Author Topic: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will  (Read 32249 times)

teamzissou00

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Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« on: June 23, 2013, 08:40:05 PM »
Any thoughts?  Lawyer is charging $800, legalzoom is less then $100 (I think).

What did you do for your will?  Did you also set up any trust/estate?

kkbmustang

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #1 on: June 23, 2013, 09:12:26 PM »
I'm a lawyer and I hired an estate planning lawyer to do my estate planning/will. Does that tell you anything? And yes, trusts are involved. Not worth saving $700 IMO. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Nords

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #2 on: June 23, 2013, 10:03:12 PM »
Any thoughts?  Lawyer is charging $800, legalzoom is less then $100 (I think).
What did you do for your will?  Did you also set up any trust/estate?
Why not do both?  Educate yourself with a cheap product from Intuit or Nolo, and then take the output to a lawyer for the final review & signatures.

The first part will educate you and reduce the time spent answering lawyer's questions, while the second part will make sure that your wishes are correctly converted to legal prose.

chesebert

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #3 on: June 23, 2013, 11:13:33 PM »
I'm a lawyer and I hired an estate planning lawyer to do my estate planning/will. Does that tell you anything? And yes, trusts are involved. Not worth saving $700 IMO. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
I did the samething. Although mine costed alot more as I had some special things to put in the trust.

I actually think it could cost alot more if you want a lawyer to review your work. It's generally cheaper to use firm's standard dox.

Rural

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #4 on: June 24, 2013, 01:44:50 AM »
Also depends on what you're trying to protect at this point. If you're just starting out, that looks differ than if you're FI now.

Dee18

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #5 on: June 24, 2013, 05:57:25 AM »
A good lawyer will also raise issues you might not have thought of since each state has its own laws.  This is especially true for matters of guardianship for minor children.

TrulyStashin

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #6 on: June 24, 2013, 07:09:57 AM »
A good lawyer will also raise issues you might not have thought of since each state has its own laws.  This is especially true for matters of guardianship for minor children.

+1

I'm a lawyer and I hired a lawyer for my pour over will and trust.   This is an example of the difference between frugal and cheap.  Don't be cheap, hire the lawyer.  One benefit is that lawyers have the knowledge and experience to project into the future and predict how what seems like a good idea today can become a nightmare for your heirs ten years from now.  You can't get that kind of advice from a can.

NumberCruncher

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #7 on: June 24, 2013, 07:22:39 AM »
To all the lawyers saying to definitely get a lawyer -- really? Like, what if you have <100k in liquid assets and no children? Surely there are some situations where a canned will is good enough?

I'm definitely not qualified to give legal advice and don't currently have a will (on the to-do list...), so I'm in a similar position to the OP. For me, I'm 23, married, no house, no children, and we'd want about as standard a will as you could get, really.

TrulyStashin

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #8 on: June 24, 2013, 07:47:51 AM »
Wills have to be probated.  Trusts don't.   Probate can take up to two years and is a royal pain in the tush which your heir will likely need a lawyer to help with.

It's not just about transfer of cash assets.  You also have personal and real property to dispose of and there are ways to make it easy and seamless for your heirs.

Every state has a different legal code for wills & trusts and the law changes constantly either by legislative act or by court decision.  Does LegalZoom advise and update based on the state Supreme Court decision that was handed down last Friday?  (rhetorical)

If you have a small and simple estate then it won't cost much.  The role of a lawyer is not just to use the appropriate magic words.  A good lawyer will anticipate your (and your heirs') future needs and advise you on how best to structure ownership today in order to make for an easy tomorrow.

Case in point: my best friend inherited a 1/4 share in her grandmother's home.  Three other relatives also inherited 1/4 shares so you have one home owned by four people, and it's being lived in by one of them, rent free.  I'm sure Grandma did that to avoid hurting anyone's feelings.  Imagine the nightmare for the heirs and the disagreements that ensued over whether to charge rent to Freeloader (who couldn't afford to buy) or to sell it (which Freeloader wouldn't agree to do).   A lawyer would have advised against this.  Note that Grandma had no other assets so her estate was very simple but it left a nightmare behind with years of fighting and ultimately a partition lawsuit.

DoubleDown

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #9 on: June 24, 2013, 08:31:08 AM »
If you're willing to put some time into it, I'd recommend checking out a few books from the library on the topic of trusts and estate planning, then make your decision. After doing some reading, I felt comfortable in handling our own estate plan and did so (not with Legalzoom, so I can't comment on whether that tool is any good). Even if you later decide to hire a lawyer to prepare your estate plan, having that knowledge will be invaluable in evaluating how good of a job they are doing for you, and the right questions to ask.

Good books on the subject cover all the do's and don'ts, things to consider for the future and so on, and you can also find updated, state-specific guidance. They are typically written by estate planning attorneys, so you're getting all the basic information covered without having to pay for hourly advice.

