• Lynn K. Girvin, Esq.

DIY Online Forms vs. In-Person Attorney


The reasons for setting up an estate plan are many and the downsides few. Most people delay planning for their future because of the time and expense involved so more and more online programs are offering do-it-yourself options to creating a will and revocable trust along with other estate planning documents. These sites offer tempting low fees and fewer perceived obstacles than going through the process with a qualified attorney. This article explains the risks.


Importance of Planning Ahead


We have discussed why estate planning is so important in other blog posts, but here is a refresher list of the most important points:

  • Avoid costly probate

  • Protect yourself in the event of incapacity

  • Ensure timely distribution of assets

  • Minimize taxes

  • Name a guardian for your minor children

  • Ease the strain on your loved ones by avoiding conflict

Online Forms vs. In-Person Planning

With so many new options to create an estate plan, deciding on how to proceed can get confusing. It seems reasonable to want to save a few bucks and prepare these important documents yourself but after years of creating plans for hundreds of clients, I have come to see some of the same problems:


1. One Size Does Not Fit All. The DIY online templates are designed to fit the general population. I have found that yes, there are some very simple estates that only require very general terms and simple language, but most family situations have at complex circumstances. Some families may have a child with special needs while others have stepchildren who don’t get along. Whatever the situation, rarely does one trust share all the same terms as another. The DIY templates fail to incorporate sophisticated estate planning strategies that are required to meet the needs of each client.


2. DIY Templates Can Be Too Open-Ended. Many DIY estate planning services tout their forms’ flexibility as a helpful feature yet that same flexibility can create confusion and uncertainty. The typical user is not familiar with state laws or legal terms specific to estate planning. Not knowing if you are making a mistake is the scary part of trying to create your own legal document. Many of these companies are not touting legal advice so your mistakes could go unnoticed and wreak havoc on your intentions.


3. In-Person Advice Can’t be Underestimated. Online question and answer sessions can’t strategize and use expertise to provide thoughtful advice in response to a client’s concerns. No matter how simple the estate, I always take the time to talk with my clients to find out their intentions and work to prepare a plan with their ideas on paper. People who look to save a few bucks at the outset don’t get this type of service and are simply clicking through boxes of choices with legal language that is typically foreign to them. Some of these online companies may offer to refer you to an estate planning attorney if you feel that you’re in too deep and need some professional assistance. But doesn’t that put you back in the boat of requiring an attorney’s personal attention to get your wishes down on paper?


4. Execution. Finally, too often the person completing online forms do not know that there are specific requirements to make your estate plan effective. It is not simply a matter of printing out what you created and sticking it on a shelf. Depending on the document, it must be either witnessed or notarized. Then you have the question of how to fund a particular asset to your trust. Without performing these extra steps that you must undertake on your own, you don't have an effective plan.


Peace of Mind in Estate Planning


Online estate planning tools can be a tempting option if you’re looking to save a few bucks but consider what is at stake. Most people work their entire lives to build a nest egg with, hopefully, a few bucks to pass to to their kids or other family members. My office is concerned with making your plan how YOU want it and not what is most expedient to create. I take the time to listen and understand your concerns. I can help you navigate the complexities of the process without losing sight of your ultimate goal.


This article was written by Lynn Girvin of Lynn K. Girvin Law. We are here to help you make informed and empowered decisions for your life and the people you love. We offer comprehensive estate planning services and walk you through every step. Get started by calling our office today at (714) 619-4145 to schedule an appointment. We look forward to hearing from you!