You Wouldn’t Take Out Your Own Appendix – Why Are You Drafting Your Own Estate Planning Documents?01 Aug 2009, by Estate Planning in
Featured in Cherry Creek Living Magazine – Volume 1, Issue 5
As Americans continue to face challenges in this economy, we are increasingly becoming a do-it-yourself society. People are looking to do all of their own work to save money and avoid paying experienced, licensed professionals for services many believe they can more inexpensively provide for themselves. As this trend continues, more and more people are being driven to the Internet for services and “forms” that purport to be authentic, legally sufficient, and in some cases – FREE. Beware; you can create a great disservice for both yourself and your family by wasting time and money on Internet services and products that are often legally invalid. Worse yet, there are now inexpensive, “valid” legal forms on the Internet that are purportedly prepared for you by experienced attorneys, former judges and even law school professors. All you have to do – type in the answers to a few simple questions.
Sounds great, right? Here’s the bad news – many of these inexpensive forms turn out to be legally “valid” but turn out not to be when read in conjunction with the laws of your specific state. The documents may reflect only part of your wishes, or even worse, the documents express exactly the opposite of what you intend or desire. How does that happen? Those experienced attorneys, former judges and law school professors who are supposedly drafting your documents are not actually drafting your documents. More commonly, your documents are being created from pre-set forms filled-in by clerks, law students, paralegals and administrators. Due to the sheer volume of documents being sent out by those services, there is no possible way every document can be drafted, analyzed and reviewed by an experienced, licensed, attorney in your state of residence. Many of the Internet sites provide documents that are not even prepared or reviewed by a live person. They are simply automated forms that are spit back to you without any human review for validity and errors. Many of these “forms” require you to fill in a few simple blanks on the form with no understanding of your specific needs.
Estate planning documents that, at the very least, grant powers and authority to specific individuals, express end of life decisions and distribute assets to beneficiaries are not the types of documents and issues that can be made into “cookie cutter” style forms. There is not a one size fits all; every situation is different. It is critical to talk to an experienced, licensed, professional face to face regarding your wishes, desires and decisions.
Many think that some of the simplest legal documents to prepare are Powers of Attorney and Living Wills. How hard can those documents be to get right? After all, they’re basically forms, right? I can do that myself! It doesn’t matter where I live, any attorney providing those services over the Internet can properly draft those documents…right? WRONG. A client recently relayed a horrifying revelation about a living will prepared by a popular Internet service. It was incorrectly drafted and would have forced the doctors to indefinitely sustain a brain dead person on life support despite that person’s wishes to not be artificially sustained for more than seven days. Luckily, the error was caught by a licensed professional before the family was dropped into that terrifying situation. Another client requested a review of powers of attorney, again prepared through a popular Internet site, because they were not being honored by the very financial institutions for which the person granted Power of Attorney. Those Powers of Attorney were drafted incorrectly and required a determination by the Court regarding the person’s capacity before the documents would be valid. Due to this glaring error, that family was forced to incur huge Court costs to obtain a necessary order from the Court for the documents to even be honored. That is an error that is completely avoidable, a mistake that should never have happened and a substantial cost that could have been prevented.
Here’s the bottom line…while you might research a complex illness or disease on the Internet to gain knowledge and power in your specific situation, you certainly would not decide on the proper course of treatment for your illness without consulting, in person, a skilled and respected physician. More colorfully, you certainly wouldn’t perform surgery on yourself with the help of someone on the Internet who claims to be a doctor. So, why would you attempt to draft your own legal documents; most especially, those documents that can affect you and your family in important life and death decisions?