Wills and Trusts – In the Box or Off the Web

I am often asked what I think about Wills and other estate planning documents purchased from websites. The best analogy I can make is that a Will from a website is like a wedding dress from Walmart. They are mass-produced, so there is a good chance it won’t fit well somewhere or not be well made. You are only going to use this thing one time. It better fit perfectly and it better not fall apart and expose your assets. You don’t get a do-over if it falls apart.
I have had many clients come with downloaded documents in hand. Without exception, these documents missed some cost-saving benefits offered under Georgia law. The website may say you are getting a Georgia Will, but that does not mean you are getting a Will that fully takes advantage of the sometimes quirky Georgia law of Wills and Probate. For example, there is an election under Georgia law that can be a huge benefit to spouses and some children. Depending on your family, this election could completely upset your plan or could be a huge benefit to your family. Either way, it should be addressed in your Will. If it isn’t addressed, then it could result in some of your loved ones being left with a lot less than you intended.
Online documents also often fail to address some of the burdens on the executor that can be waived under Georgia law. There are standard rules that apply to probate, but you can change some of them under your Will. However, the decision to change them should be thoughtful, not automatic. The most costly example is the posting of a bond for your executor. Waiving a bond can save money or cost money depending on your specific situation. Unfortunately, websites that offer downloadable Wills and Trusts cannot look at your specific family situation and advise you on whether waiving a bond will cost or save your family money.
I can certainly understand the motivations of people who shop online for estate planning documents. I believe there are two. First, everyone wants a simple way to save money. I am a devoted DIY nut myself. However, when you contemplate a do-it-yourself project, you must always ask yourself, “If I screw this up, can it be fixed and will the cost to fix it far outweigh the potential savings?” Second, estate planning with an attorney can seem scary. You have to visit an attorney. If that wasn’t scary enough, the attorney wants to talk to you about death and then give you a bill! Not all attorneys are scary. There are many sensitive and caring estate planning attorneys. If you run into one that isn’t, move on. And, keep in mind, visiting the attorney should keep everyone out of court (a place much scarier than my office). You can often find attorneys who will consult with you at no charge. This will help you find the one who makes you comfortable. Your attorney should be a good listener,  and should be someone you are comfortable opening up to. A sense or relief after the meeting with him or her is a very good sign. Of course, there is still the matter of the bill. A good plan should save you more than it costs. A good attorney should be able to show you the savings and explain it to you in plain English.

Dawn R. Levine – Attorney at Law – Marietta, GA


By Published On: April 7, 2010

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