A question that I’m asked a lot is regarding website solutions and whether or not you truly need an attorney to draft your estate plan. In my opinion, 100 percent, you need an attorney to draft your estate plan. I can’t tell you how many times I have reviewed documents prepared by the online services or software solutions, where there are lots of errors, incorrect information, blanks that the client never filled in, and very often, incorrect references to the law.
I have learned of the horrors of a client in California, and their documents contained references to New York law. And the client had no idea. Once their documents were reviewed and pointed out their errors, we had to scrap the old documents and start from scratch. So that client went and spent a couple of hundred dollars for cheap estate plan documents, then came to me later on for a review. All of the documents they had paid for were no good, so they essentially wasted a couple of hundred dollars. I had to tear up everything and do everything all over from the beginning. I had hoped to salvage some of those documents for the client and save him money, but they were full of errors, inconsistencies, and wrong information.
That’s not to say that these software solutions are never the appropriate answer. For example, they are suitable if you do not have a lot of assets. In California, the reference number I like to use is 55,000 because anyone with under 55,000 can get summary probate. Having some sort of will is better than no will.
Therefore if all you can afford is a couple of hundred dollars, and you have to use a website solution or an automated solution, something is better than nothing. But it should definitely be a temporary answer, not a permanent one. The goal should be to have an estate plan attorney later review those documents that you received, and try to salvage what they can while drafting you a good plan. But in my experience, those software-generated documents aren’t very good.