A friend of mine who happens to be a financial advisor recently told me about some of her clients who need estate planning. They’re a married couple with three kids and a few pieces of rental real estate. My friend mentioned the importance of estate planning and so they responded, “Great! We’ll look at LegalZoom!” My friend wasn’t sure how to respond, so she asked me.
I have to admit that when I’m asked about DIY planning options it’s hard not to come across as glib and self-serving. But the question I often have in response is, How does someone know what they really need? Do they need a will? (Probably not the best choice.) Do they need a trust? Maybe. But what kind of trust? Do they know how it works? Do they know what it can and can’t do? Do they know what property to put into the trust and how to do it? Do they know that there’s some property that they shouldn’t put in the trust? What state law should apply to the trust? Do they know they have options?
While some online or DIY services provide some “attorney review,” they don’t provide any real level of involvement with the person and they don’t have the expertise of decades of focused practice. These models treat estate planning as a one-time transaction. You need it, you go buy it, and then you check it off your list, forget about it, and go do something more fun.
But life doesn’t stop there. People change. Their families grow. The law changes. (A lot!) Estate plans need to be dynamic, able to adapt and adjust as life unfolds. Much like the financial advisor or accountant relationship, the estate planning attorney-client relationship should be active and involved. Otherwise, what confidence is there that the plan will actually work as intended when it matters the most?
Will the anonymous online service be there for the surviving spouse when the other one is gone? Will they be there for the kids? Are they a neighbor whose reputation is invested in the success of their plan? Online and DIY kits fail all these tests.
People use financial advisors because they want strategic guidance with their investments. They use accountants because taxes can be confusing. In the same way, smart people use estate planning attorneys because the law is confusing and because the consequences of getting a plan wrong can have bad repercussions for generations to come.
We like for our clients to talk to us. In fact, the more they talk to us, the more likely we are to create a strategic plan that works for them when it matters the most. Financial advisors like my friend help people build wealth. Their accountant helps them be smart and efficient with it. We help them keep it and ultimately pass it on to the people they care the most about in the most protective and responsible ways possible.
Online services and DIY just can’t do that.