You have seen the commercials. You have heard the radio ads. But before you go to a website to have your estate plan constructed by a computer program, be sure to ask yourself this:
You may not have as large an estate as Mr. Fancyshmancylawyer or Mr. Radiobucks, but everything you own is everything you own, and it probably makes a difference to you whether it goes where you want it to go after you’re gone. It probably also makes a difference to you who will make decisions on your behalf if there is ever a time when you can’t make them yourself. Do you want your hand-picked decision-maker talking with your doctor as you lay there unable to speak, or are you willing to leave it to chance as to who steps up to the plate?
You may respond, “You’re a lawyer who makes his living putting together estate plans for clients … of course you don’t like those legal websites. They cut into your bottom line.” Well, not really.
A growing portion of my practice involves fixing estate plans prepared over the Internet. The problem with computer-driven estate plans is that in the real world, more often than not, they don’t work. An effective estate plan involves far more than a set of documents, even very well drawn documents that would stand up in any court in the land. For one thing, wouldn’t it be better to have an estate plan that will help you and your family stay out of court altogether? Going to court is not the end of the world, but it can be a royal pain. Most lawyers and judges are good, decent people. But does that mean that your estate plan should provide them with profitable employment? A much better approach is getting your plan right the first time, and then making sure that it continues to work according to your wishes in light of changes in your health, your stuff, the law, and the list of people you trust. If you can accomplish these things without court supervision, you will have reached estate planning nirvana.
Bottom line: There is a lot of really good information on the Internet. There is also a lot of misinformation. Do you have the training and background to tell one from the other when it comes to putting your estate plan in order? If so, knock yourself out. If not, there is something to be said for working with a live professional instead of an impersonal website that cares more about your credit card authorization than about what happens to you and your stuff.
Scott Makuakane, Counselor at Law
Focusing exclusively on estate planning and trust law.
Watch Scott’s TV show, Malama Kupuna
Sundays at 8:30 p.m. on KWHE, Oceanic channel 11