Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Legalzoom.com is better than an attorney

A legal colleague of mine, Dennis Brislawn, wrote an interesting blog post about the use of LegalZoom.com compared with the services of an attorney, and I thought you might find his perspective interesting.

I recently had an opportunity to check out some LegalZoom documents.  One of my friends used the LegalZoom service to prepare some Wills for his kids.  They were simple trust planning documents.  Each spouse left the estate to the other, but if both were deceased, they had a Common Trust for all kids until they turned 21, then money would split into shares that each child would receive in equal installments at ages 24, 27, and 30.  These LegalZoom documents even had powers of attorney and all the trimmings.

The documents looked pretty "legal.”  My friend did the plan himself, in an hour or two on the weekend, and only spent a few hundred dollars.  He did this lieu of going to an attorney for budget reasons and scheduling difficulty with his activities.  At least he did something, which is far better than not covering this important issue – so kudos to my friend.

When he sought my opinion, my comments were that I thought the documents were good from a simplistic technical perspective.  I actually kind of liked them as they were well-written and clean.  How did that work compare to what I or one of my estate planning attorney colleagues would do?  They were simple, not elegant.  But the most important missing component is they did not demonstrate insight, personalization, or the awareness of core values important to my friends.  The document was clear for the kids after age 21, but there was no meaningful guidance into how a trust would be used by the guardians of children to raise them until age 21.  Guidelines create the comfort that their kids will become the adults their parents would be proud of.  What about asset protection for adult children to protect their inheritance against divorce or bankruptcy?  I think you get my point.

Result?  I was retained to do a comprehensive plan to address all the things that were not part of the simple LegalZoom plan. We also looked over their investments, retirement planning, insurance coverage, and the separate inheritances each was to get from their own grandparents and parents.  I reached out to my friend's advisers and got their help in relooking at all these things to make sure that they were properly handled too.

LegalZoom provides documents.  But I’m reminded by this experience that law is far more than the preparation of documents.  It is about listening, discerning, and identifying core values.  It is about understanding what can keep your clients awake at night.  It is about pulling together resources to resolve those concerns and to put a plan in place.  But, even more important, it is about working to keep that plan tuned up so that as things change, it changes.  Documents are simple.  Wisdom is harder to come by.

My experience is similar to this post by Dennis.  I help people with information that will lead to good decisions and workable plans.  The forms that I use are secondary part of my service. LegalZoom is better than doing nothing, and an attorney providing good advice offers more than just a set of forms. If you agree – or disagree – I’d welcome your comments. 


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