Those of you who have been following this blog, know of my weariness against “DIY” estate planning services. I believe using these services, such as Legal Zoom, for one’s own estate planning services – wills, trusts, power of attorneys, etc. – is just a recipe for disaster. While I can understand why people who do not think they have complicated lives/estates might be drawn to purchasing “simple” documents at Wal-Mart prices, making one wrong choice could prove disastrous. Even if the basic form is good (which I do not believe they are), it is highly unlikely a consumer would complete them correctly.
It appears that the State Bar of North Carolina (Unauthorized Practice) and a few Missouri law firms agree! Legal Zoom has been slapped with an amended class action petition on behalf of plaintiffs in Missouri seeking refunds of all fees paid to Legal Zoom by Missouri consumers. In addition, a suit has been filed by the North Carolina unlawful practice of law committee for the State Bar of North Carolina with a cease and desist letter. Legal Zoom is aware of the suits and will apparently vigorously defend the claims.
Just remember that fixing your plumbing or electricity may cause a problem that you can have fixed by a professional (provided you do not burn your house down), but most estate planning documents are not actually used until some dies or becomes incapacitated, when it is too late to make changes, and then if they are wrong or not coordinated properly with assets and beneficiary designations, the wrong person may make decisions or receive assets or the right person may receive assets at the wrong time. I encourage everyone to go to an experienced estate planning lawyer, who is well versed in tax law, who drafts documents customized to each person’s situation, to make sure that your wishes and objectives will be translated into your estate planning documents.
Stay tuned for more comments on these events.