Reading Between the Lines: Why a Professional Estate Plan is Far Superior to a Cookie Cutter Online Will
Web sites like Legal Zoom, Total Legal, and others offer inexpensive, pre-formatted wills designed for people to simply plug in a few names, some items, and, presto chango, you have a will. Many people purchase these “cookie cutter” documents under the mistaken belief that this type of will is going to protect and properly disburse their assets to loved ones. Unfortunately, that often isn’t the case.
Let me preface this by stating that I fully appreciate the value of the services offered by Legal zoom and other pre-made document web sites. For many people, the prospect of creating a will, or an in-depth estate plan, is intimidating. These pre-made documents provide guidance and can assist someone who is starting from scratch with their estate plan and/or who does not have many assets but wants to be sure whatever they have goes to their loved ones.
But here is where these pre-made documents fall short – reading between the lines. By that, I mean the situations that are murky or unexpected. For example, does your will contain language about what happens to the assets you pass down to your son or daughter if they wind up getting divorced? What if your husband or wife decides to eventually get re-married? Is the new spouse entitled to your assets? These are situations that many pre-formatted wills do not address in great detail.
Another scenario that needs to be addressed in your estate plan is the “school bus accident” scenario. Imagine that you’ve passed away and left your husband or wife all of your assets. A few years pass and your spouse winds up causing a horrific accident with a school bus. There’s no doubt that your spouse is liable and, if that wasn’t bad enough, two children on the bus lose their lives and the parents decide to take legal action. If a judgment is levied against your spouse, can creditors get access to the assets you left them? Unfortunately, for many people who only used a pre-formatted will, their assets are fully exposed in this scenario. To get more info about this scenario, check out my video:
This is where the real value is derived from sitting down with an estate planning attorney to develop a well-crafted, personalized estate plan. An experienced estate planner is capable of reading between the lines and discussing the scenarios mentioned above. An estate planning lawyer can help with setting up a trust, if that is an estate planning strategy you want to utilize to further protect your assets from creditors.
About the Editors: InSight Law is an estate planning firm in Ashburn, Virginia (VA). The firm’s areas of practice include estate planning, business planning, trust and probate administration, assisting veterans and their family members with obtaining benefits, and medicaid planning. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact our office at 703-654-6019. We’re here to help.