11 Aug The Risk of Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning

By Jacqueline Ferris MacLaren, Esq.

If you have not used Legal Zoom, I suspect you have at least heard of it.  Legal Zoom is the leading legal service web site on the internet.  Among its legal services, Legal Zoom provides do-it-yourself estate planning.  However, Legal Zoom and other do-it-yourself estate planning web sites are not law firms and therefore do not give legal advice, draw legal conclusions or apply the law to your particular situation.  These web sites only prepare form documents with information you supply online.  Everyone’s situation is unique and using this type of form planning will fall short at a time when it will be too late to correct.

These DIY estate planning sites advertise themselves as a cheaper alternative to hiring a lawyer to prepare your estate plan.  Unfortunately, by forgoing professional legal advice, the documents you are supplied with often fall short of being effective in Ohio and do not necessarily convey your intentions.  As a result, serious mistakes are made that you may never know of because they will not become apparent until after you die.  Those left to deal with your mistake will be your family and those you intended to protect.  As a result of making one simple mistake, the money you save by not consulting a lawyer, actually may cost you and your family more in the long run.

At first glance, Legal Zoom looks like it will provide you with state-specific advice regarding an Ohio Will.  However, I have seen many of these Wills that were not executed properly and did not distribute the assets pursuant to the client’s intentions.  On more than one occasion, individuals were advised by Legal Zoom to take their Wills to a bank to be notarized.  The most glaring of all mistakes with this is that a Will is not properly executed by being notarized in Ohio.  Under Ohio law, a Will must be signed and witnessed by two persons.  The other problem with this instruction from Legal Zoom is that many banks these days will not notarize a Will for liability purposes.  If a Will in Ohio is not properly executed pursuant to current Ohio law, it will not be accepted by a probate judge as your Last Will and Testament.  If your Will is not able to be probated, and you have a minor child, this could have devastating results.  Without a Will, your child’s future may no longer be in the hands of your family or trusted friend, but under the control of a probate judge.  The key question becomes, if Legal Zoom and these other DIY web sites have missed the mark on how to execute an Ohio Will, what else have they missed?

All users of Legal Zoom must remember that these DIY web sites do not provide legal advice.  In fact, Legal Zoom specifically state that in its disclaimer.  These web sites do not review the answers you provide to their questions for legal sufficiency, draw legal conclusions or provide legal advice or apply the law of each state to the facts of your particular situation. It is for these reasons that Legal Zoom and the other DIY web sites are a risky way to do your estate planning.

As discussed above, the documents you create on these DIY web sites could be completely ineffective.  Individuals who use these web sites end up with a false sense of security by creating documents they believe will address their estate planning needs.  Unlike Legal Zoom, an attorney will consider the facts to your particular situation and advise you based upon the correct Ohio law.  Legal Zoom does not provide that.  Legal Zoom simply fills in a form that was prepared by a non-attorney in California.  Attorneys don’t simply fill in forms.  Rather, an estate planning attorney uses legal knowledge to advise you on the best way to protect your family, preserve your assets and distribute your possessions based upon your manner you choose.  Though the advice of an attorney may cost a few dollars more, you will have the peace of mind knowing that you are not risking your family thousands after your death.