Friday, March 5, 2010

Is LegalZoom Legal?

Irrespective of whether the courts ultimately rule that LegalZoom is engaging in the unauthorized practice of law or not, there is an inherent problem with using LegalZoom or any other do-it-yourself approach to estate planning. As estate planners, we may begin the drafting of a plan with templates, it would be inefficient not to do so. However, at Wiggin & Nourie, the templates we use are the product of decades of varied legal experience and opinion. The templates are constantly updated to ensure that they remain technically correct. Further, there are dozens of templates and a great deal of care is taken in selecting which template to use to lay the groundwork for any client's plan. Once selected, the template is carefully tailored to a client's specifications and the content of the document is explained in detail to the client. Moreover, our client conferences provide us with the ability to develop a relationship with clients and an opportunity to extract information surrounding client finances, goals and family dynamics that are relevant to the drafting process. Finally, once a plan is executed, we ensure that it is safely stored and we continue to follow-up with the client for years to come to ensure that trust funding issues are attended to and that technical modifications and updates continue to be made as necessary. In short, there is a human and professional component to estate planning that should not be discounted.

I think that people generally have a tendency to underestimate the work that goes into the preparation of an estate plan, it requires a great deal more than simply printing off forms. LegalZoom and other such services reinforce the opinion that estate planning may easily be accomplished by generating simple forms, but if you are considering the use of such services, you should look closely at the service provider's disclaimer. You will likely see, as in the case of LegalZoom, that the service provider is not serving as your attorney, does not review the documents you prepare for legal sufficiency and does not guarantee that the documents are correct. Preparing estate planning documents without the benefit of a legal opinion may result in unintended consequences that may be costly to correct in the future. In my experience, the vast majority of clients engage in estate planning to gain a sense of reassurance that their family will be cared for after their death in the manner that the client thinks is most appropriate, to pay for documents to be prepared without receiving the benefit of legal advice may undermine the entire purpose of the planning in the first place.

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