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Will in a Box – The Dangers of Estate Planning Software Programs

December 17, 2008

The recent sophistication of software has contributed to an increase in homegrown estate planning. These mass-marketers of legal services misinform people into thinking that they are saving money and that they are receiving sound legal advice. This is simply not true.

As an estate planning attorney, I felt an obligation to learn more about these mass-marketers of legal services. As such, I visited the websites and researched the software applications of several well-known estate planning services.

One called itself a “Legal Documentation Service.” The service purported to “[s]ave time and money on common legal matters!… [and] create reliable legal documents from your home or office. Another purported to “[h]elp protect your family and your assets, and save on legal fees!”

The process of preparing the documents among these companies was similar. Each required you to answer a series of questions either online or via their software package, and your documents will be prepared either instantaneously or within 48 hours. However, one software-based company suggested that you read the accompanying book, which was hundreds of pages in length. Although, you may not need to read the entire book, I do not understand how the public can decipher which parts to skip over and which to read thoroughly with only a basic understanding of estate planning. This seems like a hefty burden on the consumer and not quite the time-saver that the company publicizes.

Intrigued, I moved forward. I started answering the Will Questionnaires of several services, and due to my own thorough understanding of the intricacies of estate planning, I was perplexed that my options were limited on these Questionnaires. Among other issues, I specifically wanted to better understand my options regarding the inheritance distribution alternatives for my children:

  • Could the distribution ages be staggered so that the children would not receive a windfall at age 18?
  • Could I separate principal and interest?
  • Could my children approach the trustee for health or educational needs prior to the set distribution age?

You may read more at the link below.

by: Todd C. Ratner

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