It really pays to do some background reading on this important topic, and I think if you become informed enough, you may feel comfortable choosing a DIY option.

aj_yooper

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #10 on: June 24, 2013, 08:54:12 AM »
Several relatives have died without a will.  The process to secure an executor and probate the estate is public, lawyer intensive, and long but methodical; proceeds are distributed according to the state's inheritance law.  Other relatives have used a trust and an pour over will; that is a breeze and done very privately, inexpensively, and quickly.  IMO, for an uncomplicated estate even with children, a will is sufficient.  Assets like retirement accounts or life insurance proceeds have beneficiaries so a lot can be done without an attorney; bank accounts, in our state, have a payable on death feature, which is different than joint ownership.  Since a will is being considered, I would also recommend that the OP do *a living will, *a power of attorney for health care, a POA for property, an organ or body donation form, and complete a Five Wishes document (available on the internet or through a hospital or hospice).  Those documents are free or inexpensive.  OP should also develop an assets (house, cars, checking and savings accounts, retirement or pensions, investments, life insurance, etc.) and liabilities (loans, credit cards,etc.) document with passwords included to assist the executor.  If they have funeral plans, include that in the executor's documents.

If OP knows individuals who have a will, ask to review the documents  so OP can see what a typical will is and compare it with documents available at the bookstore or internet.  Personally, I would shop for a cheaper attorney or use an internet resource before I would pay $800 for a primarily boilerplate document done by a legal secretary or paralegal. 

Above all, get all the documents done.  You will feel happier and your loved ones will appreciate your thoughtfulness and care.
« Last Edit: June 24, 2013, 02:47:43 PM by aj_yooper »

arebelspy

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #11 on: June 24, 2013, 08:58:39 AM »
DIY is probably fine short term, but you'll want to do it right eventually (say, set a deadline of "when I FIRE" depending on your age).

Setting up a trust is by far better than using a will, and getting it set up properly is worth the legal costs.

So DIY a will for now, pay for the lawyer to set up a trust later (but not too much later, that will depend on your age/assets/dependents/etc.)
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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #12 on: June 24, 2013, 09:56:50 AM »
I managed the best of both worlds.  I work at a law firm, and a will and estates lawyer was considering taking up golf but did not want to plunk down the money for clubs.  My wife had a used set and bag gathering dust so we made a trade, she set up our will (which was a little complicated given the missus had a child from her first marriage) in exchange for the clubs.  Our attorney brought up several scenarios we had not anticipated, so I also recommend this route unless your will is very simple (single and no dependents, for example).

And it was definitely worth the peace of mind knowing it had been done properly.

DoubleDown

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #13 on: June 24, 2013, 10:52:35 AM »
DIY is probably fine short term, but you'll want to do it right eventually


But doesn't this presuppose that DIY is not doing it "right"? You can absolutely set up an estate plan the right way on your own, just as you can hire an attorney that does it the wrong way (I'm sure all the attorneys on this forum are outstanding in their profession, but according to other estate planning attorneys, the profession is full of people that don't know what they are doing that hang out an "estate planning" sign because it makes $$).


I'm a lawyer and I hired a lawyer for my pour over will and trust.   This is an example of the difference between frugal and cheap.  Don't be cheap, hire the lawyer.  One benefit is that lawyers have the knowledge and experience to project into the future and predict how what seems like a good idea today can become a nightmare for your heirs ten years from now.  You can't get that kind of advice from a can.

I don't think it's cheap not to hire an attorney. One must weigh the expected benefits vs. the costs, and the likelihood of whether or not they can do it competently on their own. Why would it be "cheap" to become knowledgeable enough to prepare your own estate plan? The subject matter isn't so esoteric that a layperson cannot understand it, and the books out there provide tons of examples, case studies, warnings, options, etc.

arebelspy

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #14 on: June 24, 2013, 11:05:52 AM »
DIY is probably fine short term, but you'll want to do it right eventually


But doesn't this presuppose that DIY is not doing it "right"?

Absolutely it does.  And I would stand by that statement.

I think in almost all cases a lawyer can set up trusts and such in a much better, more efficient way than a person with no other knowledge than they gain from Google and maybe a book or two at the library DIY'ing it.

