We live in an incredible age where all kind of information is right at our fingertips via the Internet. We have more power to learn and do things for ourselves than any other time in history. This is great for empowerment and building knowledge, but it can occasionally get us into a little trouble.
For example, estate planning lawyers are finding that they often have to educate potential clients on the pros and cons of do-it-yourself estate planning products that can be found online. While these products certainly seem like they can save money in lawyer's fees, it's a really good idea to examine them more closely. A short-term payoff now may lead to major financial implications later.
One of the overarching concerns with these DIY kits is the fact that they make you think you have your affairs in order, when you really don't. Tiny details such as not having the will properly witnessed can render it legally null-and-void. Add to that the fact that laws vary from state to state, it's important to work with an estate planning lawyer in your area to make sure your documents are meeting legal requirements.
Along those same lines, it's important to realize that laws regarding estate planning are constantly being changed and restructured. While an actual attorney stays up-to-date on those changes and their ramifications for individuals, the DIY kits are put together in advance without taking these concerns into consideration.
Because the online do-it-yourself will planning products have to be made for mass consumption, they are also not very good at being applied to individual circumstances. After all, your situation is likely different from that of your next-door-neighbor or even a relative, so how would a one-size-fits-all product apply to each of you? The answer is that it wouldn't.
Here's a little comparison of two families to illustrate the point.
The Smiths need to figure out how to pay for college for several children, name guardians for their "shared" child, understand the implications of the step-children being separated by their biological parents, figure out how to name beneficiaries for life insurance, and figure out how to plan for retirement with only one retirement account. They have two mortgages that they would leave behind and a variety of tax concerns for the estate.
Obviously, the Jones' concerns for estate planning would be different than those of the Smiths. They are more likely to be thinking about nursing home care and how to leave a legacy for their grandchildren, how to protect their assets if Medicaid is needed in the future, and how to enjoy their retirement while both are still healthy.
From just this brief example, you can see that a single do-it-yourself will kit is unlikely to touch all of the important aspects that each of these families need to consider. Working with an attorney in the area, however, gives both the Smiths and the Joneses the opportunity to lay out all of their options and determine what will truly work for them and their estate plan.