People often find that writing a will is more of an emotional problem than a legal problem. For many, the will is really quite simple, but the reality of confronting your own mortality gets in the way. It is just not a pleasant topic for discussion.
We understand this reality, and we try to make it as easy as possible. We have a form that we ask that you complete, listing your assets and telling us what you want done with your property. We then draft a will that does what you want, and e-mail it to you for your review. We can then discuss it, either by e-mail or phone, and rework it until it says what you want it to say. When it is right, and only when it is right, we’ll have you sign it. Note — if you have or expect to have less than $5 million in your estate, there are not likely to be any Estate Tax consequences; if you expect to have more than $5 million in your estate, we will direct you to someone with particular expertise in Estate Tax Planning. Most of our clients do not have Estate Tax consequences.
If you have minor children, you will probably want to put your assets in trust for them if there is no surviving parent. If you have a child who has special needs, we can prepare a special needs trust.
Along with the will for you and your spouse, we will prepare advance medical directives and, if you want them, powers of attorney. When we write wills, we charge by the hour, and in most cases we can do what you need done in less than 2 hours of work. Obviously, if you have unique circumstances, or — let’s be blunt here — you go back and forth and can’t make up your mind, it may take more time than that. But for the simple wills that 99% of people need, 2 hours of attorney time may be all that is needed to give you and your family the knowledge that their future is protected.
And what about LegalZoom and some of the other software packages that are available for less than $100? We have looked at some of them, and the documents that they produce. From just the document assembly side, if the client does it right, the wills are perfectly legal, and they will probably accomplish what the client wants. There are two problems.
I have seen wills created using LegalZoom where I have no idea how the client managed to produce the will that he produced — he had left out some big pieces of the will. The part that he had included was in fact the part that told everyone what he wanted to do, but he had NOT included some important language. For example, virtually all wills give the Executor the power to sell real estate. There are important reasons for this, that lawyers have learned over the years. If you are putting together your own will, you may not realize the importance of such mundane language.
Another problem with wills from the computer is that if you want something a little different from what LegalZoom thought you meant, will you notice that? The program won’t. I am a do-it-yourselfer; I used to do my own tune-ups and oil changes. I still do my own oil changes, but I couldn’t possibly do myown tune-ups anymore. I don’t even recognize some of the things under the hood these days. If I tried to do my own car maintenance, I don’t think I would even know if I had messed up something. Or in making a website — I used to be a computer programmer before I went to law school, and I am not intimidated by computers and geek speak. But I decided to hire a pro to put together this website, because I didn’t want to spend hours thrashing around, hoping that I have figured it all out.
I have the same concern with LegalZoom. It may do what you want, but will you know that you got it right? The test comes after you’re dead, when you can’t fix it if it is wrong.
Call us at 434-293-8185 to talk about how we can help you.