I often hear from prospective clients looking to save a buck that it’s cheaper to just use LegalZoom or other online template services. Of course, it is. A template is a form without any guarantees, experience, or education that can tell you what your situation requires. Here’s my response: if you’re looking to save money on your will, trust, or contract, then don’t buy a form. Just don’t do anything. It will likely be cheaper.
Save the money, you or your family will need it down the road.
The fact is that these templates are created for a limited set of facts, and if those facts don’t apply to your situation, there is no one to tell you so. So, if you use these documents, it is very likely that they will not work for you or your family in the long run. In fact, LegalZoom disclaims any responsibility for the forms and precludes an attorney-client relationship so that they suffer no blame if and when the documents fail. It might as well say: AT YOUR OWN RISK. Their Terms of Service specifically state, “LegalZoom, its Services, and its forms or templates are not a substitute for the advice or services of an attorney.“
You are not a lawyer.
It use to be the case that people had to go to an attorney to get an estate plan or contract prepared. In the current age of the internet and online shopping, platforms like LegalZoom and RocketLawyer offer these templates to consumers. The problem: you are not a lawyer. A lawyer has spent years acquiring an education and becoming certified to give you legal advice that you do not possess on your own. A lawyer’s experience of client pitfalls and wins builds a background for their counsel that you do not possess. Now, many lawyers do use templates, but the good ones will only use them as a starting point. A lawyer would know when your situation requires specific language and can personalize a template for you. This requires expertise.
Another thing templates cannot know? How the laws have changed. In fact, LegalZoom explicitly states, that it “strives to keep its legal documents accurate, current and up-to-date. However, because the law changes rapidly, LegalZoom cannot guarantee that all of the information on the Site or Applications is completely current. The law is different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and may be subject to interpretation by different courts.” Unfortunately, there are instances where this service has been inaccurate. A lawyer will be able to inform you of existing laws and keep you apprised of changes in the law because we are required to maintain a level of competency in our field and attend continuing education to keep our license active.
The money you spend on a lawyer will save you or your family many times over.
Being a hybrid of a transaction and trial attorney, I have had the benefit of seeing what good planning looks like and how bad planning leads to litigation. Unfortunately, you won’t know that your template doesn’t work until it doesn’t work, and at that point, it’s too late to spend a little to save a lot. When a contract or estate gets disputed, the lawyers and courts look to the language of the document to determine the outcome. If you have used a template and made an error or missed something important, things are not going to turn out how you wanted. Your template will likely fail you.
You don’t know what you don’t know.
It’s not just that legal templates can’t provide you the knowledge and experience of a lawyer, but that they also can’t counsel you like a lawyer. It could be that the template you are using isn’t the right fit at all and you should have a different type of contract or estate planning tool in place. Only a lawyer could counsel you on your situation and help you plan for the outcome you want.
The Bottom Line.
If you want a document that is going to work for you, your business, and your family, in the end, consult a lawyer with the education, knowledge, and experience to counsel you and draft a document to suit your specific needs. You, your business, and your family are worth it, wouldn’t you agree?