The question I get about online Wills (or do-it-yourself kits often purchased at office supply stores) is whether they are “valid.” I cannot answer the question in a global fashion. It is certainly possible to have a technically “valid” Will without using an attorney. It is also possible that the document will fail as a Will for a variety of reasons. In that case you will die intestate which is not a good idea. (See The 5 Most Important Reasons to Have a Will). Without reviewing the completed document, however, I cannot determine whether any Will is “valid.” As important as whether the Will is valid is whether it is a good Will. Does it accomplish your goals? Does it protect your family and loved ones? Does it ease their burden after your passing?
When someone hires an attorney to draft a Will, they are not paying for a document. They are paying for legal advice and counsel. They are paying for the collaborative process by which the client and attorney together create the Will. The attorney listens as the client describes his or her concerns and wishes. The attorney asks the right questions fleshing out the subtleties of the client’s particular situation. The attorney identifies pitfalls. The attorney describes alternative ways to accomplish the client’s goals. The attorney illustrates the pros and cons of different options. Only at the conclusion of this process does the attorney actually draft a document. The service being purchased is this process - the result of the process is the Will.
When you use an online legal document service or buy a do-it-yourself kit, you do not get the advice or counsel, you do not get the process involved in creating a good Will. You get only the document itself. The online legal document service and the do-it-yourself kit are not attorneys. Anyone considering using these one of these services should investigate them thoroughly, paying particular attention to their disclaimers.
For instance, I reviewed the disclaimer for one such online legal document service: LegalZoom. (LegalZoom Disclaimer) The LegalZoom disclaimer warns:
- LegalZoom “is not a law firm”
- LegalZoom “is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney”
- LegalZoom does not “review your answers for legal sufficiency, draw legal conclusions, provide legal advice or apply the law to the facts of your particular situation”
- “The legal information on this site is not legal advice and is not guaranteed to be correct, complete, or up-to-date”
As an attorney, if I gave this disclaimer to prospective new clients they would turn right around and walk right out the door! It is important to understand that when using these services you are acting on your own, as your own attorney. I’m sure you have heard the adage: a person who represents himself has a fool for a client.
LegalZoom sums it up best with the final sentence of their disclaimer: “[i]n short, your use of this site is at your own risk.” (Emphasis supplied).
In reality, it is probably not at your risk since you will be deceased by the time any legal errors are discovered. It’s really at the risk of
your family and loved ones.