A simple will for the short term is a much worse option in probate.  Much worse.  But probably fine for the short term.  But as I said, eventually I believe you'll want to consult a lawyer who specializes in estate planning, trusts, etc.
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frompa

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #15 on: June 24, 2013, 11:07:19 AM »
DoubleDown - A huge problem is, there's no room for doing a test run.  Your will comes into effect when you die, and if you screwed it up, or overlooked something, or didn't make provisions clear, or ran afoul of the technical signing and witnessing requirements, you are shit out of luck, because you are gone and there ain't no bringing you back to fix things.  So, can a person theoretically get it right?  Sure, but you only get one shot at this.  I second those who say, let a lawyer do it.  Go by personal reference, and odds are you will find somebody who knows what they are doing. 
     On the other hand, you'll be gone when/if any problems arise... so what's all the fuss about? (that was a joke.  Reminds me of Woody Allen who said he didn't have life insurance because when he died he wanted it to be a real tragedy. Ha.)

kkbmustang

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #16 on: June 24, 2013, 11:07:51 AM »
Any thoughts?  Lawyer is charging $800, legalzoom is less then $100 (I think).
What did you do for your will?  Did you also set up any trust/estate?
Why not do both?  Educate yourself with a cheap product from Intuit or Nolo, and then take the output to a lawyer for the final review & signatures.

The first part will educate you and reduce the time spent answering lawyer's questions, while the second part will make sure that your wishes are correctly converted to legal prose.

Trying to do it yourself first and then having a lawyer "just review" it is an awful idea, IMO. Trying to fix something someone else jacked up is more time intensive than just doing it right in the first place.

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #17 on: June 24, 2013, 11:12:31 AM »
For folks with certain types of assets, a simple form will and/or setting up accounts to be transferred automatically at death (sometimes called POD or TOD) could do the trick. Property could be held as a joint tenancy in some states, and some states may allow a POD/TOD for real property. If avoiding probate is a goal, there may be alternatives for simple situations. But you should probably talk to an attorney about it. :)

GuitarStv

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #18 on: June 24, 2013, 11:24:39 AM »
If I die without a will, my estate gets split up like this:

- Everything up to 200K goes to my wife (and she can live in the house until she dies).
- The remainder is split up among our children equally.
- No children left alive it goes to grandchildren, no grandchildren it's split between parents, no parents it's split between siblings, no siblings it's split between siblings children, etc.

Even without a will, the legal breakdown goes more or less the way I would structure a will to go.  I'll probably do a will at some point, but I really don't see what the benefit of hiring a lawyer to do that would be.

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #19 on: June 24, 2013, 11:47:55 AM »
To all the lawyers saying to definitely get a lawyer -- really? Like, what if you have <100k in liquid assets and no children? Surely there are some situations where a canned will is good enough?

I'm definitely not qualified to give legal advice and don't currently have a will (on the to-do list...), so I'm in a similar position to the OP. For me, I'm 23, married, no house, no children, and we'd want about as standard a will as you could get, really.

Yeah... this.  I guess I have significant assets, but: married in a community property state with no kids.  I'd like to think the various boilerplate wills for my state would "just work".... but I guess I don't know enough to know if they do or not.

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #20 on: June 24, 2013, 12:02:00 PM »
My thought is that you get what you pay for. I'm a lawyer and I wouldn't do my own will and trusts. Sure, I could educate myself on it, but it would be just as expensive as hiring a specialist and would cost me much more time. And then I'd have to hire someone to do my spouse's will, because, as the beneficiary, I'm not allowed to draft the will.

Consumer Reports regularly evaluates the DIY legal products you mentioned. This is their latest review: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2012/09/legal-diy-websites-are-no-match-for-a-pro/index.htm

TrulyStashin

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #21 on: June 24, 2013, 12:02:42 PM »
If I die without a will, my estate gets split up like this:

- Everything up to 200K goes to my wife (and she can live in the house until she dies).
- The remainder is split up among our children equally.
- No children left alive it goes to grandchildren, no grandchildren it's split between parents, no parents it's split between siblings, no siblings it's split between siblings children, etc.

Even without a will, the legal breakdown goes more or less the way I would structure a will to go.  I'll probably do a will at some point, but I really don't see what the benefit of hiring a lawyer to do that would be.

Without a will, it will takes a long time to probate (2 years + in my state) and your heirs will have to have attorneys help them with that process.   So, you're basically taking the easy way out for you and dumping the cost and complications onto your heirs.  Gee, thanks Dad.

TrulyStashin

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #22 on: June 24, 2013, 12:08:55 PM »

[/quote]
 The subject matter isn't so esoteric that a layperson cannot understand it, and the books out there provide tons of examples, case studies, warnings, options, etc.
[/quote]

This is exactly why a lay person should NOT be the final source on a will or trust.  It appears to be a simple topic but it can actually be very complex (which is why some lawyers specialize in it).  A case study published in a 2012 book may have been overruled in 2013 and you'd never know it, unless you want to actively follow all the appellate court decisions in your state, or there may be one tiny factual wrinkle in your circumstances that make the case study completely inapplicable and you'd not know it.

Geez, people.  We're talking about seven hundred bucks to get it right and not dump a mess on your heirs.  Frugal is important.  Skimping on this is cheap.

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #23 on: June 24, 2013, 12:12:01 PM »


Geez, people.  We're talking about seven hundred bucks to get it right and not dump a mess on your heirs.  Frugal is important.  Skimping on this is cheap.

