Lawyer up, or download?
June 28, 2011 11:07 AM   Subscribe

Our local credit union offers an estate planning program for a good price ($350 for a couple) which includes will, durable POA, healthcare POA, living will and HIPPA authorization. I want to do this. We have 2 children. My husband thinks we can save $ by downloading forms off the internet and getting them notarized. But I believe getting the package done at the credit union (prepared by a lawyer) is a better idea. Isn't it?

If so, why?
posted by kirst27 to Work & Money (15 answers total)
If you get it wrong, you're not going to be able to zombie your way out of the grave to explain to the probate court that "no, actually that wasn't *quite* what I meant"
posted by atrazine at 11:13 AM on June 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

Estates and the laws surrounding them are very complex. This is something you want a lawyer to review, if for no reason other than the sanity of whoever is due to inherit your assets and be the executor of your estate.

Downloading forms off the internet sounds nice, but, really, you need a lawyer. And, frankly, $350 is extremely cheap.
posted by dfriedman at 11:15 AM on June 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Well, $350 is cheap for where I live. It may be a standard price elsewhere. But it doesn't seem like a lot to spend for peace of mind in the future.
posted by dfriedman at 11:16 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

You may want to spend some time examining the difference between (revokable living) trusts and wills and decide if a will or a trust is what you want.

That said, the cost for will/POA/LW etc is a good price.
posted by k5.user at 11:16 AM on June 28, 2011

The forms you get off the internet are not always appropriate for your state and your particular circumstances. My frugal in-laws found this out the hard way when they tried to get some of their documents notarized and filed with their county clerk. They ended up having to use a lawyer anyway. Imo, the credit union lawyer sounds like a good deal and you'll know that you have all of the appropriate papers in place for your particular circumstances. Tell your husband this isn't something you should cheap out on; too much is at stake.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 11:31 AM on June 28, 2011

IANAL, but I've heard it put this way: you can spend $350 on a lawyer now and know everything is right, or your descendants can spend thousands on a lawyer later as they deal with the mess left behind by your internet forms. Your deaths will be hard enough on your kids, so do the best you can right now to leave your estate in good legal condition.
posted by catwoman429 at 11:39 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

IAAL, IANYL. $350 is cheap, but beware: you get what you pay for. I find it interesting that people will consider DIY legal representation where they would never substitute themselves for another professional (e.g., DIY surgery). I have seen a client's family lose hundreds of thousands of dollars because of DIY self-representation of one of their ancestors who wanted to save about $1,500.

That said, having a real lawyer with appropriate education, training and experience and a company to stand behind the work is the way to go. A good lawyer or firm will also periodically review your documents and/or contact you if there are any changes in the law that might affect you.

Not a bad deal, provided they do it right. Their chances are probably far better than the DIY method. Also, as you acquire wealth, you have a name you can contact in the future, provided you like the lawyer and his/her work.
posted by Hylas at 11:50 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

As dfriedman says, it's a pretty complex area of law, and varies jurisdiction by jurisdiction. There are some basic procedural issues: Do you need witnesses? Must they be people who are not named in the will?
More importantly, an experienced estate lawyer will know the pitfalls that you haven't thought of yet, and that the forms won't address. For instance, you have 2 kids. You want them to go to Couple X if you both die. But what if Couple X divorce? What if they can't or won't do it when the time comes? Do you want Couple X to help the kids maintain relationships with family members on both sides? Do you have specific thoughts about what schools your kids attend, or what kind of vacations they go on? What of your assets will Couple X have access to for the maintenance of the children? How will you protect those assets to make sure the full value is passed on?
And so forth. That's just what I can think of off the top, and I'm not an estate lawyer at all, much less an experienced one.
posted by katemonster at 12:01 PM on June 28, 2011

A former boss tried made me sign a non-compete form he "got off the Internet". I took it to a lawyer. He laughed at it.

This is a case of something that's free (legal forms online) being worth every penny.
posted by notsnot at 12:36 PM on June 28, 2011

Going to the seminar will also make you actually do the planning as opposed to saying 'Oh, we'll look at those forms next week.' That alone probably makes it worth the money.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:39 PM on June 28, 2011

Here is one benefit: If a mistake is made, the lawyer has professional liability insurance that may respond to remedy the mistake.
posted by yclipse at 2:09 PM on June 28, 2011

I'd say, based on the nightmare that is learning wills for the bar exam, that the difference between pre-made will A and pre-made will B is going to be very small as compared to the difference between getting a pre-made will and getting a lawyer to help you with your will. Therefore, if you don't want to pay a lawyer to do it right, I would advise you to choose the cheapest of the non-lawyer options. Or just a Word document.

Please understand, there are so many formalities and nuances and nitpicky rules and unexpected default assumptions involved that you should be worried about your ability to create a *valid* will on your own (someone already mentioned that there are rules about witnesses - who, how many), not just about the possibility that your will may not quite get you the outcome you intended.

You might also want to find out (preferably by asking a lawyer) what the default rules are in your state for people who die intestate (without a will). It's usually something like "everything goes to the surviving spouse, or if both spouses are dead then then kids get it" (I am oversimplifying) so if you don't have a lot of wealth to spread around or a complicated property situation, you may find that you're pretty much already going to get the result you want even without a legal will.

On the other hand, if you have complicated plans for your estate (you want to set up a trust, divide your property unevenly among many, leave property to people other than your spouse/lids), then I strongly suggest you have a lawyer help you.
posted by prefpara at 3:16 PM on June 28, 2011

I would advise that you are both correct, because downloading and filling out forms from the internet allows you to work things out privately and cheaply, while using a lawyer substantially increases the likelihood you'll have things worked out correctly (from a legal perspective.)

Download some forms off the Internet. Work together to fill them out. As the forms confuse you, and where you think they might not cover what you need covered, and where you're simply curious about the details, note these things down. As you work through them, have the long conversations you're going to have about the details, in the privacy of your home.

Then, having done all this, go to the CU lawyer, pay the fee, and you'll both already be on the same page as to what you're trying to accomplish and you'll have your list of potential questions ready.
posted by davejay at 5:13 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and don't show the downloaded forms to the lawyer, and don't get the notarized. They are useful as a catalyst for getting all your ducks in a row.
posted by davejay at 5:14 PM on June 28, 2011

One way or another, every family situation is somewhat unique, and you can't anticipate what specific assumptions the Internet forms are making because you're not lawyers.

Your kids and family will have enough confusion without having to deal with wills in forms that don't acurately reflect your situation. Spending the money now will kely save them money down the road.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 7:46 PM on June 28, 2011

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