Question: Can I use an online form for estate planning?
Answer: You could, but you should not.
The problem with online forms, and whatever other form of online estate planning DIY, is that (a) they are not likely prepared with the review of a qualified estate planning attorney, and (b) they are not likely state-specific. Each state has its own idea what a Will looks like, or a Health Care Proxy, or a Power of Attorney. If you are going to sign one of these forms, or any other form for estate planning, within your home state, then you should make sure the form you sign is valid in your home state. These online forms, or estate planning DIY websites, are not always prepared with the state-specific rules in mind. Nor are they prepared with a state-specific attorney’s guidance and review. Most times, these online forms or estate planning DIY websites are made universal because the company thinks the form could be used in any state.
New York, for example, has very specific rules about what a Health Care Proxy looks like and how it is signed. The same goes for a Power of Attorney. In fact, New York has a whole form of a Power of Attorney in the NYS law that MUST be followed. If certain things are left out of the form you sign, then it is invalid. There are instances where people have downloaded forms of a Power of Attorney, signed them, and tried to use them after their loved one became incapacitated, only to find out that the state-specific form was not used. In those instances, the NYS law is clear that there is no way to fix the form. In those instances, you need to start all over again. But what if you can’t? What if your loved one no longer has the capacity to sign such a form? In those instances, you are stuck without a proper form.
Which leads me to the other problem with online forms: you won’t know if your form is executed properly. With these online forms and estate planning DIY websites and kits, there is no way of knowing if you are doing things right until it’s too late and then there is nothing you, your family, or your friends can do about it. Without getting the relevant, specific, information and form from a qualified estate planning attorney, you will probably leave your family and friends with a complete mess.
What would happen if you download a Will, fill it out, and sign it, only for your family to learn (after you are gone) that the form is wrong for NY and the document was not signed in accordance with NY law? A big mess is what would happen.
I know the point is to save money. But, in the end, if the online form is improper or invalid, you will likely cost your family and friends more money. You are better off seeking out a qualified estate planning attorney from the beginning, ensuring things are done correctly, and making sure the attorney tries to work with you regarding fees. You’ll save yourself and your loved ones money in the long run.
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