Question: Would you please provide us with your comments regards the use of online estate planning documents?
Answer: In estate planning, one size does not fit all. Over the years, I have found that no two families are alike. Each family has unique issues and online documents typically cannot address those issues. If your issues are overlooked or ignored, your estate plan will probably not work the way you intended. Most online documents lack the proper customization you need to address these overlooked or ignored issues.
- For example, when you begin the online document process, the software will ask you for basic information such as who you want to serve as your children’s guardian under your Will. After careful consideration, you determine that you want your sister and her husband (your brother-in-law) to serve as co-guardians of your children under your online Will. After completing and signing your Will, you think your children will be properly cared for if something happens to you. However, do you want your brother-in-law raising your children if he and your sister get divorced or if your sister passes away? As a named co-guardian, your brother-in-law can present a strong case to the court that he should raise your children pursuant to the Will. Although it was your intention for him to raise your children with your sister, the Will does not address what happens upon death or divorce. An estate planning attorney should be able to recognize this co-guardian issue and could implement the appropriate contingency in your Will that would remove him as guardian upon your sister’s death or divorce. If you use online documents to name your children’s guardian, you might be unaware of this issue or unable to customize your documents to address that concern.
- Furthermore, a lack of customization with online documents might cause the inclusion of wrong provisions in your documents. One essential estate planning document is the financial power of attorney (POA). This document allows your designated agent to make financial decisions for you on your behalf. A POA usually contains large amounts of standard boilerplate provisions that can be confusing to some people and may not be applicable to your situation. For example, buried in your online POA might be a provision that allows your agent to make unlimited gifts to anyone. For some, unlimited gifting might be necessary. For others, unlimited gifting simply gives your agent a wonderful opportunity to deplete all of your assets. Unfortunately, elder abuse is very common and it’s usually done by those who are appointed as POA.
Online document providers are not attorneys and do not counsel and recommend what provisions you should have in your documents. Online providers do provide an option for you to consult with an attorney. Will that attorney practice near you and be available to meet with you face to face? Will you be able to select an attorney that has the experience in estate planning that you need?
In conclusion, those who use online estate planning documents might think that estate planning is as simple as filling names into blanks. In reality, estate planning is complicated and needs to be customized to your specific needs even in the simplest of situations. Simply filling in blanks can cause chaos for your loved ones down the road. Online estate planning websites want you to believe that you have peace of mind that your affairs will be in order because ignorance is bliss! It has been often said that every attorney who represent himself or herself is a fool.
Today’s Answer was provided by William E. Hesch, Esq., of The William E. Hesch Law Firm in Cincinnati, Ohio. Attorney Hesch is a Partner Member in the National ElderCare Matters Alliance.
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Today"s ElderCare Matters Q&A is about Online Estate Planning Documents