DIY Wills and Trusts. Are LegalZoom and Nolo Wills and Trusts Any Good?

Are DIY Wills and Trusts Any Good?

Many websites offer customized, do-it-yourself wills and other estate planning documents. While these products are convenient, they can create legal troubles for heirs that are expensive and difficult to resolve. 

These digital services appear to offer a low-cost and easy alternative to visiting an estate planning or elder law attorney. But is online estate planning worth the convenience and initial savings? A person who has little or no property, small savings or investments, and a traditional family tree might get away with using an online service, but they shouldn't try to build an estate plan without the assistance of an attorney.

You may need to consult with an attorney in order to clearly determine whether or not your needs are really simple. Do you have an estate that is taxable under state or federal law? Do you own significant amounts of tax-deferred retirement plans? Do you know how to fund a revocable trust? Is there anything about your estate that is unusual, such as having children from a previous marriage or a disabled child? If you have any questions about your estate planning, you should always seek the assistance of a qualified professional.

Should I Use Nolo or LegalZoom for my Will and Trust?

Here are some examples of what can happen if you try to create an estate plan without the help of an attorney:

  • A Florida woman used an online generic will to list several possessions and bank accounts that she wanted to be left to her brother. After the will was written, the woman inherited an additional sum of money as well as a property. However, the woman never included a residuary clause in the original will that said where additional assets should go, and she failed to revise the will to account for this new property either.  After she died, her brother was of the view that he should be entitled to her entire estate while her nieces claimed she should pass through the intestate system (meaning that the laws of her state apply to the case as if she had died without a will). The court ruled that because the will had no residuary clause or general bequests that could include the inherited property, the after-acquired property would pass under Florida’s laws of intestacy. This meant the brother was not the sole beneficiary. Aldrich v. Basile (Fla., No. SC11-2147, March 27, 2014)
  • A Massachusetts man used a pre-packaged will form to leave his home to his wife and his four grown children, the product of an earlier marriage. The problem was that the will didn't let her stay in the house until she died.  A court case ensued due to the children, who held the majority interest in the property, wanting the wife to move.
  • A Pennsylvania man wanted only two of his five children to inherit his estate, so he drafted his own will and gave his pickup truck to his daughter and his summer house to his son. Additionally, he wrote in the will that he was intentionally leaving out his other three children. The problem was that the man failed to indicate what to do with the remainder of his estate. He died leaving an estate of $217,000. While he probably intended for those funds to go to the two children he didn’t disinherit, because the will had no residuary clause, the rest of the estate passed under the state law specifying who inherits..This meant the estate was divided between all five children. (In Re: Estate of George Zeevering, No. 316-2012, Nov. 7, 2012)
  • LegalZoom, a seller of DIY wills, settled a class action lawsuit brought by an unhappy consumer in California. A niece helped her uncle prepare a will and trust using LegalZoom. She assumed that the documents they created would be legally binding and that LegalZoom’s customer service department would solve any problems.The niece was unable to transfer any of her uncle's assets into the trust because the financial institutions that held his money rejected the LegalZoom documents as valid.She had to consult a lawyer who specializes in estate planning to find a solution, and the attorney also found out that the will LegalZoom had created had not been properly witnessed. The whole thing cost the uncle’s estate thousands of dollars. (Webster v. LegalZoom Inc., No. BC438637, Oct. 1, 2014)

The irony of using boilerplate will forms in these cases was that they frustrated the decedents’ testamentary intent, but ended up costing their estates more than a simple consultation with an estate planning or elder law attorney would have given them.

Contact me (your friendly Ventura Estate Planning attorney, Eric Ridley) to create your plan. (805) 244-5291


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