectly. Despite this disclaimer, LegalZoom tries to reassure its customers that professionals are there to help; that customers can have “peace of mind” knowing that LegalZoom professionals will customize their will based on their legal decisions. But LegalZoom is not a law firm. It is not permitted to review your answers for legal sufficiency, draw legal conclusions, provide legal advice or apply the law to the facts of your particular situation.
Consequently, LegalZoom resorts to providing only general information on legal issues commonly encountered and offers guidance in some instances by indicating that a majority of its customers have answered a question a certain way. The problem is that everyone’s situation is unique. Just because the majority of customers have answered a question a certain way, for example, does not necessarily make it right for your individual circumstances.
So if serious legal mistakes are made, you’ll never know because they will not become apparent until you die. And the people left to deal with the mistakes are the people you are probably trying to protect by creating your Will.
Do it yourself Wills are just not worth the risk. Attorneys do more than draft a document. They advise you, based on years of experience and thousands of real life situations, on the best way to protect your family and preserve and distribute your assets according to your wishes. Additionally, LegalZoom and homemade Wills cost more to probate in most circumstances.
While the advice of an attorney costs more, you have peace of mind that your loved ones will benefit in the manner you desire without adding headaches and problems to an already stressful time.