I'm not saying you're wrong.  The truth is: I've never died before and I just don't know.  But... I've heard this exact argument against pretty much every DIY ever: electrical, auto, plumbing, garage door springs, etc.  There is surely risk to doing anything yourself.

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #24 on: June 24, 2013, 12:14:55 PM »
I have to say that I can't see the point of a lawyer-written will or a trust for someone in my situation.  Not married, no kids, if I kick the bucket what's left gets split between a few friends and some charities.  Frankly, the only reasons I've even bothered is to ensure that my critters get taken care of (a friend has agreed to take them gratis, and won't she be surprised at the chunk of money they bring along :-)), and to make sure certain distant relatives (who'd otherwise inherit if I died intestate) don't get anything.

kkbmustang

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #25 on: June 24, 2013, 12:23:49 PM »
and to make sure certain distant relatives (who'd otherwise inherit if I died intestate) don't get anything.

If you do decide to go it alone, be aware that if you leave your distant relatives, who would otherwise inherit under state law absent a will, with nothing, they could argue that the will is invalid in some way (it wasn't signed correctly, didn't meet one of the state's rules, etc.) and try to get "their" portion of the assets. If you specifically want to DISinherit someone, you'd be wise to leave them $1. That way the judge or whoever knows you specifically considered them and specifically left them out of the will as opposed to just "forgetting" them.

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #26 on: June 24, 2013, 12:26:06 PM »
I have to say that I can't see the point of a lawyer-written will or a trust for someone in my situation.  Not married, no kids, if I kick the bucket what's left gets split between a few friends and some charities. Frankly, the only reasons I've even bothered is to ensure that my critters get taken care of (a friend has agreed to take them gratis, and won't she be surprised at the chunk of money they bring along :-)), and to make sure certain distant relatives (who'd otherwise inherit if I died intestate) don't get anything.

Actually, you just named 2 big reasons why you shouldn't DIY your own will: (1) you want your friends and charities to get your assets and (2) you don't want your relatives to get them.

Now, if you were to say that you're fine with your family getting everything, then go ahead and DIY because if you do it incorrectly, the default is intestate succession -- if no children, to parents; if parents aren't living, then to siblings and their children if siblings aren't alive; if no siblings, to aunts/uncles and their children if aunts/uncles not alive; etc.

TrulyStashin

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #27 on: June 24, 2013, 12:47:45 PM »
I have to say that I can't see the point of a lawyer-written will or a trust for someone in my situation.  Not married, no kids, if I kick the bucket what's left gets split between a few friends and some charities. Frankly, the only reasons I've even bothered is to ensure that my critters get taken care of (a friend has agreed to take them gratis, and won't she be surprised at the chunk of money they bring along :-)), and to make sure certain distant relatives (who'd otherwise inherit if I died intestate) don't get anything.

 the default is intestate succession -- if no children, to parents; if parents aren't living, then to siblings and their children if siblings aren't alive; if no siblings, to aunts/uncles and their children if aunts/uncles not alive; etc.

That varies, state to state.  And the portion given to each generation also varies depending on the jurisdiction you're in. 

DoubleDown

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #28 on: June 24, 2013, 12:56:43 PM »
I don't get all the pessimism about doing it yourself. And I never advocated Googling and a book or two as the alternative; that's a straw man argument. It's completely possible to become educated enough to do it on your own with the right resources, but of course "YMMV!"

Yes, you will only find out if the estate plan passes muster once you are dead and gone -- same as if a lawyer prepared it for you.

If everyone thinks hiring an attorney is the full-proof way to have a can't-miss outcome on any legal matter, then I have a bridge to sell you.

Here are some anecdotal data points I can relate:

- Every time this topic has been discussed and the all the usual warnings are thrown out about things to watch out for, I've been pleased (but not surprised) to know that my estate plan already handles those situations

- My trust has already been pored over by legal departments when attempting to verify the existence and legitimacy of my trust (such as when transferring assets), and has passed muster every time

- I've seen estate plans done for several other people by estate planning attorneys. I see no qualitative or quantitative advantage in those. In fact, to me it looks like several of the ones I saw prepared by attorneys were far less thorough and did NOT handle many of the situations noted here in this forum

- The idea that my estate plan will get tossed out of court because it has been successfully challenged or declared invalid because of improper execution is pretty ludicrous. It's simple to properly execute a will or trust, and it is not every day that revocable trusts get declared invalid by a court, by their very nature. Successfully challenging a deceased person's written, signed, signature-guaranteed-by-a-public-notary last wishes is extremely difficult to do. And let's not forget, assets have already been transferred into the trust, beneficiaries have already been named on insurance and investments, so there are really no "wishes" to even consider or overturn for the major assets.

