Online legal document services offer an enticing bargain. Most people realize that they need an estate plan to manage their affairs if something happens to them, but having estate planning documents drafted by an experienced attorney can be expensive and time consuming. Furthermore, in times of the COVID-19 pandemic and when many people can accomplish nearly anything while in the comfort of their own homes, the idea of having your estate planning documents online is very attractive to the average person.
For these reasons, many consumers are now questioning whether it is possible to skip the attorney fees and use a low-cost website to prepare estate planning documents. The short answer is that, yes, it is possible, but it is not recommended. You could save a few bucks now, but later may end up creating an expensive and frustrating mess for your family.
Unfortunately, most people do not realize what they are getting themselves into with an online document service. This is because those online services have spent millions of dollars trying to create the impression that their services are similar to, or even equivalent to those of an attorney. They put lawyers in their commercials, hire celebrities to promote them, and tout stories of people who have successfully used their documents.
Yet, all the marketing in the world cannot erase the simple truth. Those online services are not law firms, and the people who create them typically are not lawyers. Online services cannot give legal advice. Instead, they are “document assistants” – a term that various states use to define service providers who type your information into generic form documents.
In other words, a document assistant is like a mindless typing robot who enters your information into a form, whether or not it makes sense and whether or not it is a good idea. If you are stuck or need advice, they cannot help you. If you make a huge mistake, they cannot warn you.
In fact, it would be a crime for them to warn you. It does not matter if the person working on your documents via one of these service providers is an estate planning genius. That person is simply not allowed to give legal advice. Think of it this way: a person needs a state bar license in order to give legal advice, just the same way that a doctor needs a license to write a prescription. Giving legal advice without a license is very much like selling drugs without a prescription-it is a crime.
To combat this, these companies design their generic forms so that even without legal advice, it is hard to make mistakes. That may seem like a good thing. However, the best way to make sure that your documents do not do anything wrong is to make sure they do not do or accomplish anything at all. Essentially, these documents become do-nothing, one-size-fits-all generic documents.
That leads to the next problem with the online services. These document assistants cannot even promise you that the documents will work because they are not licensed attorneys, which means they cannot promise a particular legal result.
Many clients are excited to learn that they can leave assets to a special needs child without jeopardizing government benefits; or that they can protect a child’s inheritance from frivolous lawsuits, divorce or bankruptcy. A well-designed estate plan ensures that your resources get where you want them and that they are used in the way you instruct. Estate planning is about creating legally enforceable provisions that do what you want done.
These online document services cannot promise you any of that. They cannot promise you that you will achieve your goals. They cannot point out opportunities or other options beyond what you have selected, and they cannot warn you about hidden hazards. Really, all these document services can do is save you a few bucks.
However, these document services play a clever price game, too. Most of these online services investigate what an attorney would charge for similar documents and then use that information to determine their pricing. These comparisons are misleading in a variety of ways. First, online services compare the price they charge for a single document to the price that an attorney charges for an entire estate plan, which typically includes numerous comprehensive documents.
More importantly, there is no way to compare the prices of what you get from an online document service to what you get from an attorney, because they are not offering nearly the same thing that you would get from an attorney. If a fast-food restaurant told you that you could order their $1.79 “salad in a box” instead of paying $20 for a fancy restaurant salad bar, you would instantly recognize the faulty comparison. A wilted clump of lettuce in a plastic clamshell is not anything like an all-you-can-eat salad bar with every conceivable ingredient, made fresh and eaten in a nice environment with an attentive wait staff.
Yet, most people recognize this faulty comparison because most people have experience with restaurants – both good and bad. They know how to judge quality, and they understand the “you get what you pay for” concept. But, when it comes to legal services, most people don’t have the experience to know better. If your estate plan is faulty or you do something wrong when drafting your own documents using an online service, you will never know. But, your family will know. If your estate plan doesn’t work properly, your family could end up paying the price and cleaning up the mess after you have passed away.
Your estate plan is the box that carries your entire life savings. It is just not worth the risk of damaging your life’s work just to save a few bucks.
The attorneys at The Orlando Law Group represent and prepare estate planning documents for individuals throughout Orlando, Waterford Lakes, Altamonte Springs, Winter Garden, Lake Nona, St. Cloud, Kissimmee, and throughout central Florida.
If you are dealing with an estate planning issue or are looking to establish your own estate plan, please reach out to our office at 407-512-4394, fill out our online contact form.
If you have questions about anything discussed in this article or other legal matters, give our office a call at 407-512-4394 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 12301 Lake Underhill Rd, Suite 213, Orlando, FL 32828, as well as offices in Seminole, Osceola and West Orange counties to assist you.
Last Updated on February 18, 2023 by The Orlando Law Group