There has been a rise in media talking about “digital wills” and “online estate planning.” Maybe you can save some money and get your estate taken care of online, but if you do you should be aware of the potential pitfalls. Online estate planning could be a big trap for the unwary and it could actually leave your family worse off than if you had not planned at all.
The first critical task you need to undertake before planning your estate is to undestand your family dynamics, the nature of your assets, and what the state would say should happen to your assets if something happens to you. The state does have a plan for your assets if you become incapacitated or when you die and without out you saying anything that’s what will happen, so you need to know what that plan is in case you want to change it.
A good start on getting educated is this one hour training with my mentor, financial and legal expert Ali Katz, which clarifies what you can and should do yourself for free online. The easy-to-watch training gives you access to a free online tool that you can use to create the one thing that would be most important for your family: a “treasure map” listing everything you own, where it is, and how your loved ones can access it. This tool is free to use and creating your own personal resource map will be a true gift for the people you love.
But Don’t I Need a Will and Can’t I Just Do It Online?
Here’s the funny thing about estate planning: the one legal document that everyone thinks they need most actually does the least.
Now, every adult does need SOME estate planning. A will is always a good idea because it says who gets and who is in charge of distributing what you have. However, if the default law would have given your assets to the same people you would choose and authority to the person you would name anyway, then an online will would probably do nothing valuable for you at all, because a will does not keep your family out of court.
For example, if drafted improperly a will could require the person you’ve named to handle things for you to get a bond, which is like an insurance policy, which can be hard to get for an executor who has less than a stellar credit score. If your named executor cannot get a bond, the court would have to appoint a court ordered executor, which could get costly for your estate . This is just one of the ways of how having a will prepared online can create more expense for the people you love. Unfortunately, none of the online will preparation that I’ve reviewed online mention this risk at all.
So, yes, you can do your own will online, but at what potential cost for the people you love?
The Problem with Online Wills
DIY online estate plans and even many estate plans created by lawyers usually include three to five basic documents: a will, a financial power of attorney, an advance health care directive, possibly a trust, and a legal guardian nomination if you have minor children. However, just completing these documents without counsel is simply not sufficient to guarantee your estate will be executed as simply, affordably, and effectively as you would wish.
For instance, there could be a consideration that a general document doesn’t include that could lead to turmoil when your family tries to figure it out. Most family fights don’t happen over money, but because of a lack of clarity. So have you taken into account all your extended family, including stepchildren and ex-spouses? What will be done with all the personal, sentimental items you want to pass on to your children? If you don’t have custom documents covering all of your circumstances, conflict is almost inevitable.
There have been far too many scenarios where seniors, even those who had some estate planning done, get caught in the court system or even declared incompetent and then have court-appointed guardians named who then drain their accounts. In many cases, their assets are taken before they can get to their kids. A DIY will won’t keep this from happening to your own family.
Furthermore, an online will won’t tell your family what you have and where it is. There’s somewhere between $49 billion and $80 billion being held in state departments of unclaimed property across the United States because someone died and their family lost track of their assets.
So how can you be sure you’ve got everything covered, legally?
With online wills and DIY estate planning docs, you wouldn’t even know what questions to ask to uncover the potential risks to the people you love, who deserve to receive what you’ve created in your life without a big mess.
Even if there are attorneys on staff at these online companies, they don’t get to know you and your family dynamics enough to spot the real issues that could arise. They are, instead, focused on a one-size-fits-all solution and easy answers to complex issues.
The Kind of Help Your Family Deserves
In truth, even some lawyers who specialize in estate planning often base their work on template documents and tend to not get into the heart of your family matters. No matter how well-intentioned they are, they are working with an old, traditional system created at around the same time as word processing and focusing on the “best” documents instead of the “right” documents.
Their documents are only as good as the understanding the lawyer has about your family dynamics, the nature of your assets, how the law will apply to your situation, and how the documents can be written as simply as possible to achieve your wishes. The way we see it is if you want things to be as simple as possible for the people you lov, when something happens to you, you want counsel to prepare a plan that achieves your desired objectives.
As a Personal Family Lawyer®, this is where we come in. We have specific training in how to educate you, empower you, and support you to make the right decisions for the people you love, while we get to know what really matters to you.
We do this through our Family Wealth Planning Session process. If as a result of the process we see that you really do have a very simple situation and you want to create your documents yourself online, we support you to do that. Conversely, if as a result of the Family Wealth Planning Session you decide you do need us to draft a plan for you, we support you to choose the right planning fee for you.
We inventory your assets, ensuring they are all owned in a way that will keep your family out of court and conflict and ensure everyone named in your plan has what they need and understands your choices. Most importantly, we ensure you understand your plan and we ensure you pass along more than just your money.
DIY estate planning is risky. While it may be better than nothing, it may also be worse and it won’t be until after you are gone that your loved ones find out that answer. If you want to do the right thing by the people you love, you have three options for how to get started:
- Book a Family Wealth Planning Session with me. It’s normally $750, but if you call and tell us you read this article and commit to doing just a bit of homework ahead of time, I’ll waive that Planning Session fee.
- If you aren’t quite ready to call yet, and want to learn a little more first, go to PersonalResourceMap.com and watch the one-hour training there. Create your own Map and then if as a result of the training you decide you do need counsel from a lawyer, book a Family Wealth Planning Session with me after that. If you send me your completed map, I’ll not only waive the Family Wealth Planning Session fee, but I’ll also give you a $250 credit towards any planning you need. Be sure to mention you attended the training, and that you want to claim your $1000 of legal services.
- If you want to talk for 15 minutes before your Family Wealth Planning Session, call my office and book that time here: 256-600-2684
This article is a service of Levi Alexander, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.