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Do it Yourself Estate Planning Documents: A Cautionary Tale

 

Over the last several years, legal services have been developing online as a response to people not wanting to spend money on attorney’s fees. Although people wish to avoid these fees, in some cases, the fees are only a fraction of what would ultimately be paid as a result of incomplete planning.

What these online services offer individuals is what is considered within the legal field as “Boiler Plate” documents which are basic templates of documents that would be suited to fulfill many needs at once. This may sound like an ideal solution to spending money on legal fees, but in reality dealing with the potential consequences of using these documents could be more costly than the fees themselves.

Although the current attorney’s fees may be more than an online fee, it could save both the client and the client’s family in the long run. A judge in Florida best summed up this situation. She stated in a case involving one of these documents prepared by an online service, that an individual could end up “…penny wise and pound-foolish.”

The court further stated:
“I therefore take this opportunity to highlight a cautionary tale of the potential dangers of utilizing pre-printed forms and drafting a will without legal assistance. As this case illustrates, that decision can ultimately result in the frustration of the testator’s intent, in addition to the payment of extensive attorney’s fees – the precise results the testator sought to avoid in the first place.”

In that Florida case, a woman had an online legal document service prepare her estate planning documents. What she did not realize is that the document failed to carry out her wishes the way she intended. In essence, the Will she prepared online distributed only a portion of her property to her intended beneficiaries and the remainder of her estate was left to individuals she did not intend to inherit her property.

This case resulted in both the client and her intended beneficiaries being deprived. The client was deprived because her last wishes were not carried out the way she envisioned and the intended beneficiaries did not receive the intended inheritance and were subject to additional legal fees with litigating the matter.

One analogy that comes to mind is that a person can go online and find out how to perform surgery on oneself, however he most likely would rather have a licensed physician perform the surgery as they are better trained and have the required skill set to evaluate certain situations. Think of an attorney as a legal surgeon. An attorney is able to create the document and fine tune it to the client’s specific needs and desires.

So at what point should someone reconsider being a penny wise and a pound foolish?

 

About the Author

Avatar Peter Moustakis
Peter Moustakis is the Managing Member of Sowerby & Moustakis, PLLC with locations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Peter has received an award related to estate planning, contributed to 2 family law publications and authored the book “Estate Planning and the Modern Family: Old School Meets New School. He is a former President, Vice-President, Secretary Treasurer and Education Coordinator of Business Networking International Commerce Connection in Wayland, MA. He is also the former vice chair of the animal law committee at the Massachusetts Bar Association and served on the New Hampshire Bar Association Ethics Committee. Peter believes that community service is important and has served on the Amherst town Ways and Means Committee for 4 years and was chair of the committee for 2 years.