Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Will Templates versus Estate Planning Lawyers: A Matter of Dollars and Sense


Do you believe that a will is an important document, especially for your loved ones so they can be assured of their inheritance when your time is up?  Yet, if you are like many Americans, chances are you don’t have a will.  This is because you may feel that a will is a complicated document to prepare.

The Internet has spawned many downloadable forms which make it easy for people to draft wills with just the click of a mouse.  The Internet offers several sites where you can download forms for a minimal fee.  Voila!  You have made a will and have ensured an orderly transfer of inheritance to your heirs.   These sites have made it easy and affordable for you to create a will.

                There are two obvious benefits for using downloadable online forms for your will:  You save both time and money.   You don’t need to set an appointment with a lawyer to draft your will.  And you don’t really spend that much on online templates – around $50 upwards.  That’s BIG savings compared to hiring an attorney.
                So, are you ready to visit a site and download a form to draft your will?  Well I wouldn’t rush just yet…  Online wills are OK for very simple, but they have their limits.  These templates are usually best for small estates.  With around $50, you’ve bought your “peace of mind” with a downloadable form.  

                Now, when your estate is more complex and you own more assets, will preparation is not that simple.  When your assets go beyond the $1 million mark, your estate will be subject to estate and inheritance taxes (starting in 2013).  These would take a huge chunk from the inheritance you would like to leave your heirs.  A template will does not consider these legal nuances.  A lawyer can counsel you on how you can lessen your heirs’ tax bite. 

                You may also have other arrangements such as leaving some assets not to a person but to a corporation, a church or an organization.   In other words, when your estate planning gets more complicated, a lawyer becomes necessary.

                It all boils down to dollars and sense.  As a person of modest means, a form downloaded from the Internet might do the job.  Your will is simple enough.  You don’t need a lawyer to help you with the legal fine print.  The bigger your estate and the more complicated your desires, then, you should consult a lawyer.  With an online form of around $50 but without the benefit of an experienced attorney, you may have saved yourself a bundle from paying attorney’s fees, but you would have lost much in terms of your heirs paying taxes and other mandatory fees.

                It’s a case of being penny-wise and dollar-foolish.   Not having a lawyer when your estate is big doesn’t make sense.