Monday, October 4, 2010

Random Thoughts about Estate Planning

I read a great quote about estate planning on Matt Homann’s site The (Non)Billable Hour. He quoted Sue DeRoss who stated:

“Everyone gets organized at some point. They just might not be around for it.”

I think a lot about estate planning and especially how to convince people with property and children of the need to have a will. You cannot imagine how difficult it is to get people to focus on this important area. (As an aside, you also would not believe the number of people who start wills and never finish them. I have one file in my office which is over twenty years old.)

The other problem we, as lawyers, are now facing is people who decide to use online “will kit” providers and convincing then that these are not always the best choice.

Now we have a small amount of vindication from The New York Times. Times financial writer Ron Lieber did a survey of the three leading online will providers: Legal Zoom, Legal Writer, and Buildawill. He entered his information in each program, printed all three resulting documents and then took the documents to leading estate planners in New York for a thorough (although admittedly biased) review. Lieber discovered that while each of the documents was generally well-prepared, none of the online services could address the important kinds of questions people really want to ask their attorneys when they are doing estate planning: most often about kids and divorces. Nor could the kits offer any alternatives. Most of all, he found that the online kits do not do a good job of explaining the formalities which need to be observed with the proper execution of a will. The other thing that was remarkable to me was the cost of the online service was not that much less than hiring a lawyer to do the work and to create an individualized document. Most attorneys I know do these services on a flat fee basis, so for a simple will you might be talking about the difference of around $100.

This is not a general diatribe against the online forms business. I just believe that in two (2) important areas especially, wills and divorces (more on that later), it is very important to consult with an attorney to answer questions and prepare the documents.

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