Ask a Lawyer - If I Need a Will, Why Should I Hire an Attorney to Help?
This is the third and final part of the "Ask a Lawyer" series of posts responding to the initial question, "Why should I hire a lawyer to help with my will or trust." In the first post, we explained why it is important to have an "estate plan," and what that entails. In the second edition, we discussed why everyone should have a will. The third component of the initial question says, assuming that I've convinced you that you need to do some estate planning, why hire a lawyer to help? Why not use one of the many website offering will forms for cheap and simply do it yourself?
First, if you've made it this far and recognize that you need to do some estate planning, I commend you. You have already made a decision to take action to provide for your loved ones and to consider what will happen to your estate when you are gone. You have overcome the first, significant hurdle--you are doing something and not procrastinating!
Having decided to act and considering the importance of the issues you will be considering, doesn't it make sense to seek the advice of real people you know and trust to give you sound advice as to what is in your and your family's best interests? That is not to say that cost is not a valid consideration of this process, obviously it is, but isn't it worth something to have a trusted professional help you ensure that the documents you sign will do what you intend them to do?
Abraham Lincoln said that "a lawyer's time and advice are his stock in trade." When you hire a lawyer to help you with your estate plan, you are not simply "buying a will," you are paying a licensed professional (who should be carrying professional liability insurance) for their advice. You are paying the attorney to advise you as to how to carry out your wishes in the event of your death (or incapacitation), and to help you create legal documents to do that. Obviously, you want such a professional to be qualified to properly assist you. Many people would say that it is also of value to have a personal relationship or at least a personal connection with the attorney, to provide further assurance as to the attorney's trustworthiness and ability to assist your family, if called upon, such as in the event of your untimely passing.
To put it bluntly, you have already faced the fact that you will die one day. If something were to happen to you tomorrow, who would your family turn to for help with how to implement and probate your estate plan? That is not to imply that you have any obligation to your estate planning attorney. The point is simply that having taken the time to create a plan to take effect on your death, shouldn't you do what you can to make sure the plan is thought through to allow your family to actually implement your plan?
Can you hire a lawyer to probate an internet form will? Sure you can. That lawyer will be powerless to correct any errors or deficiencies; it will be too late for that. Since you did not designate or retain an attorney when you were alive, your family will be forced to pick someone in a time of grief. If your family does not know any attorneys, they will have to ask around for a referral or comb the yellow pages. But if you do know an attorney, why wait until that time to ask for help?
Too often lawyers write posts like this one in a defensive manner seeking to justify the quality of their work and trying to shoot holes in internet forms. I've tried to avoid that trap in this post. I realize full well the reason people choose internet form wills over hiring a lawyer - it is simply a cost-saving decision. Internet form wills are getting better; some of the better websites now address State law differences, which is essential (if you use an internet form, absolutely make sure it meets your State's particular requirements!). The documents themselves may or may not be fine, that really is not the issue. The issue is whether the benefits of working with a real person lawyer are worth the cost, compared with an internet form document. The choice is yours.
Nate Hinch is an attorney and partner at the law firm of Mueller, Reece & Hinch, LLC. He has offices at 404 N. Hershey Road, Suite C, Bloomington, IL 61704, and 809 Detweiller Drive, Peoria, IL 61615, and can be reached by phone at (309) 827-4055 and email at email@example.com.