- All the warnings about "you don't know all the current changes": That would be equally true the day or month or year after an attorney prepared my estate plan, it will always be at risk of being "out of date" unless I stay educated and update it accordingly

- All the warnings about "your estate plan could be declared to be invalid": Also true for any estate plan prepared by an attorney.

- If you think an attorney is going to carefully craft an individual plan around your specific needs, starting from scratch, and not have a paralegal pump out some already-prepared templates (that you could modify yourself as an attorney would for your specific situation) then, again, I have a bridge to sell you

hybrid

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #29 on: June 24, 2013, 01:07:19 PM »
I think a lot of this argument comes down to the Can I do it myself and save money vs. I hired a specialist to (hopefully) do it right.  To the latter argument, get references and you should be fine.  To the former argument, a poster wisely pointed out that if you get it wrong, or there are complications, it could be a royal hassle for your heirs, or worse.

Let me give analogy.  Suppose my car needs repairs.  The exhaust has rotted over time and the brakes are worn out.  I am not a car guy but figure I can learn just about anything if I set my mind to it.  What happens if I get the exhaust right?  I just saved money.  What happens if I get the exhaust wrong?  I'll probably pay someone to get it right.  What happens if I get the brakes right?  I just saved money.  What happens if I get the brakes wrong?  My 4000 pound car cannot stop!!!!

This is why you go get the lawyer.  In most cases you cannot afford to make a beginners mistake.  Hire a competent specialist and move on.


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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #30 on: June 24, 2013, 01:19:08 PM »
Let me give analogy.  Suppose my car needs repairs.  The exhaust has rotted over time and the brakes are worn out.  I am not a car guy but figure I can learn just about anything if I set my mind to it.  What happens if I get the exhaust right?  I just saved money.  What happens if I get the exhaust wrong?  I'll probably pay someone to get it right.  What happens if I get the brakes right?  I just saved money.  What happens if I get the brakes wrong?  My 4000 pound car cannot stop!!!!

This is why you go get the lawyer.  In most cases you cannot afford to make a beginners mistake.  Hire a competent specialist and move on.

And to finish that analogy:

...and you won't know until it's too late.

I'm all for DIYing stuff.  Even (some) legal stuff.  But trusts and estate stuff I wouldn't.

Good for you DoubleDown for apparently doing stuff perfectly right the first time, on your own.  IDK how much time it took you, but it apparently saved you $700.  For most people my advice would still be "consult an attorney."

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #31 on: June 24, 2013, 02:34:17 PM »

- All the warnings about "you don't know all the current changes": That would be equally true the day or month or year after an attorney prepared my estate plan, it will always be at risk of being "out of date" unless I stay educated and update it accordingly

- All the warnings about "your estate plan could be declared to be invalid": Also true for any estate plan prepared by an attorney.

- If you think an attorney is going to carefully craft an individual plan around your specific needs, starting from scratch, and not have a paralegal pump out some already-prepared templates (that you could modify yourself as an attorney would for your specific situation) then, again, I have a bridge to sell you

A good attorney will create an individual plan and use a paralegal to put it together, but deciding how it should read and what it should include will be done by the attorney.  Knowing what questions to ask, also the attorney's job.

You're wrong about a will being executed in June 2013 being undone by a court decision handed down in July 2013 -- that's not what I meant.  Your will is probated according to the law in force at the time of execution.   My point is that most of the off-the-shelf legal products out there do not account for decisions handed down just prior to the execution date of the will (decisions in prior 6 months are unlikely to make it into the canned stuff).  An attorney who specializes in this area will not only know what cases are pending but will also know how they'll likely be resolved and why.    Often, the law reads one way but it is interpreted by courts in more nuanced ways that only the practitioners in that area of law will understand.

Example of this kind of nuance: federal law requires bankruptcy judges to consider 6 factors when deciding whether a monthly payment from ex-husband to ex-wife is "support" (non-dischargeable) or "property settlement"  (dischargeable).   So you might think that judges routinely consider ALL SIX factors.  But, in practice, they don't.  They look at one factor -- the language of the court order that requires the payment -- and ignore the other five.   You'd never know this unless you talked to an attorney practicing bankruptcy law in that district.   Every area of law has wrinkles like this. 

Non-lawyers generally don't understand that law is alive and constantly changing.   DIY if you want but it's penny wise and pound foolish in this case.

NumberCruncher

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #32 on: June 24, 2013, 03:22:25 PM »
I could probably be convinced that in most cases, seeking a lawyer who specializes in the subject is a good thing.

But there have to be cases where it would actually be a bad idea. If, for example, you are single and have no property (think only household goods and clothes), no dependents, and a net worth of $500, it would obviously be a bad idea -- otherwise you would go into debt trying to bequeath your hello kitty alarm clock to your neighbor. Surely the lawyers would agree?

