‘Do it yourself’ will-writing websites panned by Consumer Reports

A growing number of websites now allow people to plug in information about themselves and write their own will. But doing so can be very dangerous and can lead to big problems, according to an independent review by Consumer Reports.

The magazine analyzed three such sites – LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, and Quicken WillMaker Plus – and ran the results by a law professor who specializes in tax and estate law. All three websites had a variety of problems, according to the study.

The problems included:

Outdated information. Two sites applied federal tax rules that were already months out-of-date.

Not state-specific. The law of wills varies from state to state, but the programs didn’t take into account variations in state law.

No tax advice. None of the programs offered tailored advice on how to reduce taxes – a critical flaw.
Incomplete. The websites often lacked provisions on how to handle business interests, electronic assets, trusts for children with special needs, trusts for pet care, domestic partnerships, multiple trustees, etc.

No flexibility. The websites frequently made arbitrary choices and didn’t allow bequests to be handled differently. And some added additional provisions to trusts without any warning.

The professor described one will produced by Rocket Lawyer as “primitive,” and another as “a mess.”

The magazine noted that LegalZoom allows you to pay extra money to receive attorney “support,” but when it contacted the company, it was told to type questions about arbitrary or missing provisions into a box and that these would be handled later in a hard copy of the will. According to the magazine, even though it paid the extra fee, this never happened.

Using a do-it-yourself website to write a will can be “like removing your own appendix,” according to the Consumer Reports article. There’s simply no substitute for a lawyer who can understand your wishes and goals, and provide legal and tax advice that’s suited to your specific needs.

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