The first, and most essential, step in estate planning is composing a will. Your last will and testament let you decide who receives your worldly goods once you die. Think of it as the ultimate financial planning document. Failure to leave a will means your estate falls under Maryland’s law of intestate succession, and your property is distributed based on marital and family ties. Not only is writing a will crucial but so is the way you do it. While there are lots of online options for creating a will, they cannot compare to the advice you will receive when hiring a lawyer to draft your will. You could make a huge mistake when drafting a will online, potentially affecting your heirs, and no one will realize that until you are dead. The small amount of money you save by using online software for your will could end up costing your beneficiaries dearly. If a do-it-yourself online will is done incorrectly, intestate succession laws kick in.
Online Software vs. Attorney
Online software is designed to provide cookie cutter documents for those choosing these services. The term “penny wise and pound foolish” comes to mind. Perhaps someone with a cookie cutter life can benefit from an online will, but that’s not most people, whose lives and circumstances are unique. Those who should never consider creating a will without an attorney include:
- Individuals with substantial assets
- Individuals with blended families
- Those with special needs children or other dependents
- Anyone wanting to disinherit a spouse or child
- Those with minor children
- Anyone suspecting a will contest.
One issue is that many people think their estates are relatively small and uncomplicated, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Consumer Reports surveyed the leading online software providers of will and estate planning documents and came to one conclusion: While such services are better than trying to draft such documents alone without legal training, they leave a lot to be desired for anyone who doesn’t intend to leave their entire estate to their spouse. In some cases, the language in these online documents could end up leading to an “unintended result,” a euphemism for an estate planning nightmare.
Among the issues, Consumer Reports found are documents not applicable to the testator’s – the person creating the will – jurisdiction. Sometimes, online documents are outdated or just plain incorrect. Every state has a standard form for estate planning documents such as power of attorney. The downloaded online form may not compare with the standard form, and county clerks may not accept it. It is also important to check the fine print in the online document agreement since the disclaimer states that the companies do not warrant that such documents meet the user’s requirements or that they are accurate. That is not an issue a testator will encounter when visiting a lawyer to draw up a will.
The online company’s agreement usually includes another clause in its fine print, and that is the resolution of any disputes by either arbitration or small claims court – not a regular courtroom. Even if the company has created a lot of bad, error-prone documents, users sign away their rights to a class-action lawsuit.
What an Attorney Provides
By using an attorney for will and estate planning purposes, you receive advice regarding your personal needs. An attorney asks the right questions of the client when putting together a will, and you can ask questions of your own. Laws also change all the time, and an attorney will know the currently applicable law so the client doesn’t make a potentially catastrophic mistake in their will.
When it comes to the law, every word in a document matters. The attorney will create a correctly crafted document, and legally viable in Maryland. Estate planning consists of more than just a will, and here a lawyer can give you advice on creating revocable and other trusts, saving on the estate and inheritance taxes – Maryland has the dubious distinction of the only state imposing both such taxes – health care directives, nursing home planning and more. You worked hard all of your life to accumulate your assets and want to ensure they go to the proper heirs and beneficiaries. The best way to make sure that will and estate planning documents are prepared correctly is to visit a professional.