It's just that all the nuances and examples of how the law is changing/has changed seem to be somewhat special circumstances that certainly don't affect me. My main takeaway with this discussion is that having everything done properly can really help with probate (and I should really get something put together...)

hybrid

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #33 on: June 24, 2013, 03:28:52 PM »
I could probably be convinced that in most cases, seeking a lawyer who specializes in the subject is a good thing.

But there have to be cases where it would actually be a bad idea. If, for example, you are single and have no property (think only household goods and clothes), no dependents, and a net worth of $500, it would obviously be a bad idea -- otherwise you would go into debt trying to bequeath your hello kitty alarm clock to your neighbor. Surely the lawyers would agree?

It's just that all the nuances and examples of how the law is changing/has changed seem to be somewhat special circumstances that certainly don't affect me. My main takeaway with this discussion is that having everything done properly can really help with probate (and I should really get something put together...)

If you have no assets at all and really don't care what happens after you pass, then sure, a $700 will is a waste of money.  But the kind of person who spends their time on this site will more than likely build an estate of some value they will care about in the future.

aj_yooper

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #34 on: June 24, 2013, 03:32:37 PM »
Is everybody good with $700 for a will?  We paid waay less for ours.

Is it OK to ask:  What is the going price for a uncomplicated revocable living trust? 

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #35 on: June 24, 2013, 03:35:52 PM »
Is everybody good with $700 for a will?  We paid waay less for ours.

I personally would not use a will.
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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #36 on: June 24, 2013, 06:03:22 PM »
Is everybody good with $700 for a will?  We paid waay less for ours.

Is it OK to ask:  What is the going price for a uncomplicated revocable living trust?

Sorry, but that's like asking what the going rate for a car that drives is.

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #37 on: June 24, 2013, 11:29:35 PM »
Wills have to be probated.  Trusts don't.   Probate can take up to two years and is a royal pain in the tush which your heir will likely need a lawyer to help with.
Wills don't always have to be probated.  For example, Colorado lets assets under $60K be passed without probate.  This allows most assets to be held JTWROS or POD/TOD.  The will is filed and the rest of the assets are passed through affidavits. 

Which is why I suggest using DIY software to educate yourself and then having a lawyer double-check the work.  You learn how to properly title & maintain your assets, whether through a will or a revocable living trust, while the lawyer makes sure that it's done correctly.  It seems like the best way to minimize lawyer fees, trust prep fees, and probate fees.

msilenus

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #38 on: June 25, 2013, 01:10:26 AM »
Just gonna second a few notions already up there:

* What's right for you will vary from state to state.  In my state (CA) probate is expensive, and the fees associated with probate will almost always dwarf what it costs to use a will to keep your estate out of that probate process.
* You're a mustachian, which means you either have or plan to have a significant net worth.  A will is likely appropriate, but also consider a trust if you are well on your way and have kids.  A will can protect your money from delays, fees, and other claimants.  A trust can go further, and protect the money even from the stupid shit kids tend to do to squander an inheritance in their youth; as well as from creditors in bankruptcy and (I think) spouses in divorce, right up until the money is actually distributed to them.

I'd talk to a lawyer practicing in your state.  If you or your spouse can get ARAG/group legal benefits, I'd wait until open enrollment to set it up.  (And cancel next year.)

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #39 on: June 25, 2013, 08:24:57 AM »
Let me give analogy.  Suppose my car needs repairs.  The exhaust has rotted over time and the brakes are worn out.  I am not a car guy but figure I can learn just about anything if I set my mind to it.  What happens if I get the exhaust right?  I just saved money.  What happens if I get the exhaust wrong?  I'll probably pay someone to get it right.  What happens if I get the brakes right?  I just saved money.  What happens if I get the brakes wrong?  My 4000 pound car cannot stop!!!!

Good analogy.

I have always done my own brake work -- since I was about 16.

fiveoclockshadow

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #40 on: June 25, 2013, 09:47:04 AM »
Honestly not enough information to your question - but it clearly provoked a lot of good discussion.

Do you have kids?  No?  Then you probably don't need to care much.  If you are married and you have set up your accounts and properties appropriately they will transfer to your spouse without hassle or probate in most states (obviously you need to check this).  So going "DIY" in this case is low risk.  All you care about is your spouse - and that will go reasonably well on automatic pilot and if you both die well what do you care what happens in probate?  You are both gone and done caring about anything.

If you have kids you want a guardianship setup properly and you need a will - EVEN IF YOU HAVE A TRUST!!!!  Something like this is still in the "simple" category and so things like Nolo will be low risk for DIY. 

You will also want your children provided for.  Now things may get more complicated.  Do you have multiple guardians (remember, your first choice might also be dead) who are responsible enough to do the finances for this?  If so, maybe you can still keep it "simple" but otherwise trouble may lay ahead.

