Online wills have become highly advertised as entrepreneurs have sought to position themselves in front of the avalanche of traffic that is generated as the population ages and people, if even reluctantly, begin to think about matters such as estate planning. While I can certainly understand folks wanting a cost-effective, if not free, solution to their estate planning needs, we’re hardly surprised to learn that everything, it seems has its cost. Not uncommonly, it appears that sometimes the freebies or cheap fixes end up being the most expensive.
Unfortunately, sloppy document drafting has proliferated nearly as quickly as cheap online wills software has been cranked out by Indian and Asian freelance programmers for pennies on the dollar. I’m not just talking about self-made estate plans done freehand or with $20 forms bought at the bookstore. Readily-available software makes it very easy for people, including attorneys, to crank out online wills in the form of reams of paper with eloquent verbiage. However, estate planning touches on many areas of law, and confusing, even conflicting, provisions can easily upset a person’s intentions.
Online Wills – One Size Fits All?
First, I want to be sure to applaud the efforts of anyone looking to put together their own will, regardless of whether they are planning to hire an attorney to do so, or else looking to get it done on a budget, such as through online wills. To be fair, and thorough, it’s at least appropriate to point out some of the things you want to be aware of. See, in a number of venues, we deal with universal principles, rules, regulations, laws, and so on. For instance, regulation of the financial industry is a federal-level, nationwide matter. Financial planners in all states are under the same scrutiny. While medicine is licensed at the state level, the reality is that our medical knowledge and sophistication is pretty well standard no matter where you are.
Law is a completely different beast. Laws can be vastly different from one state to the next. For instance, you’ve likely heard about the popularity of states like Delaware for companies, large and small, wanting to incorporate or establish an LLC. The reason for this is that Delaware has very advanced, pro-business legislation that favors free enterprise and, when the chips are down, tends to lean towards the entrepreneur. In short, companies can insulate against frivolous litigation and protect business interests by establishing a nexus to that state. The point is to illustrate how diverse laws can be, and at least highlight a warning that this poses a challenge for providers of online wills to know, understand, account for, and correctly plan around all of the different estate planning laws in each of the states (as well as stay current with the latest developments).
Online Wills – Free To Forum Shop?
I cannot over-emphasize how radically different laws can vary among states, and how important it will be to ensure that any online wills provider you may choose is producing documents that are consistent with your state’s legal requirements. However, the diverse legal landscape can also prompt the astute and sophisticated individual to think about leveraging the diverse laws. This raises the issue of forum shopping, which is basically attempting to choose the laws that dictate your situation. The problem, in the instance of basic estate planning, is that your domicile (or place of intended future physical residence) is pretty important to determining the relevant law. If you’ve lived in a given state for decades, it can be tough to apply the laws of another state to your estate planning goals.
Online Wills And the Unanswered Questions/Missing Provision Conundrum
If you are like most people, you’ll probably find yourself relating to the following. You could have an awareness of certain specific needs. For instance, maybe you want to retire but don’t have a business exit plan for your business? Maybe you are interested in protecting your kids’ inheritance from their questionable spouse? Often, it can be difficult to fully understand the parts of online wills, and so it’s tough to know how well the document meets your needs.
A related issue that arises is that people don’t know what they don’t know. So, while you may be able to understand why online wills might refer to a “Real Property” and “Residuary Estate” section, will you even notice if there is no mention of “Powers of Appointment?” If you’ve decided to use a trust for your family, what will happen if the template you use omits “Revocation & Amendment Provisions?” Do the “Provisions During Grantor’s Lifetime account for your special needs? Is the “Distribution of Assets Upon Grantor’s Death” section consistent with your state’s laws? Plenty to think about, I know.
I hope you found this Online Wills information helpful, and I invite you to pick up my Free Consumer Briefing Advisory Report and complimentary “Audio Sessions” while it’s still available.
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