Currently, there are several online companies hawking do-it-yourself estate planning kits they claim alleviate the need to consult with a qualified estate planning attorney. However, independent consumer watchdog ConsumerReports.org recently tested three of the most prominent do-it-yourself legal programs with less than satisfactory results.
The report found that while all three were better than nothing if you have no will, unless your needs were very simple none of them would likely accomplish your estate planning goals. Among the problems highlighted in the report, testers found outdated information, insufficient customization, products that offered too little—or at times too much—flexibility, incompleteness and a lack of effective tax planning options.
The report, which is available here, tested will drafting products from LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, and Quicken WillMaker Plus. The first two allow you to create a will online; the third is available as either a download or a CD-ROM. Consumer Reports created profiles of individuals from three different families, and then completed the interviews as if they were those individuals, drafting nine wills in all. These wills were then sent to a highly regarded estate planning professor for a comprehensive review.
Testers found it hard to distribute property the way they wanted to, and none of the products explained how to structure trusts to reduce estate-tax liability or could create special-needs trusts or other more complex estate planning tools.
In the end, the report found that the best use of these products was as an educational tool. It recommended that people looking to save time in meeting with an attorney use these products as a practice run, and then call an estate planning attorney.
The bottom line is: you get what you pay for. At the Heritage Law Center, we always offer a flat-fee billing structure so that asking questions doesn’t add to your bill. Call us for a free consultation on how we can help you draft an effective estate plan, and don’t get scammed by cheapo online options that will end up costing you more and causing you headaches down the road.