Cyber Monday is a marketing brainchild started in 2005 by online retailer shop.org, and a holiday that always falls on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Some may argue that it has become as much of an American tradition as Thanksgiving itself. We are certainly not nay-sayers of bargain hunting, but we are here to advise you that online solutions should not be the solution to your legal needs.
Cyber Monday 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 5 reasons why purchasing your estate planning documents online instead of using a licensed attorney may ruin your holiday season.
- 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 Revocable 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Guardianship Mess
Beware of the common pitfall of listing your minor children (those under 18 years of age in Florida) as a beneficiary in your Will. There is a law in Florida that makes it extremely difficult for a minor to inherit anything in excess of $15,000. The best way to pass inheritance onto minor children is through a Revocable Trust. Additionally, it is never advised to add minor children onto financial accounts, title to real estate, or as beneficiaries to financial accounts.
This is because if a minor child experiences the loss of a parent, and is entitled to receive an inheritance, Florida law governs how this inheritance will be managed until the child turns 18. This is through a court process called “guardianship.” Inheritance includes real estate, proceeds in a bank account, life insurance proceeds, stocks, CDs, cash in a safety deposit box/vault, or any other investments. When a child is set to inherit anything in excess of $15,000, a court must appoint a legal guardian to manage the minor child’s inheritance and to safeguard the minor’s interests. The process takes time, involves court expenses, and requires an attorney. All these fees usually come out of the inheritance. Note that although the surviving parent is considered a “natural” guardian, only a court can appoint them as a “legal” guardian. A way around the guardianship process involves creating a Trust through an estate planning attorney.
- Uncle Sam – Last but not Least
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 or laws from another state. Only a licensed professional such as an estate planning attorney or accountant can provide you with the most current tax advice during the planning phase.
No one denies that online retail has automated the world of shopping in a way no one could have imaged. But certain services can’t be bought with a few clicks of a mouse. Purchasing online legal documents is not an efficient process unless done under the supervision of a licensed experienced attorney. Only an in-depth conversation with your estate planning attorney will reveal the specific needs that best suit your family. Contact OC Estate and Elder Law at (954) 251-0332 or firstname.lastname@example.org for affordable and honest legal advice catered to your particular situation. Our attorneys are fluent in English, Spanish and Russian.