You’re out shopping at one those big box stores and you see a brightly colored display advertising the latest software for do-it-yourself wills and estate planning. Or maybe you’re online, reading about what a trust is and why you might need one, when a banner ad or pop-up ad comes onscreen and touts a cheap, easy-to-use solution. You know you need a will, but the thought of lawyers and their fees scares you. Unfortunately, going cheap on a DIY solution can be even more frightening for you and your family.
It’s no secret I’m not a fan of those will-in-a-box products. But not because I think they’re taking business away from me and my firm. (If anything, confusion over aspects of those programs have prompted several people to reach out and hire me to fix things.) I get irritated because drafting a will or an estate plan isn’t a simple process – there are so many moving parts, obscure assets, and scenarios to be considered – and this plug-and-play method of creating a quasi-legal document leads many people down the wrong path and gives them a false sense of security.
So, here’s why hiring an estate planning lawyer is a better choice than DIY software:
Attention to detail
When the check engine light in your car comes on, you take it to a mechanic. When your computer starts running slow, you usually call tech support. Every day we seek the opinion and advice of qualified professionals to do things we can’t do ourselves. Why should writing a will be any different?
Over the years, I have heard and read about some cringeworthy moments for folks with a DIY will:
- the man who failed to complete the form accurately and left everything to “[Insert Name Here]”
- the woman who left her fortune to her cat, but not someone to care for the cat (who can’t legally own property or open a bank account)
- the father who didn’t want his drug-addicted son to get a dime but forgot about $400,000 in stock options his son received anyway
- the mother who didn’t specify which of her three children received which heirlooms and, after three years in probate, those items were auctioned off and are no longer in the family
An attorney’s job is to pay attention to the smallest of details, to make sure all the T’s are crossed and the I’s dotted. Your estate planning attorney will also be able to step back and see “the big picture” and help you address issues you haven’t even considered. The DIY software will ask some very specific questions, but it’s limited in how detailed you can get with your will.
Any time I write a contract or a blog (or even an important email), I enlist someone on my staff to proofread it for me, to make sure I haven’t misspelled a name or left out a key detail. I know I’m not perfect and in my haste to meet a deadline or follow a process I might miss a step or make a mistake. Meeting with an attorney one-on-one will help you eliminate a lot of the common mistakes people make with DIY wills.
Some websites like Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer have will-writing software; they also require joining a monthly plan to have a certified lawyer review whatever you create. That’s fine, but I’d caution this move as most states have different estate laws and there’s no guarantee whoever reviews your will is board-certified in your state and is up-to-date on the latest laws (they change frequently). I still think a better option is to meet personally with someone who gets to know you, talks with you, and points out things that are missing from your will.
It’s not as expensive as you think
The same advances in technology and software that makes DIY options so cheap is also available to attorneys and makes their jobs a little easier. Lawyer and journalist Deborah L. Jacobs tells the story about how, in 1997, it cost her and her husband $4,500 to set up living wills, powers-of-attorney, and living trusts after the birth of their son. Today, most lawyers charge a fraction of that to complete that work.
You might save on a DIY will initially, but it could get expensive for your loved ones after you’re gone if they’re left untangling any mess you may have inadvertently made. Money does weird things to people when we least expect it: A surviving spouse moves to withhold part of your inheritance from your adult children, a daughter won’t share with a step-brother because he wasn’t named in the original will, or a son sues his stepmother for a larger piece of the estate. Having a thorough, clear-cut will or estate plan eliminates most of those gray areas, and saves family members from the pain of hurt feelings, vindictive actions, and seeing portions of their inheritance go toward legal fees. Additionally, you’re making the decision who gets what when you pass away, not a judge or a mediator.
Still not convinced you need a lawyer for your will? I suggest calling three estate planning attorneys in your area and asking them about price, service, consultation, etc. (Give me a call at (214) 974-8940 and we’ll schedule a free consultation for you.) Having a legal expert guide you on creating and finalizing your will is one less worry you’ll deal with as you begin writing the next chapter of your life.
ATTORNEY CHRIS PARVIN is Board Certified in Estate Planning & Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Mr. Parvin is the Managing Partner of the Dallas, Texas law firm of Parvin Law Group, P.C. and serves as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Texas A&M University School of Law. Mr. Parvin can be reached by email at [email protected].
Parvin Law Group, P.C. is a Concierge Law Firm in Dallas, Texas with attorneys practicing law in the fields of Estate Planning, Probate, Business Law and Family Law.