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The problems with do it yourself documents, or downloads.


I recently encountered a situation where a family came in extremely upset because a bank wasn’t listening to their directions. In sitting down with them, parents made their own trust, downloaded from legal zoom or a similar site and thought they were in good shape. But now that they are at the point they need the documents to work for them, they are finding that they don’t.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, online services aren’t services and they don’t help clients. They create more problems than they solve. It’s a sales site and nothing more. You get no help after you’ve paid your money, no guidance, no assurance, and no clarifications. In this particular situation, the parents, being very elderly, went on to update this document and change the current trustee to one of their children. This isn’t uncommon and is often done so that the child can handle all of the financial affairs as the parents’ age and are unable to do so. The bank refused to recognize the change.

Now it bears pointing out, that the parents were the ones changing the trustee, not the children. Many times, there can be questions over whether the children are rightfully taking over from the parents, or if they are instead infringing on the parents’ rights as the original trustees. But in this situation the parents themselves were the ones making this change. So what was the problem?

The problem was the same problem I see with all online and do it yourself documents. People will get the document (singular) and have no help or instruction on how to sign or execute it. And then what? They get no additional help on where or even if to file it, record it, or any supplemental documentation to change accounts, fund, or transfer assets to the trust according to the setup of their estate plan. Not to mention instructions to the children when parents pass away and the child has to take over. What are they supposed to do with the paperwork? There is no service, just a payment with no follow up.

I certainly understand saving money. We all love to do that. But at what cost? And this is a great example of the fact that the clients are now paying twice for what should have cost them only once, in addition to the fact that I now have to fix a problem that didn’t exist before, which created more cost.

On these sites, once you leave you’re on your own. Legal zoom won’t refund if you don’t understand it, they won’t explain it, and they won’t take responsibility for anything they have sold, they claim to be valid in every state, but each state is different. They give no assurances that what they’ve provided to you will continue to work or that they’ll contact you if it changes. Once you’ve hit the pay button, they are done with you. If you contact them with a question, guess what they say? “Please contact an attorney.”

Sometimes if you make enough of a fuss, they’ll give you a referral to an actual attorney’s office to further help you with your problem, after they’ve charged you a referral fee of course. So not only did you pay for something that isn’t working and created this issue, now you paid to get sent to an attorney to fix the issue, and the attorney is going to charge you to fix the issue. Is it just me, or were there far too many unnecessary steps to that?

If we equate that to a different scenario, how many people out there would go to a store and buy a one size fits all shoe? Shoes are different for everyone, different lengths and different widths, different heights, heels, boots, sandals, styles etc. Seems pretty silly in that context, but to me, as an estate planning attorney who understands the consequences of the online documents, that’s what I see people doing.

No two people are the same. There are different family structures, family dynamics, relationships, responsibilities, and different financial outlooks. Plugging yourself into a template that’s good for your neighbor, may not be good for you. Get personalized attention, come in to see one of our attorneys and let us not only draft documents tailored to you, but also make sure they work when you go to the bank.


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