I’ll admit, I’m probably one of the few people who find the subject of wills fascinating. A recent study commissioned by Caring.com, found that more than 60% of adults do not have an estate plan, and that number was actually increasing; that is, until recently.
Since the novel coronavirus outbreak, the google search term “getting a will” has seen a dramatic increase. Digital online estate planning platforms have also reported a surge in demand (editor’s note: this article states that an estate plan with an attorney will run you upwards of $10,000, but Sarah Morris Law, LLC offers these services for a fraction of that cost). There’s no doubt that this pandemic has triggered a mass realization that our world can change in an instant.
The importance of estate planning, including wills, choosing agents to help manage our affairs, and medical documents governing end-of-life decisions, is more explicit now than ever before. I, too, have seen an uptick in queries about online will companies. It’s no surprise that people want quicker, more affordable access to this essential service. For some, that may be an appropriate choice, but these DIY programs pose numerous risks.
The vast majority of online plans are made without any attorney oversight, let alone an attorney licensed to practice law or provide legal advice in your state. Laws also differ significantly across the country, and this further magnifies the shortcomings of online providers. Estate plans must be executed in compliance with certain legal rules and formalities, and these too, vary from state to state. Online platforms readily disclose that they cannot provide legal advice for specific situations or complicated legal issues.
These platforms do not clarify, however, that every individual and family is unique. It is the attorney who is responsible for navigating the web of complications that might give rise to specific planning needs; it is the attorney’s role to pinpoint the nuances in your family dynamics; it is the attorney who breaks down and explains the practical implications of each option you might consider including in your plan.
The fact is, there are many scenarios that DIY estate plans can’t account for; for instance, whether to designate the same person(s) as your child’s guardian and the trustee of a trust for your child’s benefit or why you should have a trust included in your will in the first place. The answers to these questions vary.
Perhaps carrying the most weight, an attorney ensures that there is no ambiguity, or even perceived ambiguity, in your intended legacy. It means your heirs won’t have to jump through hoops, guessing what you may have wanted and proving the validity of your documents. An attorney makes sure your estate plan is valid and enforceable. This, in turn, can prevent needless litigation, cost, and family disputes after your death.
That said, one could make the argument that using an online estate planning tool is better than no plan at all. My priority is helping more people understand the cost and benefits of using an attorney with whom you can build a lasting relationship; someone who knows the ins and outs of the law of your state, versus a cookie cutter, online tool.
The Bottom Line
My advice is to put an estate plan in place as soon as possible, especially if you have a child. For more specific recommendations around Covid-19, check out my blog post. Much like purchasing health or home insurance or diversifying your investments, it’s one of the most prudent things you can do with your money; though I understand the decision to do so can trigger the all-too-common financial headache.
Your estate plan is a type of insurance, but for something that will happen with 100% certainty. Much like insurance policies, there are more expensive options and less expensive ones. Oftentimes, the value of the coverage is a product of how much you pay. For instance, you might pay more for a lower deductible; conversely, you might pay less if you’re willing to run the risk of higher costs in the event of an accident. The question is how much risk are you willing to carry when it’s your family’s well-being on the line?