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Dangers of Online Legal Forms

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It seems that technology may be having an impact on every corner of the world in the 21st century; the legal arena is no exception. But when does "progress" cease to be positive? When automation aims to replace experienced advocates, what seem like "simple" solutions could cause serious complications for your estate.

The online "do-it-yourself" legal options might appear to be a great idea. At Solutions Law Group LLC, we call them "Fast Food Documents". While they're much less expensive upfront than what an experienced attorney would charge for a detailed and personalized plan, they will likely cost your estate or your beneficiaries plenty in the long run. You need to question whether a computer program really has the insight to anticipate your unique needs or ask every one of the questions required to learn them; the answer is probably not. Our lives and the issues they raise are not "one-size-fits-all" - our estate planning shouldn't be either.

Maybe you're a single person with no children and no assets, so you create a plan and decide to leave your life insurance to your parents. That certainly sounds simple enough to take care of with a "quickie" document. But will an online legal form advise you about how leaving it to them outright might affect your parents' own estate planning? Not likely. Would you know how to ascertain whether the form provided by an on-line vendor with no real investment in you covers all of the legal bases for you and your beneficiaries? For most people, the answer is no. Nobody other than an experienced legal professional can be reasonably expected to recognize or anticipate potential pitfalls or problems with legal language. If the life issue you are attempting to address is important enough to draw up a legal document, it should be important enough to have a legal professional - who practices that specific type of law - handle the matter for you.

Though sites like LegalZoom do employ attorneys to review, and in some cases, assist with the filling out of online forms - those attorneys work for the online company - not for you. In fact, the small print at the bottom of LegalZoom's website explains just that.

It reads: "LegalZoom provides access to independent attorneys and self-help services at your specific direction. We are not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. We cannot provide any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms or strategies".

That alone should be explanation enough of why these types of businesses are no substitute for an experienced attorney.

In in person consultation with an attorney experienced in estate planning often uncovers potential consequences of individual strategies or additional concerns that the client did not originally think could have any impact on the current situation. Having someone in your corner with an eye towards on ongoing relationship helps tremendously when unexpected life events occur- such as births or deaths, marriages or divorces, changes in health or mental capacity - and changes need to be made to will or trust documents. The truth is, "do-it-yourself" online legal options often put people at risk of not really getting what they need or want, resulting not only in wasted money for nothing but also in a false sense of security. For peace of mind in the handling of such important matters, you need experienced advocates working for you.

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American academy of estate planning attorneys since 1993
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