Cyber Monday is a marketing brainchild that always falls on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Started in 2005 by online retailer shop.org., it allows consumers to take advantage of the Black Friday sales without leaving the comfort of their post-Thanksgiving cocoon. Lounging at home while completing your holiday shopping is enticing. Yet don’t get fooled that online products are a good solution for your financial planning or estate planning needs. Here are 4 reasons why purchasing your estate planning documents online instead of using a licensed attorney may ruin your holiday season.
1. One Size Does Not Fit All
Purchasing estate planning documents is not like purchasing a pair of socks. Many online services claim that they can help you create your own Last Will and Testament (“Will”) or Trust by asking a few simple questions. Although these programs can generate seemingly useful legal documents, the software does not ask specific questions tailored to your family’s needs. Additionally, what if you misunderstand the question and input an incorrect answer? Any major pitfalls and errors will only be revealed in the future. Usually at the time when you need your documents the most, such as in case of your incapacity or untimely death. One-size-fits-all planning may lead to a future legal disaster which can be irreparable, or at best, very expensive to fix.
2. Unintended Consequences
While you are inputting information into the online legal software, you may misunderstand exactly what the software is asking. Do you know the implications behind selecting the right personal representative (also called Executor) to distribute your estate after you pass away? What is the difference between beneficiaries and heirs? If you create a Living Trust, do you understand how to properly fund the Trust? Accidentally including one piece of inaccurate information could essentially “undo” the entire document. Without an attorney guiding you through the process, you may not get the outcome you think you are getting.
3. Uncle Sam
State laws, tax laws, and federal laws all apply to estate planning. What will be the legal implications on your estate and your beneficiaries? Will your beneficiaries inherit assets yet be forced to pay a hefty inheritance tax? Will your surviving spouse have to pay taxes right away or can they make an election quickly that may prevent great financial burden? All these answers will not come from the legal software. Additionally, laws are ever-changing. You run the risk of having an estate plan based on outdated laws. If so, your legal documents may no longer be valid. Only a licensed professional such as an estate planning attorney or accountant can provide you with the most current advice during the planning phase.
4. The Probate Mess
Did you know that having a Will is not going to prevent your family from going through the extremely long and difficult probate process? Probate, or probate administration, is a court process that passes ownership of the decedent’s assets to their family or the beneficiaries listed in their Will. If the decedent had a valid Will (under Florida Law), the Will still needs to be admitted to probate court. If the person passed away with no Will, probate administration is necessary to pass assets to the next of kin. The court process needs to be started in the county listed as the last residence on the decedent’s death certificate. If the surviving family lives out of state, they must find a probate attorney that can handle the matter in the decedent’s county. Oftentimes, if the decedent had a Living Trust, the probate process may be avoided altogether. Only an attorney can explain the benefits of a Trust verses a Will and the ensuing probate process. An online software will not explain all the potential ramifications pertaining to the complex probate process.
Although online shopping can make life more efficient, this is not the case when it comes to estate planning. Only an in-depth conversation with your estate planning attorney will reveal the needs that best suit your family. Contact OC Estate and Elder Law at (954) 251-0332 or firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how a free in-person consultation can help save your family heartache and money in the long run.