With COVID-19 affecting more and more Americans, people across the country are scrambling to set up wills and end-of-life directives. Over the last two weeks, online will companies have seen an explosion in users, according to the article, “Coronavirus Pandemic Triggers Rush by Americans to Make Online Wills,” published by CNBC.com.
However, as online wills grow in popularity, estate and elder lawyers increasingly caution against using them, for several reasons.
- Will the documents be legally valid? Since most of these do-it-yourself wills are created and executed without any oversight from an attorney, a larger number of wills may not be executed in compliance with the proper will formalities, and that could end up invalidating the will.
- Do you fully understand the questions and consequences of your answers? There are many nuances in estate planning, as well as a good bit of legal jargon. Confusion over the question or the consequences of a decision can result in costly mistakes … and could even mean your will won’t hold up to a challenge in court.
- What about asset protection? There is more to estate planning than just giving your stuff away after you die. How you transfer ownership of your assets can mean the difference between a protected inheritance and legacy for many generations … or the squandering or loss of a person’s life’s work within a few years … or months … after they pass away.
- Is there any planning for long-term care? It’s estimated that more than half of people turning age 65 who will need some type of long-term care services in their lifetimes. Proper estate planning should balance the possibility that you will need assistance paying for nursing home care (Medicaid), with other estate planning goals. Mistakes in this area could disqualify you from receiving assistance should you need it.
To make things even worse, a lot of states have law that protect these online providers from liability, should these documents not do what they say they do. In Texas for instance, Section 81.101 of the Texas Government Code specifically states that providing documents over the internet is not considered the “practice of law.” Therefore these internet providers do not have to comply with anything a licensed attorney has to comply with. They are not under the rules of the State Bar of Texas, and the consumer is not protected like they are when they work with a licensed attorney. When you buy over the internet it’s 100% “buyer beware” because all you are doing is buying a “product” and therefore you don’t know what your really getting. The scariest part is by the time you realize the product wasn’t good … it’s too late.
As COVID-19 keeps people home, meeting with a lawyer to create a will or estate plan could not be easier. In most states, a lawyer’s services have been deemed “essential,” even during stay-at-home orders. We are doing everything we can to make our services as easy and convenient for you as possible, including meeting over telephone, online video services and other innovative ways to ensure you get the planning you need while complying with all safety measures.
Resource: Coronavirus Pandemic Triggers Rush by Americans to Make Online Wills, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/25/coronavirus-pandemic-triggers-rush-by-americans-to-make-online-wills.html