The Dangers Of Do-It-Yourself Wills & Trusts
We have all seen the advertisements for simple, fast and easy do-it-yourself will or living trust kits. There are also many paralegals who claim they can prepare your documents for a low fee. You may have even seen television commercials for Legalzoom.com, which is heavily marketed. All of these advertisements may leave you with one burning question: Do they work?
One of the main problems with do-it-yourself kits is that you get no personal advice tailored to your needs. It is easy to overlook important legal clauses that could end up costing your beneficiaries thousands in unnecessary taxes or corrective attorney fees. The added difficulties of improperly drafted estate planning documents can also be an emotional burden on your family.
Some of the software and kits walk you through the process, but leave you exposed in many ways. This is why the websites and packaging have legal disclaimers suggesting you consult an attorney.
What is the cost?
There are times when a do-it-yourself kit or paralegal may be appropriate, but often, the cost is equal to or more than what a qualified attorney would charge. We recently did a price comparison with Legalzoom.com to our services. At Cassady Law Offices, we offer our clients a complete will package, including powers of attorney, for a flat fee of $99. We also offer a revocable living trust plan for only $995. There are no hidden costs or fees.
On its website, LegalZoom.com estimates that an attorney would charge $2,704 to $3,704 for a living trust package, depending on complexity. Here are LegalZoom.com’s will and living trust prices for a joint trust with two quitclaim deeds as of Oct. 12, 2009:
- Vault trust package (no powers of attorney): $1,009.95
- Gold trust package (no powers of attorney): $968.95
- Standard trust package (no powers of attorney): $888.95
- Standard will package (no powers of attorney): $69
None of these packages includes powers of attorney! You do not meet with a Nevada licensed attorney and you must fill the information out online and rely on standardized information for help. You also must find your own witnesses.
When is it a bad idea to use a do-it-yourself kit?
The simple answer to that is you should always hire an attorney if you can, especially when the fees are comparable. The following is a list of some situations where it would be unwise to use a do-it-yourself kit:
- You are married with children from a prior marriage.
- You are a property owner.
- You want to disinherit a child.
- You have a disabled child or beneficiary with special needs.
- You have minor children.
- You have financially irresponsible beneficiaries.
- You are a business owner.
- Your estate is taxable (at its current value or possible future value).
- You would like to include creditor protection for your beneficiaries.
- You are in a domestic partnership.
The Execution Is What Matters
Even the simplest will or trust can be invalid if the rules are not followed. A will or trust is not valid if it is not properly executed and witnessed according to Nevada law. You also must be careful who serves as a witness. A will or trust can be invalid if an interested party is used as a witness. We provide two disinterested witnesses for you at no additional cost. We also provide a bonded notary public.
You must also use caution when storing your will. Under Nevada law, a testator’s will is presumed to be revoked if the original cannot be produced. At Cassady Law Offices, P.C., we store your original will in a fire-proof safe located in our office at no cost to you. This protects the will from being lost, stolen, tampered with or destroyed by fire. This service is optional, but highly recommended to safeguard your testamentary document.
Do-it-yourself wills and trusts can be more susceptible to will and trust contests than professionally drafted documents. When you use a do-it-yourself kit, no one has reviewed it for accuracy and validity. You also do not get the benefit of a licensed professional verifying your capacity to sign the documents. One of the most popular ways to contest a will or trust is to allege that the person signing it had no capacity or was subjected to undue influence. When you use the services of a licensed attorney, you will have documents that are valid and accurate. Your capacity to execute the documents will also be verified. While this is no guarantee that a will or trust contest will not be initiated, the service certainly adds an extra layer of protection to the process.
Tax planning can be complex. Attorneys who specialize in tax planning must go through an extra year of legal schooling to receive a master of laws in taxation designation. Jasen E. Cassady, Esq., has earned a master of laws in taxation from one of the top programs in the United States, as well as the certified financial planner designation. The average person does not know how much money he or she will eventually pass at death and they need sound advice. There are many nuances that do-it-yourself kits are simply not designed to handle. Other transfer methods such as 401(k), IRA and life insurance beneficiary designations can equal trouble for your beneficiaries without proper planning. Mistakes in a do-it-yourself kit could cost your heirs far more in the future.
Does it make sense to do it yourself or hire a paralegal when you can get a licensed attorney for less or equal to the same price? Let our family help you protect yours.