What about a revocable living trust?  Research carefully.  These are good things to have when you are likely to die.  Unfortunately, for those likely to live the "living" part of the trust can rapidly become a maintenance headache.  They are expensive to setup and you will be changing them a lot if you are young and healthy.  So, old or about to die you probably want a lawyer to do this for sure.  Young and healthy, probably give it a skip.  Again, many states allow property to transfer to a spouse without probate and more and more accounts will also transfer without probate if you have declared a beneficiary (i.e. your hopefully juicy retirement accounts).

So you have a spectrum of DIY making a lot of sense when you are young, have simple finances and simple beneficiaries and a lawyer and trusts making more sense when you are older or want to set up a private island resort for your favorite cat.

You do get what you pay for.  For a Mustachian I would say you handle this like most everything else.  Be sure to in source what you can (may just be knowledge if you go with a lawyer).  Don't get caught up in the details (e.g. every special circumstance you create will increase cost and lower the quality of your will/trust so get over the "oh Suzy really likes that chair, lets make sure she gets it" kind of thinking).

And be sure to make use of the numerous existing mechanisms for avoided probate (hold titles appropriately and always set up your beneficiaries properly).  Really, for most young people these days proper titles and beneficiaries with a simple "pour over" will and no trust will do the job.  But don't kid yourself thinking that will all happen without planning and action on your part now.

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #41 on: June 25, 2013, 10:10:27 AM »
I think a good parallel to the question of "Do I need a lawyer for an estate plan?" is "Do I need to hire a Certified Professional Planner to manage my investments?"

Usually the advice here goes something like this:

1. No, you should read some books about investing and become familiar with the information yourself. You can absolutely do it on your own, although if you have significant assets you might want to consult with one on a fee-only basis for a short time to address specific questions or strategies.

2. Nobody cares about your money like you do.

3. Keep in mind that <professional> is geared to earn money from you. It doesn't mean they are scammers by any stretch, but their primary motivation or reason for being in business is profit.

4. You owe it to yourself to at least become informed on the basics. That way if you do hire a professional you won't be paying to obtain information that is easily attained through reading, and you'll be in a better position to make decisions and sort out the good advice from the potential BS.

I think this same advice works very well for deciding whether to hire an attorney to do an estate plan. I don't know why an educated, frugal consumer would deviate from this advice when deciding whether to hire an attorney, or a doctor, or anyone else. You just get better results all around when you educate yourself.

DoubleDown

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #42 on: June 25, 2013, 10:29:06 AM »

I'm all for DIYing stuff.  Even (some) legal stuff.  But trusts and estate stuff I wouldn't.


That's fair! Fortunately we all get to decide the things we're comfortable with and the things we aren't.


Good for you DoubleDown for apparently doing stuff perfectly right the first time, on your own.  IDK how much time it took you, but it apparently saved you $700.  For most people my advice would still be "consult an attorney."

:)

I'm not claiming I did it perfectly, nor would an attorney likely do it perfectly. Any estate plan is open to challenge (just like anyone can be sued for about any reason), although it is very, very unusual to successfully challenge a properly executed revocable trust. And that assumes there would even be someone who wants to try to challenge it...

BTW, the cost for having an attorney create an estate plan to meet my needs varied between $2,000-3,000 where we live, so I had more motivation to DIY than just forking over $700 ;-)


You're wrong about a will being executed in June 2013 being undone by a court decision handed down in July 2013 -- that's not what I meant. 


I should have been more exact in my original wording. I didn't mean to imply a court would retroactively undo a will, I meant that the guidance offered and the executed plan can start to become obsolete as soon as it's executed (for example, due to changes in tax law, inheritance and gifting, etc.). This is true whether you DIY or hire an attorney.


Non-lawyers generally don't understand that law is alive and constantly changing.   


Tell that to Scalia ;-)

fiveoclockshadow

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #43 on: June 25, 2013, 10:45:14 AM »
3. Keep in mind that <professional> is geared to earn money from you. It doesn't mean they are scammers by any stretch, but their primary motivation or reason for being in business is profit.

I like your other points, but I think this one needs a little more thought/clarification as it is quite different for the analogy to professional finance folks.

In the case of a lawyer writing a will/trust the payment is either per hour or fixed fee for the product.  That's really the only motivation to the lawyer.  The fees won't be dependent on the assets under the trust/will nor is there an incentive to do things detrimental to those assets.  Really, the only possible conflict of interest I see is potentially steering a client into something that will require future work (see my warning regarding doing trusts that are unnecessary early in life).  But that doesn't do anything bad to the assets, just gets the customer to come back more frequently for something that is perhaps "over protected".

This is quite different from most finance professionals.  They often have incentives to do things bad to your assets (e.g. churn) to make money.  They aren't just taking your money, in the process of generating that money they lose even more of your money to the market!  Much worse situation!

