Being Skeptical of Online Will Websites

Peter E. Iorio      Aug. 14, 2017

As you begin preparation for your estate or will, you may ask yourself why you need a lawyer, when there are so many “self-help” legal websites offering cheap rates. The axiom, “you get what you pay for,” is the answer. While using a website to generate a templated estate plan may be less expensive than hiring a lawyer, the result may not be what you desire. In some cases, the result may not even be legally binding.

I recently reviewed a Will done on a popular self-help website. While the Will technically could be offered for probate, it was not executed in accordance with Pennsylvania probate laws, even though the Decedent had been a resident here for at least 20 years.  The website got a very simple issue wrong—either through user error or a flaw in the program—that could have caused confusion and legal disputes for the Decedent’s heirs in the future.

Preparing a Will online seems pretty simple – over the course of about an hour, customers answer a series of simple questions about their families, assets, beneficiaries, executors, guardians, etc.  The website then uses the customers’ answers to populate the estate planning documents.  Customers enter their credit card information and a basic estate plan is automatically generated.  Easy? Yes. Correct? Maybe, maybe not.

Before going to a website, consider using an estate planning attorney.

  • A website is not an attorney. With a website, you are not getting 1-on-1 service from a licensed attorney who is professionally liable to get it right for you.  One popular website states in its disclaimer: “We are not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm … [and] cannot provide any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms or strategies.”
  • Websites can give you no more than a general understanding of the law. The average customer of a self-help website will not understand the intricacies of Federal Estate Tax law, special needs trusts or other important estate planning issues.
  • Each client situation is unique. A website cannot replace the individualized service you are getting from an attorney who specializes in estate planning.  It all comes down to details.  Who pays death taxes?  Who should be trustee of your grandchild’s trust?  What are the pros and cons of creating a revocable living trust?  A website only goes so far in assisting you and doesn’t help you plan for the future

How confident can you truly be that an automated, self-help website “understands” your issues and produces a product that suits your needs?  The best way to develop an estate plan that accurately reflects your goals is by having an experienced estate planning attorney who knows you and what you want. Contact Peter E. Iorio or one of FLB’s other estate planning attorneys to develop your will and estate plan.


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