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Attorney-Drafted Estate Planning Documents vs. Online Forms 

Law Offices of Kelton M. Burgess, LLC Dec. 22, 2022

Most of us have no doubt encountered advertisements online or on television promoting services to create your last will and testament or other legal documents by yourself. While this may initially appear to be a quicker and less expensive route to doing your estate planning than hiring an attorney, the do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to creating legal instruments can be fraught with unforeseen limitations and dangers. 

The lure of this “over and done with” method can be enticing, but it also reduces the future of you and your loved ones to checkboxes and fill in the blanks. It does not provide a means for a comprehensive review of your loved ones’ needs now or when you’re gone. Only sitting down and meeting with an estate planning attorney can create the necessary forum for considering every anticipated—and not anticipated—need going forward. 

If you’re in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or in surrounding communities, and you’re starting out on estate planning—or if it’s time for a periodic review of what you have—contact Law Offices of Kelton M. Burgess, LLC. Our experienced estate planning team will meet with you to review your unique circumstances and help you draft, or update, the legal instruments that will give you and your family peace of mind going forward. 

What Is Estate Planning? 

Estate planning involves a comprehensive review of one’s current situation as well as future events, whether foreseen or unforeseen. The pandemic that commenced in 2020 should have been a wake-up call for all of us to realize that anything can happen at any time, and we should be prepared for all eventualities. 

While a last will and testament is the building block of estate planning, it is not always the only legal instrument you’re going to need. For starters, a will has to go through probate court, which could leave your heirs waiting months or even more than a year before they can receive what you left them. A living trust can avoid that. 

In addition, occasions may arise when you need to have a power of attorney (POA) take effect— for instance, if you become incapacitated or somehow unable to manage your own financial affairs. A living will (or health care power of attorney) can provide the same security should you end up in a hospital bed and be unable to voice your own treatment decisions. 

In other words, an online service may provide for all these options document-wise, but it does not provide for the human touch which can alert you to your best choices in creating an estate plan. 

The Benefits of Using an Estate Planning Attorney 

In addition to having someone experienced in estate planning, using an attorney over a DIY resource solves several problems that a voiceless digital resource may not sufficiently alert you to.  

First, even if you create a will online, it must be executed properly and then stored safely. In Pennsylvania, you can create a will without any witnesses, but that is probably not the best approach since it will leave open the question of the validity of your will once it reaches probate court. 

If you do use witnesses, they can testify to the authenticity of the document once it goes into probate. Better yet, if your will is witnessed and also notarized, it can become “self-proving” and no witness or anyone else will have to testify to its genuineness in court. 

Storage can also be an issue. If you store away your will in a desk drawer, anyone with access to your premises can tamper with it. If they don’t like what they see, they can tear it up. If you store it in a safe deposit box, you’d better make sure that someone you trust—perhaps the executor you name in your will—has access to the box. An even better approach is to create the will with an attorney, who will then retain a copy and who can vouch for its authenticity in court. 

Modifications to a DIY will can also pose challenges. While a will can be modified or torn up and replaced at any time, the online form is going to provide few, if any methods, for modification. You’d no doubt have to start all over again. If you created the document with an attorney, changes can be made quickly and easily. 

In a DIY situation, getting advice on what to do can be troublesome. A pop-up explanation is not always going to provide the explanation or details you’re seeking. Some services will allow you to contact an attorney (for an added fee) but the contact will be brief and lack the human touch of a face-to-face encounter. Also, it’s unlikely you’d ever get the same attorney again if you have additional questions or need clarification. 

In other words, you’re on your own with a DIY approach. If you choose the wrong form or fill it out incompletely or erroneously, there is no one who is going to tell you that your will and its instructions are not legally enforceable.  

Estate Planning Guidance You Can Trust 

For all the reasons above and many more, it’s important that you carry out your estate planning process with an experienced attorney who will conduct a compassionate life review with you and then make sure the legal documents you create can withstand the test of time—and withstand court challenges.  

If you’re in the Greater Pittsburgh Area or in surrounding communities, contact us at the Law Offices of Kelton M. Burgess, LLC. We have the knowledge and resources to help you plan for the future and to make sure your loved ones are taken care of should anything happen to you. Set up a consultation with us today.