You can devise your estate plan without lawyers or accountants. All you need is a credit card, a computer, a printer and access to the internet. Armed with those four things, you can create one or more documents that may — or may not — accomplish what you expect.
But you will probably never know. The ultimate success or failure of an estate plan is rarely revealed during the lifetime of the one who created the plan.
You have seen or heard ads touting websites that claim to save you oodles of money by sidestepping your lawyer and designing your estate plan for you. But ask yourself this: why would you trust a website to come up with your estate plan? Your last name may not be Musk or Bezos, and you may not have as much stuff as Elon or Jeff, but everything you own is everything you own. You probably care a great deal about where it goes after you are gone. It most likely also makes a difference to you who will make decisions for you if there is ever a time when you cannot make them for yourself.
You may respond, “You’re a lawyer who makes a living putting together estate plans for clients. Of course, you do not like those legal websites. They cut into your bottom line.” Well, not really. It would be more profitable for the legal profession if you go ahead and do your estate plan online. There is far more money to be made in dealing with screwy estate plans after they go wrong compared to administering them when they’ve been set up correctly.
However, most estate planning lawyers would rather earn a living by helping people create estate plans that work. This is more gratifying than assisting families in crisis trying to make the best of estate plans that missed the mark.
In the real world, computer-driven estate plans rarely work as intended. An effective estate plan involves more than a set of documents — even very well-drawn documents that would stand up in any court in the land, as they say. But why would you want your estate plan to have to stand up in court? Wouldn’t it be better to have an estate plan that will help your family stay out of court?
Bottom line: There is a lot of great information on the internet. There is also a lot of misinformation. Do you have the discernment necessary to sort through it and put your estate plan in order? If not, there is something to be said for working with live professionals instead of an impersonal website that cares more about your credit card authorization than what happens to you, your family and your stuff when you become incapacitated or die.