Risks and Rewards: DIY versus Attorney

Have you ever watched a home remodeling show on HGTV and thought, “I can do that.” Or sat in awe while Bobby Flay masterfully prepared a mouthwatering meal in a matter of minutes, all the while thinking, “How easy!” When you don’t know what you don’t know, you often overestimate your skills and that’s where the oft-misguided confidence of DIY (do-it-yourself) becomes a problem.

Paint a wall the wrong color or set an expensive piece of tuna on fire, the damage is minimal. Overvalue your skills in self-help with legal documents and you could find yourself in quite a pickle. With online document providers, such as LegalZoom, if you find yourself in over your head and need legal advice, you can just give them a call. Oh wait…

“LegalZoom, its Services, and its forms or templates are not a substitute for the advice or services of an attorney.”

Source: LegalZoom

5 Reasons Attorneys Are Better Than DIY Documents

  1. Relationships
  2. You are unique
  3. Different states, different requirements
  4. Proper customization
  5. Document errors

1. Collaborate with your attorney for a lifetime.

When you need legal documents, your interaction with an attorney is not one-and-done. They are there to assist you through the process, answering questions, and offering advice when needed. As your needs change, your attorney can adjust your documents to fit your current circumstances – no matter how often that happens.

If you don’t completely understand the documents you’ve downloaded from a website, can a DIY document service offer legal advice? Absolutely not. Florida frowns on the unlicensed practice of law and offers consumers a process to file a complaint when they encounter non-attorney legal advice.

2. You are unique.

No cookie-cutter templates for you! Your life and legacy are as individual as you are, and your most important estate planning documents should be created with only you in mind. A one-size-fits-all document or paperwork for use by the masses will not be tailored to your situation.

Important Documents

Power of Attorney

Last Will and Testament

Health Care Surrogate

With a DIY document service, you may initially save money by using basic forms. However, when you find these documents don’t meet your legal needs, it will cost much more to provide a legal fix. The worst part? You generally don’t find out how inadequate these documents are until you need them.

The problem with pre-printed legal forms is that you don’t know they are wrong until it is too late. Form filled out incorrectly? Unclear instructions in your living will? Without the benefit of qualified legal services through an attorney, these one-size-fits-all documents may be invalid when you need them most. Additionally, the cost to fix the problem will be much more than the cost of creating the correct documents in the first place.

3. Different states, different requirements.

Your attorney will know the specific provisions your state requires in your legal documents. For example, in Florida, the Power of Attorney must contain “superpowers” that are expressly given by the principal to the agent. In addition to the traditional powers authorized in the document, a principal must sign or initial next to each superpower for that power to be granted.

Examples of Superpowers in Florida

Gifting on the principal’s behalf

Disclaiming principal’s rights to property or appointments

Authority to create a living trust or amend, modify, or revoke an existing trust

How do you know the requirements of the state you live in have been reflected in DIY documents? You don’t know what you don’t know. What if you split your time between two states? Mind. Blown. Your DIY document can’t even handle it.

4. You may need a contingency plan.

A DIY document service can’t fully customize your documents. And you most likely don’t even know to ask. Certain documents may require contingencies that go beyond the basic information your DIY document website asks for when you begin.

One example of understanding the need for a contingency may be assigning guardianship of your children. In your will, you may have assigned your sister and brother-in-law as guardians of your children if something happens to you. But what if they get divorced?

Your attorney understands your intent and will implement the proper contingencies to ensure your wishes are followed. Online documents cannot make you aware that this could be an issue. Additionally, your DIY documents may not allow you to customize your documents to address that concern.

5. Document errors.

So how do we know that we filled out our DIY documents incorrectly? And how do we remedy that once we find out? Once again, we don’t know what we don’t know.  Well, this really came around full circle.

With DIY, you are often signing on your own. Do you know how the documents should be properly executed? Do they provide extra training that lets you know that they should be signed in front of 2 witnesses and a notary, all parties unrelated to the person signing? No. But your attorney will know that.

Don’t Put Your Family at Risk

DIY document errors put your legacy and your family at risk. The internet-based provider does not review your documents for accuracy. When you fill in the blanks, you are the assumed expert in that transaction.

So, why are we seeking legal services from an online service that tells us very clearly that they are not a substitute for a real attorney? An attorney brings irreplaceable experience and valuable professional knowledge to every interaction. Yes, it costs more to have an attorney prepare your legal documents. However, you will save time, frustration, and in most cases more money by having them done correctly the first time.

When given the choice between a fallible DIY document website and the services of a qualified Elder Law Attorney, the answer should be quite clear. An attorney meets you wherever you are on your journey and creates a customized plan to protect you, your family, and ultimately, your legacy. The low cost of unreliable DIY documents pale in comparison to the handshake and smile of an Elder Law Attorney who knows you and is available as you move through the milestones of life.

Nothing beats the peace of mind that comes with well-drafted documents and an aging plan that has been clearly documented according to your wishes. Learn more about how an Elder Law Attorney can advise you on estate planning and more in the Legal and Financial Section of our Blog.

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