Lawyers hear it all the time. “Why would I pay $1000 for a will when I can buy that software and get it done for $125?” This is a classic case of being “penny-wise and pound-foolish”.
First of all, make no mistake about it, you enter names and the word-processing software simply inserts them into its templates. It’s impossible to customize the documents beyond filling in the blanks on the form.
Second, the software will not take into account:
1. Whether or not your assets will be subject to state or federal estate taxes.
2. Specific issues and planning methods for people subject to estate taxes. Only an attorney or accountant can explain and help plan these.
3. Handling assets for a person with special needs. Giving them money through the estate will jeopardize that person’s government benefits, but leaving them nothing will make them totally dependent on welfare programs.
4. What to consider in selecting the people that will administer your estate, or raise your children.
Finally, the software will not explain to you in proper detail the choices you are making. What is the difference between a power-of-attorney, executor and trustee? Should the trustee and guardians be the same people? Is a corporate trustee or executor something to consider? How do the estate planning choices I make affect the probate process? If you use a software program, these are questions you will be left to research yourself and, of course, if it’s on the internet, it must be true, right?
A will is the most important legal document that you will draft in your lifetime. Trusting that to a limited, word template processing system is a huge mistake. The mess they create will fall to your family after you pass away, often at a cost far exceeding a lawyer’s fees. Talk to an attorney who has experience in estate planning, and you will actually be doing “planning”.