Software v. Attorney

How many people would be so excited if you foundsome brand new lawyer willing to prepare their trust for $500?  What a deal, right?  An experienced attorney like myself might charge $2,000, or more, for a living trust package for a husband and wife.  Some charge $5,000 and up… but of course they have fancy offices and are usually in the major cities of our fine state. However, let’s get back to the $500 special… or the Nolo Press do-it-yourself kit.  Is trust software for $49.95 really the same as what an experienced attorney can do for you?

Ok, you know the answer I am going to give because I am an experienced attorney and not a software salesman.  Seriously though, do people really think the fifty bucks spent on a software package or $500 spent on a paralegal or brand new attorney will be truly THE SAME as what an experienced estate planning attorney will do? In my opinion it is just silly to think you are getting the same thing.

Let me start by saying that I am not telling you that a fifty dollar software package or pre-printed form will might not work for some people.  It might. However, an estate plan is supposed to give you PEACE OF MIND.  Peace is defined as “the absence of mental stress or anxiety.”  This means when you put together your estate plan you want to KNOW it’s done right so you can find something else to worry about.  You are trying to save tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of dollars and thus want to KNOW your estate plan is prepared correctly. You do not want to leave your kids, or other loved ones, with a mess after you die.

I could write a book on why one should use an experienced estate planning attorney for their estate plan. However, this is supposed to be just a short blog entry so I will spare you the entire book.  Let’s talk about a few of the main reasons why an experienced attorney is going to be better for you.

First and foremost an experienced attorney makes it easy to FUND YOUR TRUST. An improperly funded trust is just a pile of paper.  You need to properly deed your house and other real estate holdings to the trust. Where do you get a copy of your former deed so that your new deed can be accurately prepared? Where do you get a preliminary change of ownership form that is required to be filed with each deed you record? How much does it cost to record a deed?  Where do you mail the deed fore recording? Do you need to mail copies or just the original?  How long does it take to record a deed (or, when should I get worried?)?  The list goes on and that’s just with the deed!  The transfer of banks and other investment accounts is even more full of questions!

Second, and semi-related to the above, how should I title my IRA, 401k, and other retirement account in relation to the trust?  Does your software package explain the ramifications of naming your spouse as beneficiary, your kids as beneficiary or even your trust as beneficiary?  Does your software package fill out the forms for you?  As an attorney with 15 years of experience funding trusts I know the answers to all these questions!

Third, can a software package adequately explain all of the trust distribution options to you so that you fully understand them?  Do you and your husband want an “A/B Trust?”  How much discretion should you give your trustee in making distributions to minor children?  Would it be advantageous to leave assets in trust for your children’s life and give them CREDITOR PROTECTION?  I don’t think your software program, or paralegal, or new attorney can explain all of those details. I was a new attorney once and I can assure you I have learned of a great number of options in 15 years… and, more importantly, multiple ways to explain it all so it makes sense to you.

Fourth, and the final point for today to keep this from becoming a book, experienced estate planning attorneys make it EASY for you. We walk you through an estate planning questionnaire, we prepare a rough draft and explain it to you, we ANSWER all your questions, we prepare final documents for signing, we notarize your documents without extra charge, we help you fund your trust, we store a copy of your documents in our files, and we serve you a hot cup of Starbuck’s coffee, with a smile on our face, when you come to our office!

In conclusion, hire a professional to do a specialized and important task like setting up your estate plan.  You probably don’t work on your car yourself, you certainly don’t act as your own doctor, so why would you act as your own attorney!?  Preparing an estate plan is far more than just filling out a few forms.  I encourage you to find an experienced estate planning attorney to work with. If you don’t know one, in your area, contact me and I will gladly give you some referrals as I know qualified attorneys throughout the state!

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