DoubleDown

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #44 on: June 25, 2013, 02:35:57 PM »

This is quite different from most finance professionals.  They often have incentives to do things bad to your assets (e.g. churn) to make money.  They aren't just taking your money, in the process of generating that money they lose even more of your money to the market!  Much worse situation!

Agreed, the parallel starts to break down a bit more here. I think the potential for abuse here is when a legal firm bills unnecessary hours. I have definitely seen this happen in other areas of legal practice, with attorneys doing unnecessary, unasked for, and sometimes downright wasteful "work", and the costs can really escalate to ridiculous levels for what should be straightforward issues. I have not heard of this in the case of preparing an estate plan, though, so there may not be a big risk there.

Nords

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #45 on: July 02, 2013, 11:58:54 PM »
Any thoughts?  Lawyer is charging $800, legalzoom is less then $100 (I think).
What did you do for your will?  Did you also set up any trust/estate?
Why not do both?  Educate yourself with a cheap product from Intuit or Nolo, and then take the output to a lawyer for the final review & signatures.

The first part will educate you and reduce the time spent answering lawyer's questions, while the second part will make sure that your wishes are correctly converted to legal prose.

Trying to do it yourself first and then having a lawyer "just review" it is an awful idea, IMO. Trying to fix something someone else jacked up is more time intensive than just doing it right in the first place.
Upon further reflection, that "jacked up" document was put together by someone who's trying to communicate their desires to their beneficiaries.

Perhaps it's also a great tool for screening out incompetent or easily-confused lawyers. 

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #46 on: July 03, 2013, 09:13:10 AM »
I'm a lawyer.  I did my own will when I was in law school  It was quite simple.  That said, my assets are much greater now.  We will be redoing our wills in six months and will use a lawyer for this.

In Canada there are DIY will kits available at bookstores.  I think these are a fine option for a single person or a married couple without any complicated assets to manage or distribute. 

For remarriages, divorced persons with kids, and significant assets I would use a lawyer who specializes in wills and estates.  There are interesting solutions to these situations that you will likely not think of, it is easy to mess up your own will if you deviate from standard terms, and there are many ways to ensure that costs are reduced for your heirs.   

totoro

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #47 on: July 03, 2013, 09:28:35 AM »
Any thoughts?  Lawyer is charging $800, legalzoom is less then $100 (I think).
What did you do for your will?  Did you also set up any trust/estate?
Why not do both?  Educate yourself with a cheap product from Intuit or Nolo, and then take the output to a lawyer for the final review & signatures.

The first part will educate you and reduce the time spent answering lawyer's questions, while the second part will make sure that your wishes are correctly converted to legal prose.

Trying to do it yourself first and then having a lawyer "just review" it is an awful idea, IMO. Trying to fix something someone else jacked up is more time intensive than just doing it right in the first place.
Upon further reflection, that "jacked up" document was put together by someone who's trying to communicate their desires to their beneficiaries.

Perhaps it's also a great tool for screening out incompetent or easily-confused lawyers.

No.  As a lawyer it is always more difficult to work on a document someone else has prepared imo and, worse, it takes more time which is equal to more expense for a client.   

I hate when I'm asked to review a non-lawyer's draft of a legal document.  This happened recently when I was given a complex bylaw to review that had been drafted by an engineer (from a template).  Nightmare task with mistakes everywhere, cross referencing completely off, and unenforceable terms.  I was never confused by it, just frustrated that it took longer than it needed to.   

With legal documents if you start from the beginning with your own template and client instructions there is a process and a checklist that you go through in order.  This saves time and money every time in my experience.

NumberCruncher

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #48 on: July 03, 2013, 11:10:37 AM »

No.  As a lawyer it is always more difficult to work on a document someone else has prepared imo and, worse, it takes more time which is equal to more expense for a client.   

I hate when I'm asked to review a non-lawyer's draft of a legal document.  This happened recently when I was given a complex bylaw to review that had been drafted by an engineer (from a template).  Nightmare task with mistakes everywhere, cross referencing completely off, and unenforceable terms.  I was never confused by it, just frustrated that it took longer than it needed to.   

With legal documents if you start from the beginning with your own template and client instructions there is a process and a checklist that you go through in order.  This saves time and money every time in my experience.

Interesting - Sounds very similar to debugging someone else's (uncommented or poorly commented) code.

cynthia1848

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Re: Legalzoom or Lawyer- need a will
« Reply #49 on: July 03, 2013, 12:04:20 PM »
Concur with totoro - it is always more difficult to "fix" someone else's document than to prepare your own.

I do estate planning for a living.  If you have kids, you need a will if for no other reason than to name guardians.  Otherwise, depending on the state, a judge will decide to whom the kids will go if you and spouse (if you have a spouse) both pass away.  In addition, if in your state probate is slow and expensive, you need a will to help move your estate along.