There is no denying that in this day and age, the Internet is a wondrous and incredibly potent tool for both business and personal use. The ability to look up almost anything and anyone, receive information nigh-instantaneously, and communicate globally with little to no effort allows us to move mountains as though they were pebbles. Some think this translates to online living trusts.
But it does not come without its own share of drawbacks and weaknesses. As great as the internet is, it is not always very reliable – or very trustworthy. Without a keen sense for what may be true and false, it can be easy to step into a world of misinformation within minutes of opening a new browser tab.
Even if you know where to look, there are some things that the Internet just cannot do for you. Looking up a recipe does not mean you know how to cook – or to put it in other terms, specificity and skill do not come with a quick Google search.
As one example, it is very ill-advised to pick up legal advice online. The Internet is an amazing tool for learning more about the law, and it is very useful if you want to do some homework and better understand a legal decision before you make it. But that does not constitute legal advice or give you the breadth of information you need to completely understand every nuance of a legal decision made in your specific county, for your specific case.
Enter legal services. The Internet is full of services that either offer to prepare legal documents for you, or help you go through a DIY process to create your own legal documents, from wills and trusts to contracts. These preparation services, including online living trusts preparation services, range from completely untrustworthy to popular albeit ill-advised. Here is why the concept itself is flawed:
What the Statistics Say
The argument for and against online DIY legal services is simple – on one hand, these platforms are aiming to help you save money upfront by bypassing a legal professional and helping you do what they do for free, or at a reduced cost. On the other hand, however, reading a book or two or downloading a free fill-out form does not make a lawyer.
Among the many boons of the internet is review culture. Reviews and testimonials give us first-hand experience from other consumers to gauge the quality of a product or service. In the case of online legal services, there seems to be a unanimous agreement that you should be prepared to face a possible host of issues – including the documents not being valid in your state, or for your specific case, or running into issues during the document creation process with little to no customer service on the website’s part.
Creating living trusts without first going over the specifics with a professional can lead to a host of clerical errors. And it only takes one error to render your trust invalid. If you then decide to seek the help of a lawyer, it could take several months and several thousands of dollars to fix the problem. Nuances and technicalities are not ignored or glossed over in court, and unless you want a small mistake to haunt you in a few decades, consider doing it right the first time around.
Why Living Trusts Are Best Built Professionally
There is a reason living trusts cost money. It is not because lawyers are a collective band of modern-day highwaymen – instead, it is because it is very easy to make mistakes when drafting up a trust agreement, and it takes years and years of study and practice to set up a firm and offer professional legal services. The upfront costs for legal documents may seem high, but they are a fraction of what it would cost you to remedy mistakes and clerical errors often made when using DIY forms or attempting to create a trust on your own.
Living trusts can be a very complicated legal tool. In most cases, trusts are recommended and drafted up specifically because an estate is too large or too complex to be encapsulated within a last will and testament. With some help from a lawyer, building and polishing your own will takes neither a large amount of time nor resources. But a trust is completely different, built and customized specifically to address issues that only you might face, due to very specific circumstances and a variety of factors.
From the contents of your estate, to the state of your marriage, your relationship to your children, your family’s financial capabilities, your wishes regarding charity and more – there are too many things to consider for a DIY trust to properly address.
There is also the fact that most online legal services offer only a very basic and incredibly boilerplate example of a trust document. Sometimes, they do not even offer separate templates for each state. States have varying laws in matters of inheritance, estate planning and taxes, as well as differences in the probate code. These may be subtle to a layman, but they can substantially change the requirements and considerations of a living trust.
Legal Advice on the Internet
It is important to remember that, technically speaking, it is not legal to offer definitive legal advice through the Internet without practicing the law and taking a person on as an official client. What you see online can be used to help you make better informed decisions, but it is not to be taken as advice directly aimed at you and your needs as a person.
All online legal services offer lengthy disclaimers specifically stating that their content is not to be misunderstood as being official legal advice – the same goes for this article. If you want a valuable and professional opinion, then meet up with a lawyer and give them the details of your estate, and your wants and wishes.
As we have mentioned, the Internet is a great source of information and entertainment. But when discussing matters of inheritance and estate planning, the most important piece of information is to go and speak with a professional.