Online Estate Planning
Pros & Cons
“The Bitterness of Poor Quality Remains Long After the Sweetness of Low Price is Forgotten” - Benjamin Franklin
The quote above is often used to either describe the feeling one experiences after a "value" item breaks too soon, or by a contractor attempting to convince a customer to upgrade a purchase. Here, I want to use that quote in a different way - to describe the difference between purchasing an estate plan from an online service and working with a legal professional to personally craft an estate plan.
Purchasing goods and services online has become a part of everyday life. According to Statista, nearly 80% of North American consumers make their purchases online (the number is actually higher in other parts of the world). Consumers, by and large, find online shopping convenient and typically enjoy lower prices for similar goods that could be purchased in a traditional "brick-and-mortar" store. Consumers are also hiring services online now more than ever. The pandemic may be the catalyst for this increase in online purchasing of goods and services as people realize they can find and purchase nearly everything they want or need, and engage service providers to help fix, repair or deliver. Why should legal services, such as estate planning, be any different?
One of the most famous online sources for legal documents, "Legal Zoom", was founded over 20 years ago. Similar online sources followed shortly after. Their popularity grew rapidly over the years for any number of reasons. Some of the reasons posed are:
They provide services to those who feel they cannot afford a lawyer
They provide a sense of quickness and efficiency when creating a legal product
They allow the creation of legal documents without personal interaction
Each of these reasons seem to fall perfectly in line with the desires and goals of a typical online shopper, right? Getting the best price, with the least amount of hassle, while shopping in my pajamas sounds like a win-win-win. That's not always the case however.
Our current consumer culture seems to lead us to the goal of finding the lowest price, no matter the cost. Previous generations had it right instead. They embarked in the opposite direction when purchasing a product, and considered the end goal as finding the best quality, and then sought the best price possible. This is where we get the notion of "value". Put another way, we should strive to obtain an item of high worth at a reasonable price, and not the other way around.
Recall in recent memory a time when you had a replace a "bargain" item because it was of low quality. Did it make sense to pay twice or even three times for that item? Was there instead an option to purchase a higher quality item for perhaps a slightly higher price? Each of us could find numerous examples of this problem in our lives. This problem is so common and has persisted for so long, in fact, that it spawned Mr. Franklin's quote above - and many more modern versions of the same theme.
What then? Should the consumer turn their attention to pricier items and services? The highest price does not always mean the highest quality. Keep in mind our goal: to first find the highest quality before considering the price. As this relates to estate planning, we must first look at the needs of the individual or couple and then, based upon those needs, create a budget. Several considerations should be used when determining these needs:
Allowing your loved ones the easy ability to handle your affairs when you are unable to
Leaving your children with a smooth and efficient process to handle your assets after you die
Reducing the time and cost of administering your estate after you die
Avoiding the mistake of "hidden" or "forgotten" assets from being overlooked at the time of death
Preventing a family argument in the event a guardianship is needed
Solidifying your choices for your own healthcare, and making sure your loved ones understand and adhere to those choices
Some events that can happen that disrupt meeting these needs are:
Failing to have a written document in place that assigns the duty of handling financial affairs to a trusted individual
The absence of a written document in place that authorizes a loved one to advocate on your behalf relating to healthcare decisions
The lack of a written document appointing a trustworthy person to handle your estate, or that specifies the persons who should receive your belongings
Failing to take advantage of opportunities to transfer assets upon death quickly and efficiently
Begin with the end in mind, and then find the most cost effective way to get there. We can help. If you have an interest in estate planning, reach out to Myers Law LLC for a free, no obligation, phone call. We think you will find that working with us will be a pleasant experience, and provide you and your loved ones with peace of mind.
-Robert L. Myers. January 4, 2022