The following article is written by Fellow Estate Planning Attorney, Alexis Martin Neely
I have major mixed feelings about LegalZoom.
I’m not going to lie, I am mighty impressed by the business acumen of the lawyers who started LegalZoom. Generally speaking, lawyers are the worst business people, but not these guys. They are smart.
And I’m pretty impressed that they’ve got the American public thinking about proactive legal planning for their businesses and their families. It’s a great first start considering that 69% of you haven’t even named guardians for your kids!
What concerns me though is that people are relying on legal documents alone and not getting legal guidance and they think everything is good to go, when it’s often not.
The truth of the matter is that oftentimes creating your own legal documents provides a false sense of security and the breach is only discovered when it’s too late to do anything about it.
It’s kind of like if you built your own house during the summer when the weather was really good and you thought you knew what you were doing, but unknowingly overlooked a key element like putting waterproof felt between the sheeting and the shingles (who would know that, I thought you’d just put the shingles right on the wood).
You might not find out right away that you had overlooked this important item, but a couple years later the sheeting would start to rot away and by the third winter you’d have rain and snow in your house and by the time you figured out what you had done wrong, it’d be too late to do anything about it.
It’s the same with do it yourself estate planning, really.
It will seem really easy and as if you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do. And, you’ll go through your life thinking that you’ve done a really good thing for your family or your business. But then, a crisis will come, like a lawsuit, hospitalization or even worse, a death. And your family will be scrambling to figure out what to do and quite often, they’ll find out they’re screwed by something simple, but integral, you overlooked.
Like not titling the ownership of your house properly. Or, not signing the bylaws for your corporation. Or not issuing the share certificates. Or, not signing your Will properly. Something that seems dumb, but is super easy to miss. Even for lawyers.
Sadly enough, it doesn’t only happen when you do it yourself; this false sense of security can happen when you work with a lawyer too. In fact, most estate plans in place today are in grave danger of failing. My own father-in-law spent thousands of dollars on an estate plan and we ended up in Court probating his Estate anyway.
I’ll tell you more about what happened and what to look for in your own estate plan to make sure that doesn’t happen to your family next week.
In the meantime, if you are going to do it yourself, take this advice:
1. Get whatever you do reviewed by a lawyer. It’s better to know than to wonder. Contact a Personal Family Lawyer to review your Do It Yourself Legal Documents (Suze Orman Will & Trust Kit, LegalZoom, Trust on the Web, any of them) and if you use certificate code DIY, they’ll waive the $950 existing plan review and consultation fee.
2. Make sure you do the whole job, not just part of it. For example, if you incorporate yourself, don’t think filing documents with the State alone is the final step – you need corporate operating documents, you need to issue stock or membership interests, you need contracts and board resolutions, meeting minutes and a registered agent. If you don’t have all of these things (and more) your personal assets are not protected from your business risks.
3. If you have kids, make sure you’ve adequately provided for their care. Most do it yourself legal products (and lawyers themselves for that matter) don’t adequately plan for the things parents really care about. For less than $15, my book, Wear Clean Underwear! A Fast, Fun, Friendly-and Essential-Guide to Legal Planning for Busy Parents, will guide you to exactly what you need to do and help you fix whatever you may have done wrong.
Doing something is better than nothing, but doing something wrong and thinking everything has been taken care of is the worst of all.
"Written by Alexis Martin Neely, author, speaker, Personal Family Lawyer, Family Financial & Legal Expert for Better TV and MOM. Alexis makes it super easy for your family to talk about and plan for sticky subjects like money, death and taxes. Subscribe to Alexis’ free online magazine "Family Wealth Secrets" at: www.FamilyWealthMatters.com."