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LegalShield. LegalZoom. Willing.com. The list of online and do-it-yourself legal providers is long and keeps on growing.  While these options may make the legal world more accessible, are they the best option?  Can they help you with your estate planning needs?  These companies try to break estate planning down to just forms, and isn’t that all that attorneys do anyway?


Estate planners know that do-it-yourself forms are risky and even dangerous options.  Attorneys make more money cleaning up a do-it-yourself estate plan mess than drafting a plan that will work correctly from the outset.

  • Completing a form is easy, but small mistakes can have massive complications, and these only arise after you have died or have become incapacitated.  An attorney’s legal knowledge and practical experience helps identify these problems and prevent them from finding their way into your estate plan documents.
  • After you are gone, your documents are all that is left to express your wishes.  Improper, vague, and incorrect instructions lead to chaos, confusion, disappointment, and costs.  Your loved ones may have to spend more money to figure out your wishes than a proper estate plan.

The results of do-it-yourself estate planning is too often tragic.  Individuals accidentally disinherit children, give their assets to an addict child with no restrictions, children left without a named guardian to raise them, or their documents do not do anything.

In the end, it is always better to pay a little bit more during the planning stage than your loved ones paying a lot more in cash and pain after you are gone.

8 Factors Those Contemplating the Do-It-Yourself Route Should Consider

1. Legal Expertise

Experienced estate planning attorneys know how to take your unique situation and goals and mold them so they are legally effective and still reflect your wishes.  No attorney truly starts from scratch, but that does not take away from that individualization process.  Estate planning laws are state-specific, so an attorney in your state can help you follow those laws.  If your estate plan goes against the law, the law will win and strike out at least that part of your plan, if not all of it.

2. Counseling

Estate planning attorney may not “see it all,” but they come close.  We interact with families and couples on a daily basis, and so we are positioned to counsel with you on the possible ramifications of your decisions, both for the good and the bad.  Some of these decisions include naming a guardian for your children, caring for an elderly parent, how to treat your different kids fairly but personally, how to deal with taxes or creditors, and other situations.  My favorite part of being an attorney is counseling, because that is the way that individuals and families arrive at the best solution for them.

3. Explanation of Intentions

If, after you are gone, your loved ones are confused about your wishes and goals, your attorney can be there to help.  Your attorney does not gain anything from a certain interpretation of your wishes, so that objective insight can help avoid litigation among your loved ones and help provide clarity and closure.

4. Coordination of Assets

Did you know that a will does not control all your assets?  Different property behaves differently while being passed on, and an attorney can help you create a comprehensive estate plan that correctly and efficiently coordinate all these different properties in the correct way.

5. Tax Planning

Taxes are a part of life, and post-death is no exception.  Your estate plan should take into account state and federal estate taxes, income tax, capital gains tax, and other possible taxes.  An estate planning attorney is familiar with these different taxes and can help you minimize your taxes.

6. Unmarried Couples

Being married creates certain legal advantages, one of which helps the surviving spouse inherit the deceased spouse’s property.  Not being married means that if you want your partner to inherit your property, you have to create an estate plan for them to get anything.  An attorney can help you navigate this complex legal and relationship situation to help you take care of all your loved ones.

7. Complexity and Cost

Many people believe that they do not need a complex plan, not realize that their lives are indeed very complex.  A complex life requires a personalized plan.  This requires many different decisions, and they can quickly become overwhelming.  An estate planning attorney can help you understand these many decisions and make everything work from the beginning.  It may cost more money than a do-it-yourself service, but in the long run, your estate plan will work better and end up being cheaper.

8. Privacy

The attorney-client relationship is protected by strong privacy and confidentiality laws.  Your attorney may not communicate your goals, wishes, or criticisms of others to anyone.  Do-it-yourself services do not have this kind of relationship, so others may learn of these issues.  People’s lives are complicated and messy, and an estate planning attorney can protect you.

Final Thoughts

Too often, a do-it-yourself estate plan is worse than no plan at all, but do not feel overwhelmed.  Only your attorney represents you and does what is in your best interests, and an online or do-it-yourself company does not do that

Family always comes first, and working with an attorney is the best way to protect your family.