Online Estate Plans Vs Drafting With An Attorney: Is It Worth The Savings To Draft Online?

When trying to find ways to cut costs, many people look to internet-based options for goods and services. One such option is getting an online estate plan. Online estate plans typically cost between $100 and $1000, whereas in-person plans can be far more expensive. In Texas, a plan typically costs an individual between $800 and $2,500, and a couple between $1,200 and $3,500. But it’s difficult to figure out what you’re really paying for, and whether you will end up with a sufficient estate plan if you opt to go online. Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences:

Type of Documents

This one should be a slam dunk for online estate planning. With any (good) estate plan, either online or one you create in person with an attorney, you should end up with the same basic documents. These include:

  • A Will;
  • A Durable Power of Attorney;
  • A Medical Power of Attorney;
  • A Directive to Physicians (or living will);
  • A HIPAA Release; and
  • Guardianship Directives for minor children.

An easy test to determine whether an online estate plan option is worth its salt is to see if it provides all of these documents. If it doesn’t, go elsewhere.

An in-person plan may result in additional documents, but such documents may not be necessary for you. There are many more complex estate documents out there (such as living trusts), but most people don’t necessarily need the more complex options. How can you tell if you do? Answer these seven questions:

  1. Are you (or if you’re married, are you or is your spouse) a citizen of a country other than the United States (and not a U.S. citizen)?
  2. Do you have a blended family (meaning, do you or your spouse have children from a previous marriage)?
  3. Do you own any part of a closely held or small business?
  4. Do you have a taxable estate (does the total of all of your property—including life insurance—equal more than $5.49 million)?
  5. Do you own property in more than one state?
  6. Do you have any beneficiaries that have special needs or are on government assistance?
  7. Do you have a complex plan for what should happen to your property when you die?

If you answered “no” to all of the questions, you probably don’t need the more advanced documents. If you answered “yes” to any of them, skip the online savings, and hire an estate planning attorney to draft your docs. Quality online planning systems, such as Carole Callaghan Law’s Online Estate Planner in Texas, will ask questions like this up front, and advise against online planning if it’s not right for you.

Content of Documents

So now that we know what you should be getting with an online estate plan, let’s look at what is contained in the documents and the estate planning basics. Without much exception, your Medical documents, and even Guardianship Documents are probably going to be similar, regardless of whether you draft your estate plan online, or with an attorney. They are (for the most part) form documents that don’t need any special knowledge to complete.

But your Durable Power of Attorney and your Will are both a little different.

Most online plans offer boilerplate Statutory Durable Power of Attorney forms. These forms have the bare minimum information required by the state statutes. And while they are sufficient for many situations, they may not be sufficient for everything. Unfortunately, trying to figure out what may be missing from your Durable Power of Attorney is going to be pretty difficult until you see the document…something that virtually no online estate planning system offers (with good reason…why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?). Thus, if you are concerned that you may need a more robust Durable Power of Attorney, you should probably skip the online process and meet with an attorney in person.

That leaves your Will. Most (but not all) online estate plans will create a very basic Will. And while it’s difficult to tell whether you’re getting everything you need, you can get an idea based on the questions the online estate plan asks. For example, does it cover what happens to your pets? Do they include trusts for minors or people with special needs? Does it address the disposition of your remains? If these types of questions are missing, you should question the quality of the Will you are receiving.

Even if these questions are all included, your Will needs to be drafted properly to insure that your property will pass according to your wishes when you die. Make sure you online plan is being drafted—or at the very least reviewed—by an actual attorney who is licensed in the state where you live. If it’s not, pass on it. What may seem like a real value, can end up costing your estate thousands of dollars if your Will isn’t up to snuff in your home state. Worse yet, if it’s found to be invalid, your property may not pass to who you want it to at all. It’s far better to spend a little more to get a document that you can trust.

Go With Your Gut

Deciding when an online estate plan is sufficient can be difficult. Your best bet is to go with your gut. Never choose a plan that requires you to pay before you go through the questions. If you don’t think it’s thorough, go elsewhere. And, if you have concerns as you go through the questions, that’s a good reason to stop with the online process and spend the extra money on an in-person plan.