Every now and then a younger family comes into the office with a will that they did online. They want to know if the Will they prepared with a self-help service accomplishes their objectives. Often times, their situations are very simple and other times they are not. Regardless, upon review with the client we find that the documents almost always fall short of achieving what they set out to achieve.
Notice that I emphasized what they want to achieve...not what I want them to achieve. I think that this is an important distinction, because estate planning has nothing to do with my personal or subjective opinions.
I tell everyone the same thing, the key to estate planning is that it is all about you! I can go through estate planning issues all day long given your financial and personal circumstances, but if you are concerned about the issues that we discuss then they aren't problems that I am going to solve...right?
So, back to the topic at hand. Why don't these services work? The answer is simple, boilerplate documents are often plagued by a couple of MAJOR problems:
1) lack of specificity regarding State issues - most States have a lot more to say about about a Will that is subject to that States' laws than the Federal government (assuming you don't have a taxable estate for Federal estate tax purposes).
Often times, the boilerplate language which is simply meant to bolster the intent of the person creating the Will is inconsistent with what we know will work given State law. The experts in State law are often the competitors of the document preparation services (i.e. the competitors are actual estate planning attorneys), so it is highly unlikely that the preparation services will get much better when it comes to State law issues in the future.
2) old or outdated information - the only way to ensure that your will complies with the law is to have a qualifies attorney review it. What most folks don't realize is that law is constantly being interpreted in court cases. Thus, what we can do today in our legal documents is not necessarily what we can do tomorrow. The provisions that are in your Will that allow your executor to perform their responsibilities and fulfill your intent (sometimes call administrative provisions) can be affected by court decisions in your State. Unless someone is consistently monitoring these decisions, it is impossible to be sure that the administrative provisions in your documents will actually work. When they don't work, your "simple" situation becomes not-so-simple.
There are other issues that can come up, and maybe I will write on those at a different time, but for now I hope that this gives you a little more insight into why you should avoid these "self-help" services. If you have a will that was prepared by one of these services and would like to have it reviewed, call us to set up a consultation. We are a Connecticut law firm, and you can get our contact information on our website here.