Why Choose an Attorney Over Using Online Forms?
Nov. 7, 2022
The digital age has put many do-it-yourself (DIY) projects within the reach of anyone with internet access. You can visit your doctor, publish a book, even purchase a house without ever leaving yours. There are also multiple online resources for DIY estate planning.
At first glance, drafting an estate plan online seems to be more convenient and less expensive. So why hire an attorney to create your will, trust, and other estate planning documents? In estate planning, as in life, you get what you pay for.
For more than three decades, clients from San Antonio, New Braunfels, and Boerne, Texas, have been coming to James J. Peterson to create their estate plans. Whether it’s a simple will or a complex trust, he fully explains what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what the implications are for every decision you make.
Why Should I Worry About an Estate Plan?
Estate planning encompasses a variety of legal documents you can execute to take care of loved ones when you die, as well as documents to speak for you when you cannot speak for yourself. Choosing a guardian for your minor child, choosing who benefits from whatever assets you have when you die, no matter how few, and choosing who makes life-or-death decisions for you if you are incapacitated are some of the acts you can direct in an estate plan.
Quite simply, if you don’t have an estate plan, the court makes all of these highly personal decisions for you and does so in full view of the public. That said, it isn’t enough to just quickly complete some forms and call this extremely important task “done.” Here are five other very good reasons why you should work with an attorney rather than fill in the blanks of online forms.
1. Estate Planning Laws Vary from State to State
Estate planning laws, as with other laws, vary from state to state. Failure to comply with the laws of your state and your will and other documents could be invalidated by the court, regardless of whether they are challenged or not.
The vendors of online estate planning documents will purport that the form you are completing is state-specific. Keep in mind, however, that there is no one there keeping constant pace with changes in state laws and case law established by the courts. An estate planning attorney in your state will keep abreast of every change that could affect the plan you’re creating as well as the plans of every client they have worked with before.
2. Life Changes, & So Should Your Estate Plan
Estate planning documents are rarely “one and done.” In fact, they are intended to accommodate modifications as circumstances in your life change over time. Marriage, divorce, the birth and death of children, accumulation and loss of assets, and business interests are a few of the life-altering events that should be reflected in your estate planning documents.
Of course, you can get back online, log into your account, and pay to fill in the blanks differently on a new form. Doing so comes with two key complications. First, a revision to one document likely has implications for every other document. Any disparities between documents could be cause for a court to invalidate all of them when it comes time to use them.
Second, going back to revise a form leaves the potential for more than one form to be found after your death or incapacitation. Again, if the court is left to decide which form is valid and which is not, it could create problems for your loved ones and leave them easily exposed to challenges.
Your estate planning attorney will ensure that prior iterations are expressly revoked so it is clear which version is valid at the time of your death. Moreover, your attorney will ensure that every document affected by even a minor change in one will be reflected in all documents. These are actions an online forms company will not and cannot take.
3. If Disputes Arise, the Court Will Favor Perspectives of a Disinterested Party
If someone challenges your estate planning document if you are incapacitated or when you die, the online form will not speak on your behalf. Those who have an interest in benefitting from your estate will argue their sides. Your estate planning attorney will provide input regarding your intent and your wishes as a person who will not benefit from your estate. As such, the court will lend credence to your attorney when hearing evidence in a dispute.
4. Your Estate Planning Documents will be Safeguarded
Estate planning documents must be physically signed, dated, and often witnessed to be valid. That means you will need to print hard copies of your online forms, then sign and date appropriately. Whatever version of the form remains in some online account has no legal relevance. So what happens if your executed forms are misplaced, destroyed, or otherwise unavailable when they are needed?
Your estate planning attorney will retain copies of executed documents. Your executor or trustee will therefore be able to request copies should the originals be unavailable. Otherwise, you might as well have never completed those online estate planning forms at all.
5. Unless You Are an Estate Planning Attorney, You Probably Need Guidance
If someone threatens to sue you in a civil matter for everything you own, you will probably not hesitate to contact an attorney to represent you. You need legal guidance and advice to protect what you have worked hard to earn rather than risk losing it.
Similarly, you should view your estate plan as a formidable line of defense against those who would challenge your wishes regarding the distribution of everything you worked for during your lifetime. As such, creating that line of defense should be worth getting experienced advice from an estate planning attorney. An estate lawyer can help you with everything from legal requirements to tax implications for you and your loved ones.
Turn to James P. Peterson for Help
In the debate regarding an estate planning attorney vs. an online form, James P. Peterson believes there is a clear winner. Don’t let your wishes regarding your estate fall victim to a series of one-size-fits-all online templates. If you live in San Antonio or surrounding communities, call James P. Peterson Attorney at Law today to schedule a time to discuss your estate plan. It is never too early to begin, and always worth doing it right.