I received a question last week that quite frankly I get all the time so I wanted to post it on my blog. Here’s the question (which is a GREAT one by the way) and my response below.
Question: “Darlynn-I have some folks that want to know why the Trust software that is available is not adequate in lieu of an attorney created document. How would you respond to this? Thanks- Chris”
Answer: There is a private joke in the legal field that attorneys just LOVE online trust drafting software available through places like Legal Zoom because it’s great for business.
Because online documents are so easy to mess up that people wind up paying double and even triple the price to hire a lawyer to clean up the mess after their documents FAIL when their family needs them the most.
It may sound extreme, but the truth of the matter is that creating your own legal documents often provides a false sense of security and a key breach is only discovered when it’s too late to do anything about it.
As a colleague of mine always says, it’s kind of like if you built your own house during the summer when the weather was really good and you thought you knew what you were doing, but unknowingly overlooked a key element like putting waterproof felt between the sheeting and the shingles (who would know that, I thought you’d just put the shingles right on the wood!).
You might not find out right away that you had overlooked this important item, but a couple years later the sheeting would start to rot away and by the third winter you’d have rain and snow in your house and by the time you figured out what you had done wrong, it’d be too late to do anything about it.
It’s the same with do it yourself estate planning, really.
It’s very rare that a do-it-yourself trust will meet the unique needs of your family. And, a trust might not even be the legal tool you really need to accomplish your estate planning goals! What you really need is guidance as to how you can best protect your family– which is something you will never receive when using online trust-drafting software.
Not to mention, it only takes a teeny tiny mistake or oversight to make your trust absolutely worthless in the eyes of the law. Something like not titling the ownership of your house properly. Or, not signing the bylaws for your corporation. Or not issuing the share certificates. Or, not signing your Will properly. Something that seems dumb, but is super easy to miss. Even for lawyers.
For that reason, I really encourage families to do their homework before settling on trust-drafting software (especially if your only reason for doing so is price!). In fact, I would encourage you to steer clear of trust-drafting software all together if you fall into one of the following four categories:
- You own more than just personal belongings, such as cars, clothing, jewelry, furnishings, etc.
- You want to ensure the people you love will have a trusted advisor to turn to for guidance when you are gone.
- Your goal is to avoid probate, estate taxes or protect your children’s inheritance.
- You want to GUARANTEE your plan will work when your family needs it!
So I hope that answers any questions about why a trust document is not adequate in lieu of an attorney-drafted document.
I am the first person to tell people when they can save money by printing out a legal document online (for example, a HIPAA form, which you can find here). But a trust is NOT one of those documents. This planning tool is extremely complex and people that truly need a trust to protect their assets have far too much at stake to not spend the extra money and do it right the first time.
If you have further questions about this or now have concerns that your DIY documents could fail when your family needs them the most, please feel free to call our office and schedule a complimentary Family Wealth Planning Session (normally $750) with the mention of this article. Reserve your space now by calling (949) 260-1400 (limited to 10 spaces per month).